Artist Interview: Amalia Mesa-Bains

Amalia Mesa-Bains

Amalia Mesa-Bains is an internationally renowned artist, scholar, and curator. Throughout her career, Mesa-Bains has expanded understandings of Latina/o artists’ references to spiritual practices and vernacular traditions through her altar installations, articles and exhibitions. In 1992 she was awarded a Distinguished Fellowship from the MacArthur Foundation. Her work has been shown at institutions that include: the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art at Phillip Morris, and the New Museum, as well as international venues in Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Ireland, Sweden, England, France and Spain. In 2011, her work was featured as part of NeoHooDoo: Art for A Forgotten Faith, and in 2013, she recontextualized objects from the collections of the Fowler Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles in New World Wunderkammer. As a cultural critic she has co-authored along with bell hooks, Homegrown: Engaged Cultural Criticism. Mesa-Bains founded and directed the Visual and Public Art department at California State University at Monterey Bay where she is now Professor Emerita. Mesa-Bains community work includes board of trustee positions with the Mexican Museum in San Francisco and advisory boards for the Galeria de la Raza, and the Social Public Resource Center in Los Angeles.

Amalia Mesa-Bains
New World Wunderkammer 
©Photo courtesy of the Fowler Museum at UCLA; Installation photography by Joshua White/JWPictures.com

An Interview with Amalia Mesa-Bains

MKM: Tell us about your childhood, where did you grow up? Were you always creative?

AMB: I grew up in Sunnyvale California in 1943 when it was rural and an agricultural center with orchards and canneries. Yes, I was creative and the third generation of artists in my family.

MKM: You began your education with a degree in art and ultimately earned a PhD in psychology. Can you tell us about this multi-disciplinary journey and how it informs your work?

AMB: I began with an art degree in painting, but eventually turned to new media and materials that include spray painted constructions. When I began my master’s degree, I was part of Teacher Corps, a program that recruited minorities to serve in minority communities. Because of Teacher Corps at San Francisco State University, I was lucky to be on a team assigned to schools in the Mission district with fellow Latino team members and a veteran educator Yolanda Garfias Woo, who became my mentor. She was good friends with many of the Chicano and Latin leaders in the Mission. Through her I was drawn into the Chicano Movement and dedicated my art to the cultural work of the movement. While teaching I began to realize the emotional and psychological needs of my students, so I began taking night classes in psychology. At the same time, I was in an artist’s dream group guided by my mentor and friend Renaldo Maduro, which led to my interest in clinical psychology. Eventually I went to the Wright Institute which moved me toward a multidisciplinary approach to art, culture and women’s development. This disposition has informed much of my work as an educator, artist and activist.

MKM: You are an artist, curator, educator, author and activist – how do each of these practices inform, inspire and support the other in your varied projects and your work in general? 

AMB: I think my curiosity has driven much of the interconnected fields that I work in. Many of the themes and directions in my work are also present in my curating, writing and activism. In particular my commitment to making visible the work of Chicana and Latina artists. 

MKM: When you’re creating what’s your daily routine? Rituals, patterns?

AMB: I generally gestate on projects for quite a while which involves a great deal of reading, research, and even interviews to put together the guiding concepts. This will lead me to image collecting – all of which eventually helps me frame the final project. I always keep a drawing project book as I go along where I paste in images, notes and drawings as the project unfolds. I don’t work in the morning, mainly the afternoon, and particularly afternoon and often middle of the night note taking. I have no rituals other than being sure the studio is ready with tools and art supplies in order and tables cleared.

MKM: Has your practice changed over time?

AMB: Only in so far as age and illness have required more planning for other fabricators and scheduling of supplies etc.

MKM: What is your most important tool when you are making art? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?

AMB: Only my imagination, since I depend more on fabricators such as glass blowers, box builders etc.

MKM: Is there an artwork/installation you are most proud of? Why?

AMB: My favorite piece as an experience and process has been the “New World Wunderkammer” which allowed me to work with all the departments at the Fowler UCLA Museum, including their extraordinary collections. It was a two-year project with multiple visits and direct work with specialists, designers, education folks and others.

