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SF Artist Spotlight: New Works by Chelsea Ryoko Wong

“She’s the next Maira Kalman,” Courtney whispers in my ear, “And if you don’t buy it I will.” We are standing in front of “Gossip Girls Selling Veggies on Mahabandoola Street, Yangon” and she is referring to San Francisco-based artist Chelsea Ryoko Wong who is currently in a two-woman show Hello At Last with Mia Christopher at the recently relocated Legion shop in Chinatown, San Francisco.

The piece is a celebration of women, food, and the marketplace. The colors shout out to passersby and the level of detail beckons the viewer to approach, to examine each slice of melon, each flower closeup. There is something about the vibrant scenes, flattened hierarchy and level of detail that are reminiscent of Persian miniature painting. Wong later tells us that she fell in love with this marketplace in Myanmar (Burma). “The women are the queens of the streets and you could tell they have the power,” her eyes ablaze when describing this scene.

I first met Chelsea when she dropped off artwork for #strikeawayshow a show of matchbook art which I co-curated with Courtney Cerruti in May 2015.

"Smokin' Hot Redheads Zine," 2015 Matchbook, ink, gouache. Xerox accordian fold zine. Matches.
“Smokin’ Hot Redheads Zine,” 2015
Matchbook, ink, gouache. Xerox accordian fold zine. Matches.

We fell in love with her work immediately and asked, “Um, can you make, like, six more?” “Sure!” Wong’s enthusiasm and easy-going nature make her a delight to work with. Later at the opening of Hello At Last, we see her play and gush when two little kids present her with a pink carnation. “Pink! Matches my bag, cute don’t you think?”

Another piece that called me in for a closer look was “Boys Becoming Novices, Going Forth.”

"Boys Becoming Novices, Going Forth," 2015 Gouache, water color and colored pencil on paper (9” x 12”)
“Boys Becoming Novices, Going Forth,” 2015
Gouache, water color and colored pencil on paper, 9” x 12”

Its gentle visual rhythm evokes the chanting of monks. The white, simultaneously energetic and meditative, leaps off the paper. And again, those details! Tiny scissors, candlesticks, and incense conjure sounds and smells, a before and after, of the scene.

Whether her subjects recall faraway places or near, people you know or people you want to be, they are all a celebration of life and everyday people.

Ceramics, 2015
Ceramics, 2015

The show includes a mix of original artwork, prints and ceramics. The functional pieces, again a nod to food and domesticity, a playful boost to an otherwise quotidian object, are well-paired with Mia Christopher’s larger abstract paintings.

HelloAtLast

The show runs until 11/30. Curated by Alice Wu. On view at Legion Shop, 678 Commercial St, San Francisco, CA 94111. I encourage you to check it out! M-F 11-6, Sat 1-5, closed Sunday. Photos courtesy of Chelsea R. Wong and @ccerruti.

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Social Sketch in life

I met Mike when Courtney asked if I’d like to join them for a sketch sesh. I said, “of course!” but was kinda nervous about sketching with the two of them. They are what you might call real artists. The kind of artists with degrees in art, who show their work in galleries, write books on art and craft, and teach others how to make art. I am a bit of a poser. I am a “paint in my living room after I finish work, don’t really know the difference between student and professional materials” kind of artist.

I decide to go sketch anyway. After scarfing down a terribly saucy, terribly delicious falafel in Mike’s studio space, we get to it. We each start on a sheet and when someone gets tired or feels like they’re done we exchange work. Then we exchange one more time so that everyone has made a mark on each sheet.

It was magic.

I loved trying to figure out how to enhance their work. I love how clearly Mike and Courtney’s styles come through, and how they play off of one another’s work. (You can see more of their collaborations on Instagram under the hashtag #ccrabbit.) I wasn’t even that scared to mess up their work because there was no ego about it. Turd it up? Doesn’t really matter, flip the page and start something new.

Here’s one of my faves from the night:

collaborativesketch

And here’s the bunch at the end of the night that we divvied up:collab sesh

This collaborative way of drawing reminds me of old Persian miniature painting. Each artist would have a specialty, such as gold leaf, color, calligraphy, and would only add that particular element to each work. Paintings were a result of several artists’ efforts.

Several years ago the Asian Art Museum here in San Francisco hosted an exhibit that played off of this idea. Karkhana: A Contemporary Collaboration included paintings that had been passed from artist to artist. Here you can get an idea of the process (excuse the shitty images throughout this post, these are quick phone snaps of the exhibit catalog):

karkhana process

karkhana_final

This brings us to the awesomeness that is Social Sketch, a monthly event recently started by Courtney and Mike which alternates between San Francisco and Oakland venues.

social sketch

It’s an open event, you can find upcoming dates on Instagram #socialsketch or Facebook. Bring beer, burritos, and your favorite pen or paints. Start a work, throw it in the middle of the table, take someone else’s and add to it.

Why I think this simple concept is so good:

there’s no ownership of the work, no ego because you don’t necessarily know who made what, no money involved so it’s not really competitive. You make something you’d never otherwise make, meet and work with skilled people, have dedicated time to hone your craft, take cool shit home. And if you make something crappy, it doesn’t much matter. Throw it in the center so someone else can fix it, and start fresh.

I would love to employ the social sketch concept in other aspects of my life. How come it’s so hard to find paid gigs with this same spirit? Projects where you work with cool people, with no ego, who help to make something that wouldn’t otherwise happen alone. I suspect work projects don’t feel this way because they involve money. As soon as you pay or get paid for shit it changes the dynamic of the relationship, and people tend to feel more possessive of the process or final products. Even so, I’m looking to embrace social sketch in other contexts because it’s a fun way to work, and a lot of cool stuff gets made.

Here’s some collaborative pieces from previous Social Sketches. Hope to see you at the next one!

socialsketch_bottles

socialsketch_house

socialsketch_french

socialsketch_shapes

socialsketch_shoes