MKM: What has been a seminal experience?

AMB: In my early years as an artist, I was mentored by Yolanda Garfias Woo who introduced me to the Meso American world, as well as the traditions of Mexican folk forms including the Days of the Dead. My long mentorship and friendship with her has been life changing.

MKM: What memorable responses have you had to your work?

AMB: I have had many reviews and recognitions. The recent review in the New York Times for the opening of the new Kinder building at Museum of Fine Arts Houston was especially positive, but my very first review in “Art in America” in 1987 when my show “Grotto of the Virgins” at INTAR in New York was acclaimed as one of the 10 best shows in alternative galleries that year, it was inspiring. 

MKM: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

AMB: Hang on and stay with your purpose.

MKM: You often work with objects and collections – Do you maintain any of your own collections or live with other artists’ work?

AMB: Yes, we have an extensive collection of Chicano, Latino and Black art.

MKM: What is your dream project?

AMB: I have always imagined a residency in a museum where I could rearrange my objects into different installations each week.

MKM: What are you working on right now? 

AMB: I am currently working on a project for the Mac Arthur Fellows 40th Anniversary which is called “Dos Mundos: Mexican Chicago.” It will be at two sites and tell the story of the invisible history of Mexicans in the building of Chicago as well as an homage to my own family who were very active in the Mexican communities of Chicago.

MKM: Is there any subject or theme you’ve been particularly interested in lately?

AMB: I am always interested in the issues of the immigrant experience and also in the change in the natural world.

MKM: What do you have planned for the year ahead?  

AMB: Completing the Chicago project, writing and readying myself for a potential retrospective in 2023. 

New World Wunderkammer

One of Amalia Mesa-Bains’ favorite projects, for both the experience and process, was New World Wunderkammer. She was invited to create this installation at UCLA’s Fowler Museum in honor of the Fowler’s 50th anniversary, fall 2013 to spring 2014. New World Wunderkammer featured more than 75 rare and historic objects from the museum’s permanent collection. The objects were combined and recontextualized with many of Amalia Mesa-Bains personal items from previous installations. 

Mesa-Bains is well known for her groundbreaking work creating altar installations reminiscent of the ofrenda, a traditional home altar intended to honor and memorialize the departed. Along with the spirit of the domestic ofrenda, Mesa-Bains incorporated an age-old institutional method of display for New World Wunderkammer: the “cabinet of curiosities” or “cabinet of wonder”. The cabinet of curiosity has its origins in Renaissance Europe as a mode for storing and displaying collected items intended to illustrate an owner’s knowledge of the world.  

The Fowler Museum provided Mesa-Bains access to all of its collections and the freedom to compose New World Wunderkammer as she envisioned. Over the course of two years, she became familiar with thousands of precious objects and ultimately assembled three connected cabinets of curiosity, representing “Africa, the indigenous Americas and the complex cultural and racial mixture (Colonial mestizaje) that typifies the New World.” 1 In this setting Mesa-Bains invited viewers to explore the “collision” of these colonized cultures while offering new paths of understanding and healing for the objects, the people encountering them and the museum in which they reside. 2 

In addition to composing the cabinets, Mesa-Bains created eight giclée prints featuring images of specific objects in the exhibit. The object image is situated within compositions that include photographs, maps and plants that illustrate the context and history of the object’s origin. The prints were installed in proximity to the actual objects in the gallery cabinets. Study tables provided an interactive component within the gallery space, inviting visitors to participate in examining objects and history together.

Amalia Mesa-Bains
New World Wunderkammer
The Map of Loss. Giclée print. 32 1/4″ x 26.” 2013. 

It is easy to understand why New World Wunderkammer is Amalia Mesa-Bains’ favorite exhibit for the experience and process. Through her vision and inspirational creative process, Mesa-Bains produced a profound, multi-layered, inclusive and interconnected exhibition. New World Wunderkammer, brought together communities and cultures to create connection, honor memory and history, cultivate understanding and promote healing.


1. “New World Wunderkammer: A Project by Amalia Mesa-Bains” https://www.fowler.ucla.edu/exhibitions/fowler-at-fifty-new-world-wunderkammer/accessed 4/11/21
2. Lucian Gomoll, “The Performative Spirit of Amalia Mesa-Bains’ New World Wunderkammer.” Cultural Dynamics 27, no. 3 (November 2015): 359. https://doi.org/10.1177/0921374015610130
3. Ibid., 374.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid., 362.
6. Ibid., 364-66.

Interview with Content Magazine

Interview with Content Magazine

Instead of me interviewing an artist, this time I was the person being interviewed! Many thanks again to Daniel Garcia from Content Magazine for episode #48 Marianne McGrath – Independent Art Curator and Consultant- MKM Art Consulting. Daniel, I appreciate your interest in my curatorial and consulting work, and your support of our local creative community.

Description of Interview with Daniel Garcia, the Cultivator at Content Magazine:
Marianne K. McGrath is a Los Gatos, California, local who used her background in art and art history to build her own business, MKM Art Consulting, LLC., to practice curating, art consulting, and art education. Marianne holds a BA in art and 3-D design, as well as an MA in art history from San Jose State University. Her passion for art led her to a career focused on sharing art with the community, especially seen through her work with the New Museum Los Gatos (formerly The Museums of Los Gatos). Art exhibits and projects hosted by MKM Art Consulting include “To Hear and Be Heard” and “31 Women.” In our conversation, Marianne explains how her life path led her to be an art exhibit curator…
“I think art is a reflection of the community. Art gives us an opportunity to know each other better, and to understand ourselves, to make us think and ask questions…”

Find out more about Marianne’s work at: mkmARTconsulting.com
@theartistcollector 
Music for this episode is “Time Alone” by Mild Monk
Follow him at:
IG: @MildMonkMusic
Spotify: Mild Monk http://bit.ly/MildMonkMusicSpotify
Read interview with Mild Monk in issue 12.0 

To Hear and Be Heard – Roberto Lugo

To Hear and Be Heard

Roberto Lugo

Roberto Lugo is an American artist, ceramicist, social activist, spoken word poet and educator. Lugo uses porcelain as his medium of choice, illuminating its aristocratic surface with imagery of poverty, inequality and social and racial injustice. Lugo’s works are multicultural mashups; traditional European and Asian porcelain forms and techniques reimagined with a 21st-century street sensibility. Their hand-painted surfaces feature classic decorative patterns and motifs combined with elements of modern urban graffiti and portraits of individuals whose faces are historically absent on this type of luxury item – people like Sojourner Truth, Dr. Cornel West, and The Notorious BIG, as well as Lugo’s family members and, very often, himself. 

Lugo holds a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute and an MFA from Penn State. His work has been featured in exhibitions at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, the Clay Studio in Philadelphia, and the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, among others. His solo exhibition at the Walters Museum of Art received international acclaim, earning a spot in Hyperallergic’s “Top 20 exhibitions of 2018.” 

Lugo is the recipient of numerous awards, most recently including a 2019 Pew Fellowship, a Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon Polsky Rome Prize and a US Artist Award. His work is found in the permanent collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, High Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Brooklyn Museum, Walters Museum, and more. He is currently an Assistant Professor at Tyler School of Art and Architecture.

Tupac/MLK Tea Set, 2020
Glazed ceramic, enamel, and luster
Teapot: 6.75” x 9” x 5.25”
Creamer: 4.5” x 5” x 3.5”
2 Cups: 4” x 5” x 3.5” each
Courtesy of Wexler Gallery
Photo Credit: KeneK Photography

Tupac/MLK Teapot and Tea Set

The portraits on Roberto Lugo’s porcelain vessels feature athletes, actors and exemplary citizen activists like Harriet Tubman and Angela Davis, musicians such as Nina Simone, or paired portraits, as in this work with Martin Luther King and Tupac on opposite sides of a tea pot “in conversation.” Lugo reminds us, “Usually when people sit down and drink tea, it’s more than one person and it happens around a conversation. There’s more implied than just the consumption of tea.”1 What if we could sit down and have a conversation with these people? What would you talk about? More broadly consider what could we learn, what could we solve, if We the People sat together and listened to each other? 

1 Bessie Rubenstein, “Meet Roberto Lugo, the Potter Making Ceramics of Biggie and Basquiat”, interview with Roberto Lugo, Interview Magazine, March 17, 2020. https://www.interviewmagazine.com/art/roberto-lugo-vessels-biggie-basquiat

Artist Statement

I am a potter, social activist, spoken word poet, and educator. All of these roles are rooted in my childhood. Having had no formal music or art training, I often practiced table drumming and writing hip-hop lyrics as it was customary to “battle rap” during lunch. Instead of art class, I drew in my composition book, and marked every wall that I could. “Graffiti” was a way to get my name into the community, to attain a local fame. 

Today my graffiti is defacing social inequality. I teach communities to make mosaic murals to honor victims of gun violence. I see my pottery as a process of transforming the ground we walk on into something we eat from; we search all day for the perfect spot to put it on display. In many ways this transformation of tragedy into triumph is a metaphor for my life’s story. 

My experiences as an indigent minority inform my version of Puerto Rican American history. With my education in critical theory, art education, art history and studio art I have developed a studio practice that fluidly communicates with diverse audiences. I bring art to those that do not believe they need to see it, and engage in deeper ways of knowing, learning and thinking. – Roberto Lugo

To Hear and Be Heard – Alice Beasley

To Hear and Be Heard

Alice Beasley

Fabric is Alice Beasley’s chosen medium of expression through which she creates realistic portraits of people and objects. Beasley finds color, light, shadow, line and value in the pattern of ordinary household fabrics. From these fabrics she snips small pieces which are arranged and fused into figurative compositions. As such, the work grows from within rather than being applied to the surface of a canvas by paint, pencil or similar drawing tools. When the image is complete, Beasley sews the composition together; the stitch line constituting the final “drawn” line.

Alice Beasley’s work has been exhibited in many venues throughout the United States including the American Folk Art Museum in New York and the Smithsonian Anacostia Museum. Abroad, her work has exhibited in countries around the globe, from Spain and France to Japan and Namibia. Beasley’s work has been purchased or commissioned by a number of private collectors and public entities including the County of Alameda, Kaiser Hospital, Highland Hospital and the Sunnyvale Medical Facility.

Alice Beasley
Unidentified Black Male, 2015
Fabric composition of needle-felted wool, cotton and cheesecloth on gallery wrapped canvas.
“36 X 24”
Courtesy of the Artist

Unidentified Black Male

Alice Beasley was prompted to make Unidentified Black Male after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown. Beasley states “As bad as Newtown was, the reality is that black children and teens are the primary victims of gun deaths. Of the 5700 children and teens who died from gunfire in 2008 and 2009, 60% were black, eight times the death rate for white children and teens. But, unlike Newton, these deaths are cloaked in anonymity and draw no concern from public or media.” 

While the original impetus for Unidentified Black Male was young unknown victims of gun violence, this work urges us to consider the many unknown victims of police brutality and the overwhelming magnitude of how many people of color have been abused or murdered over the centuries; the loss of life appallingly excluded from justice and history. 

Alice Beasley
No Vote, No Voice, 2014
Quilt composed of cotton and silk fabrics
60” X 36”
Courtesy of the Artist

No Vote, No Voice

One of our most important actions as citizens is exercising our right to vote. Over the years, the United States has taken steps forward in enfranchisement for citizens, as well as steps backward. Alice Beasley says she was inspired to make No Vote, No Voice when “In 2013 a conservative majority in the Supreme Court eviscerated the Voting Rights Act, thereby becoming complicit in the active suppression of the votes of minority citizens by state legislatures. Over the past six years—and for the first time since the Jim Crow era—nearly two dozen states have passed new laws making it harder to vote.” Voting challenges continue today and extend beyond legislative injustice with concerns about COVID19 and the US Postal Service. Nevertheless, we must persist! Your vote is your voice, so let it be heard. To register to vote, check your registration and get important voting dates, visit: https://www.vote.org

To Hear and Be Heard – Squeak Carnwath

To Hear and Be Heard

Squeak Carnwath

Squeak Carnwath draws upon the philosophical and mundane experiences of daily life in her paintings and prints, which can be identified by lush fields of color combined with text, patterns, and identifiable images. She has received numerous awards including the Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art (SECA) Award from San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, two Individual Artist Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Award for Individual Artists from the Flintridge Foundation, and the Lee Krasner Lifetime Achievement Award from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation. In 2019, she was inducted into the National Academy of Design and Art. Carnwath is Professor Emerita at the University of California, Berkeley. She lives and works in Oakland, CA.

Squeak Carnwath
AGAIN, 2020
Oil alkyd on canvas over panel
77” X 77”
Courtesy of the Artist
Photo Credit: M. Lee Fatherree

Again

In this time of COVID19, our days have become monotonous and sometimes isolated. We share a collective yearning to be out with people and be together without the fear and problems of the pandemic. In AGAIN, Squeak Carnwath asks “Will We ever Be All Together AGAIN, Close”. Above this question, we see handprints, our most unique human signature, which has marked our presence since the earliest times. AGAIN makes us consider this ancient, basic need to be together, to be known and leave evidence, I am here. 

AGAIN also makes us consider being together again in ways that transcend the physical. Current events have awakened us to the extent of our isolation and division. The different shades of paint for the hands, speak to the diversity of our physical characteristics, and conceptually to our differences in political and religious views, education and socioeconomic groups. 

While we might have thought we were “together” in the past, perhaps we now realize we really weren’t as close as we hoped. There is much work to be done to unite us – to truly be all together again, close. AGAIN, in this sense, seems more like an earnest wish; our dream for the future. The hands on the canvas, banging and pounding to be let free, to go out and make this dream a reality. 

To Hear and Be Heard – Brian Dettmer

To Hear and Be Heard

Brian Dettmer

Brian Dettmer (b. 1974, Chicago, IL) lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. He has been the subject of solo exhibitions at numerous institutions including the Hermann Geiger Foundation, Cecina, Italy, The International Museum of Surgical Science, The Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, and the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art. His works have been exhibited at the Museum of Arts and Design, The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institute, The Chicago Cultural Center, The High Museum, and the Perez Art Museum among others. Dettmer’s sculptures can be found in the permanent collection of several institutions including the Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Art Institute of Chicago, The High Museum, and the Yale University Art Gallery. He has been featured in several publications including The New York TimesThe GuardianThe TelegraphChicago TribuneArt NewsModern Painters, WiredThe Village VoiceHarper’sCBS News and NPR

Dettmer’s Problem Attic series was featured in the exhibition To Hear and Be Heard, which examines civility through the visual language of fine art. His work encourages us to consider the impact of information we willingly/unwillingly consume daily. In describing the inspiration and process for his work, Dettmer tells us, “Information is the raw material of today. We have an overabundance of text and imagery constantly at our fingertips. In digital media, it is often as fleeting as it is abundant, but when information is put in print we have a stronger sense of its relation to history and its stability for the future. In my work, I question this stability and ask what erasure and loss could look like through the lens of printed matter. Reference books have become almost extinct in less than one generation and we are at a pivotal time in the way we record and distribute facts. Without a stable home to rest in, our agreed truths have been uprooted and are now subject to distortions, erasures, and intentional manipulations. Through a meticulous process of sculptural excavation, I explore the inner contents of vintage books that have often been relegated to collecting dust or headed for a landfill. The work is both archival and anti-archival. It is a creation through consumption, an exposure through erasure. These sculptures break down historic narratives to offer a compression of ideas through a single surface, embracing us with a desire to reconstruct. This abundance of fragmented history reminds us that we are just one part of the bigger picture, as fleeting as the media we create and as permanent as the ideas we surround ourselves with.”

The Problem Attic Series

The Problem Attic Series – Artist Statement

The Problem Attic series revisits a handful of publications of Coronet, a small general interest digest magazine from the 1950’s and 60’s. With Rockwellesque style pin-up covers, semi-salacious short stories, general non-fiction, and advertisements for everything from cigarettes to appliances, the magazine paints a picture of an ideal mid-century suburban lifestyle that is extremely problematic from today’s perspective. Sexism and white male conformity saturate the pages, and unfortunately much of the text and imagery found and revealed echo many of the attitudes and issues still facing us today. Fragmented texts take on new meaning in 2020, as we face the Coronavirus pandemic and issues of sexism and racism in our society. Coronet, meaning small crown, comes from the Latin word “corona”. The title becomes broken and shortened in various forms within these works, creating an undeniable reference to the most pressing subject on our minds today.  

To Hear and Be Heard – Lisa Kokin

To Hear and Be Heard

Lisa Kokin

Lisa Kokin lives and works in El Sobrante with her spouse Lia, three canine studio assistants and Bindi the cat. The daughter of upholsterers, she stitches everything she can get her hands on, including discarded books which she rescues from the local recycling center. Kokin brings a fiber sensibility and a conceptual approach to a diverse array of materials. Her work is often a commentary on the world around her, often incorporating the age-old Jewish response to adversity, humor.

Kokin has been the recipient of multiple awards and commissions, including a Eureka Fellowship, a WESTAF/NEA Regional Fellowship, the Dorothy Saxe Invitational Award for Creativity in Contemporary Arts, the Alameda County Arts Commission (multiple venues), and the Richmond Civic Center Public Art Interior Acquisitions Project. Her work is in numerous public and private collections, including the Boise Art Museum, the Buchenwald Memorial, the di Rosa Preserve, Mills College, Kaiser Permanente San Francisco, Yale University Art Museum, and Tiffany & Co.

Kokin’s work is represented by Seager Gray Gallery in Mill Valley, CA and Gail Severn Gallery in Ketchum, ID.

Let Them Eat Cake

At first glance these delicate works might make one recall a time when royalty ate cakes off of doilies and civility was equated with good manners. Legend has it that Marie Antoinette callously replied “let them eat cake” when she learned her subjects had no bread to eat. That problematic sense of entitlement and insensitivity is what inspired Lisa Kokin to make the works in Let Them Eat Cake, which are part of her Lucreseries. Kokin tells us, “I like money in its shredded state because it is stripped of value and power. Worthless, it becomes just so much green and white confetti. It is literally not worth the paper it’s printed on. As I separate each strip, the patterns, letters, numbers, and gradations of color are more striking than when the bills are intact. Washington’s heavy-lidded eyes, references to higher powers, cryptic serial numbers, seals and signatures, scrolls and flourishes. When sliced-up and decontextualized, money is really quite mysterious and beautiful. No one values money in this impotent state. It no longer has the ability to poison relationships, threaten democracy, topple governments, create privilege and misery. Stitched together with metallic thread into textile fragments… the material is re-contextualized with a new value and purpose.” 

Countenance

Countenance is part of Lisa Kokin’s Denominate, her current series of collages made with shredded U.S. currency. She decided to use the mask form because it has become so ubiquitous and is symbolic of much. During the pandemic we wear masks to protect our health and our fellow citizens, showing respect for each other’s lives. Kokin uses only black, white and grey pieces of currency, also potentially symbolic as racism has been compared to a pandemic. Kokin says, “As political events become more convoluted and disturbing, my work has evolved into a more minimalist response. Gluing tiny pieces of money together using a tweezers and miniscule gluing brush, I find comfort and serenity in lining up edges and staying within the self-imposed lines. Despite the limited parameters, I am able to improvise and let each piece evolve without a preconceived notion of the outcome. Cellphones, mazes, and masks are the forms with which I began the series. Thirty or so collages later, I switched to zeros…I am intrigued by the paradox of making zeros from something ostensibly valuable, although money in its shredded state is devoid of value, of course. Holes and emptiness preoccupy me these days as we live through the challenges of the pandemic and an administration seemingly immune to its devastating effects.”

To Hear and Be Heard – Julie Heffernan

To Hear and Be Heard

Julie Heffernan

Julie Heffernan is an American painter whose artwork has been described by the writer Rebecca Solnit as “a new kind of history painting” and by The New Yorker as “ironic rococo surrealism with a social-satirical twist.” Portraiture is a dominant subject in Heffernan’s painting, even while she also reflects on environmental, (art) historical, feminist, literary, social, and political subjects.

Heffernan was raised in Northern California, received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in printmaking and painting from University of California at Santa Cruz, and earned a Master of Fine Arts at Yale School of Art. She is a Professor of Fine Arts at Montclair State University and Co-founder of the journal Painters on Paintings. She lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

In 2011, Heffernan was elected a National Academician to the National Academy of Design in New York and in 2014, to the Board of Governors. She is a 2017 Fellow of the BAU Institute at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France; was awarded the Meridian Scholar Artist-In-Residence Fellowship from the University of Tampa in Florida and was the featured artist for the 2017 MacDowell Colony. In 2013, Heffernan was awarded a Milton And Sally Avery Fellowship at MacDowell and in 2012, she was invited to be the Lee Ellen Fleming Artist-In-Residence at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. In 2010, she was the Commencement Speaker for the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and in 2009, she was the featured artist at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. A recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a New York Foundation for the Arts grant, a Fulbright-Hayes grant to Berlin, Heffernan was also a nominee for the “Anonymous Was A Woman” award. Since 1999, Heffernan has had more than 50 solo exhibitions at museums and other venues across the United States and abroad. Her work is represented in 25 museum and institutional collections. She has been represented by Catharine Clark Gallery since 2005.

Julie Heffernan
Self-Portrait with Eruption, 2019
Oil on canvas
68” X 55”
Courtesy of the Artist and Catharine Clark Gallery

Self-Portrait with Eruption

What is the artist’s role in society? Creator? Cultural Influencer? Visual Historian? Activist?

In Julie Heffernan’s Self-Portrait with Eruption the artist is all of the above, paintbrushes and cans of paint at the ready. Draped across her hands she presents a painted scroll illustrating  “double-sided” narratives of the past, which include, Currier and Ives’ The Last War Whoop; The Bath by Jean-Leon Geromeand In the Harem by Vincent G. Stiepevich. Behind the artist is a gallery wall filled with painted portraits of exemplary citizen activists that courageously worked for social and environmental justice.   

Who are these citizen activists? Women from history and present day that have spoken out and taken action to expose and correct societal problems, creating a new narrative and a more civil, inclusive and sustainable future. (From top left to bottom right) Civil rights activist Rosa Parkswell known for her pivotal role in the Montgomery bus boycott, which set in motion nationwide efforts to end racial segregation. Yuri Kochiyama, a Japanese American human rights activist, worked with Malcolm X for civil rights, and dedicated her life to social justice as an advocate for prisoners, nuclear disarmament and Japanese American reparations. Ella Baker, an African American civil and human rights activist, worked alongside W.E.B. Dubois, Thurgood Marshall, A. Philip Randolph, and Martin Luther King Jr., playing a key role in organizations such as the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, among others. Ida B. Wells, an African American investigative journalist, educator and activist who brought attention to the horrors of lynching, was an early leader in civil rights and women’s suffrage, and participated in the founding of the NAACP. Sylvia Earle, an American oceanographer, explorer, author and lecturer, the founder of Mission Blue, a National Geographic explorer-in-residence, and the first female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Frances Beinecke, NRDC’s president from 2006 to 2015, worked on finding solutions to some of the biggest environmental challenges of our time, including establishing a clean energy future that curbs climate change, reviving the world’s oceans, defending endangered wildlife and wild places, protecting our health by preventing pollution, fostering sustainable communities, and ensuring safe and sufficient water. 

To Hear and Be Heard – Sheila Pree Bright

To Hear and Be Heard

Sheila Pree Bright

Photographer Sheila Pree Bright documents social activism and is often described as a “cultural anthropologist.” She is widely known for her photographic series #1960NowYoung AmericansPlastic Bodies, and Suburbia. Bright earned an M.F.A. in photography from Georgia State University and received the Center Prize from the Santa Fe Center of Photography for Suburbia. Her work was featured in the documentary films Through the Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People and Election Day: Lens Across America. 

Bright has exhibited nationally and abroad at venues that include the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA; the Smithsonian Anacostia Museum in Washington, D.C.; the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada; and the Leica Gallery in New York City. Her work is held in many private and public collections including the Library of Congress, Washington D.C.; the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut; the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History, Washington, D.C.; the Oppenheimer Collection at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Overland, KS; the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA; the de Saisset Museum, Santa Clara, CA; King & Spalding, Atlanta, GA; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland, OH; Time Inc., New York, NY; FotoFest, Houston, TX; and the Sprint PCS Art Collection, Overland, KS.

#1960Now

From Atlanta, Ferguson and Baltimore, to Washington, D.C. and Baton Rouge, photographer Sheila Pree Bright documents civic response to police shootings and systemic inequity. She observed #BlackLivesMatter activists taking a stand against the same struggles their parents and grandparents underwent during the Civil Rights movement and the era of Jim Crow. Through photographing the living leaders of civil rights activism, Bright makes connections between present day protests and the demonstrations of the 1960s. This work inspired her book #1960Now: Photographs of Civil Rights Activists and the Black Lives Matter Protests and is the basis of her ongoing project #1960Now, first featured at the Museum of Contemporary Art Georgia. #1960Now examines race, gender and generational divides to raise awareness of millennial perspectives on civil and human rights. Bright says that her “objective is to capture images that allow us to experience those who are unheard as they contemplate or voice their reactions to ideas and issues shaping their world.” While her work is a painful reminder of the continued racism and injustice that plague us today, it is also an example of the enduring courage and conviction of citizens working to create a more perfect Union.

To Hear and Be Heard – Chelsea Wong

To Hear and Be Heard

Chelsea Wong

Chelsea Wong
Sea of Change, 2020
Gouache and watercolor on paper
22.5” x 21” 
Courtesy of the Artist 

Sea of Change and Freedom

Imagine a world where civility is commonplace. What would that world look like? Chelsea Ryoko Wong envisions such a citizenry with colorful paintings that depict people of all ages and colors happily gathered together or walking lockstep. The poetic text accompanying her imagery often conveys the collective intention of building community, supporting one another and being “our best selves”. 

In Freedom and Sea of Change we see empowered groups confidently celebrating the future and one another. Wong says that “these paintings reflect a sense of hope and joy. 2020 has been a series of unfolding, seismic events, producing anxiety and demanding change. To conquer fear, I jump optimistically into the unknown. With figures, I evoke a sense of familiarity and celebrate the magnificent diverse beings that we are. I use bright colors because they make me happy and tickle the spirit. I paint small poems that are hopeful wishes. These paintings conjure the senses, ushering in this new era, I am sending hope into the world, filling the void with unrestrained optimism and exultation.”

Chelsea Wong
Freedom, 2020
Gouache and watercolor on paper
12” x 9”
Courtesy of the Artist

About the Artist

Chelsea Ryoko Wong (b. 1986, Seattle) is a painter and muralist whose vibrant figure compositions reflect the diversity and style of her home in San Francisco. Through the use of watercolor, gouache and acrylic techniques, Wong creates busy scenes of co-mingling people drawing from real-life events and her imagination. Her work is known for celebrating racial and cultural diversity, promoting working class communities and evoking a sense of curiosity and wonder. Through heavily stylized and idyllic imagery, Wong creates an encouraging visual statement promoting joy, acceptance and openness to one another.

Wong began her studies at Parsons School of Design and finished at California College of the Arts with a B.A. in Printmaking. She is the first recipient of the Hamaguchi Emerging Artists Fellowship award at Kala in Berkeley, CA and has recently completed a mural for the FB AIR Program in San Francisco, CA.