Studio Visit with Linda Simmel

Linda Simmel

Linda Simmel (born in Los Angeles) is a Bay Area artist; her art practice includes painting, drawing and printmaking. Simmel’s dark landscaped-based paintings and historically-based etchings explore the influence of history on a psyche and subsequent feelings of longing. Simmel received her BFA from the University of California at Berkeley and was represented by Takada Gallery. She spent a decade traveling to and showing in and around Berlin, becoming an international participant in the newly formed artist collective “Atelierhaus Panzerhalle e.V., which was set in a tank repair workshop and ruinous surrounding barracks of a military base in the forests of Potsdam, Germany. In 2012, Simmel was an artist resident at the Baer Art Center in Iceland, in 2013 an artist at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in Woodside, California, and she has been an artist in residence at the Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, California since 2007. Linda Simmel is included in the permanent collections of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento; Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art, Moraga; and the Triton Museum of Art, Santa Clara. She currently lives and works in Sonoma, California.

Linda Simmel
Infinite Longing 10, 2018
oil on canvas
42” x 42”

An Interview with Linda Simmel

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

LS: I grew up on the west side of Los Angeles, just a 10-minute drive from the ocean. The ocean played a large part in my growing up and reaching for something infinite/ineffable, outside of family and societal expectations. 

MKM: Were you always creative?

LS: Yes, I remember always wanting to make things. My first strong memory was when I was five years old. In Kindergarten we had an assignment to paint a valentine’s heart. The two sides of my heart did not match, so I kept going from one side to the other, attempting for it to mirror its other half.  Eventually the whole sheet of paper was red.  When I was 10 years old, in grade school I’d go to Betty’s art classes. I took 2 buses (one transfer) to get there. At 13, Betty told me I had aged out of her children’s art classes. I begged her to allow me to stay! (She did).  

MKM: When did you realize that creating art was something you had to do? 

LS: I attended University of California at Berkeley for two years as an undergraduate. I then went to Israel with the intention of immigrating.  After 11 months I knew I would be returning to the USA to settle and finish my college degree. I had to declare a major at that point, but I wasn’t sure what to do.  My father suggested I declare an art major as I had previously wanted to attend the San Francisco Art Institute. Then upon graduating with a BFA in fine arts, I realized my focus was art making and I’d need to try to find a way to financially support that. 

MKM: Did you have any memorable teachers?

LS: I was not able to relate much to the art department’s focus on Funk and the Light and Space movement of that time. However, I do remember a Professor Tibbs that offered a life drawing class; also Karl Kasten. I had a hard time painting in a room with 30 other people, so I spent most of my time in the ASUC darkroom that was manned by Roger Minick and Dave Bohn.

MKM: Did you focus on painting and printmaking at UC Berkeley?

LS: My first form of expression was photography. I guess I simply loved looking, seeing.  As I began combining negatives (yes! negatives at that time!) and wanting to create sets or props for the images, my photographic process became more and more complicated and so I switched to the direct method of mark making via painting.  The sensate quality of painting is what has kept me there.  The way my body feels when making something is like wearing a favorite very worn and soft cotton dress. It’s taken me decades to come around to what I’m trying to say conceptually.

MKM: What jobs have you held other than being an artist?

LS: After graduating from UC Berkeley I started off as assistant to the director of the Physically Disabled Students Program at UCB, which later became the Center for independent living in Berkeley. 

I went on to being a cowgirl in Colorado, taxicab driver, working in the darkroom at my local newspaper and finally becoming a free-lance bookkeeper for more steady financial support. Although with almost biennial trips to Berlin in the 1990’s for research and exhibitions, keeping the bookkeeping stream going was also challenging.  

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

LS: Lots of pacing!  Typically, I have to circle around doing house or garden chores before settling into the studio. Then if I’m particularly engaged with what is going on I have to pause to absorb it, as contrary as that sounds! Thereby more pacing around the property… suffice to say the works progress slowly. And works always have to lay about for a period of time until I’m sure I’m really finished with them.  And then often, I’ll take up a canvas started years earlier.  There are probably 5 paintings – 5 different iterations underneath every canvas I stop working on.  Now with the cell phone I can document as I go along and sometimes I wonder why didn’t I stop at that earlier state?

Linda Simmel in her painting studio

MKM: When do you know a work is finished? 

LS: As I am building up the canvas, certain sections may be coveted, but in the end the whole surface has to come together as a whole.  It’s an intuitive decision.  In my particular practice most times the surface doesn’t make sense to me unless it is densely saturated.  

MKM: Do you focus on a specific medium or multiple mediums?

LS: Painting, drawing and printmaking

MKM: Which creative medium would you love to pursue but haven’t yet?

LS: I’d love to pursue clay and glazes but feel taking that up would disperse my energies too much.  It would take years to master and develop a vocabulary and I wouldn’t want to give up my painting practice to allow time/energy for that to happen.

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

LS: Nothing is terribly precious; brushes are mostly from the hardware store, they are never cleaned, and they just stand in terpenoid for about 3 months. When it’s no longer easy to clean them as I’m using them, the brushes get tossed and off to the hardware store I go. My most precious material is the roll of gampi paper that I use in printmaking. Every print has chin collé. I love the stuff.  

MKM: How has your practice changed over time?  

LS: In both the painting and printmaking practices there is recently a return to starting with a photo as a jumping off point. I’ve begun to project images onto a canvas. Occasionally the painted image stays true to the projected image, more often it provides a jumping off point for composition. My paintings have always been expressive; however, they are a bit more content driven now.  It’s taken me decades to move from expressing pure sensation or inner emotion towards more of a narrative.

MKM: What themes do you pursue?

LS: The weight of history on our everyday psyches.  How that history can color interpretation of landscape.  

MKM: What art do you most identify with?

LS: Work that is quite expressive, painterly, bold, colorful.  

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

LS: After presenting a power point presentation of my most recent project at the time, a fellow resident at the Djerassi Residents Artists Program had tears when trying to express how moved he was by my large drawings of the sea.  He is someone I have greatly admired, and someone opposite my nature.

MKM: What do you like about your work?  

LS: The painterly aspect. Knowing how to move color around; feeling comfortable with color. 

MKM: What quality do you most admire in another artist?

LS: A commitment and drive to keep working.

MKM: What was your first work of art that really mattered to you?

LS: Of mine or someone else’s? (MKM: Yours) “Infinite Longing 1” has stuck with me and steered me down a path I still follow today (although that is fairly recent). 

Linda Simmel
Infinite Longing 1, 2014
oil on canvas
66” x 72”

MKM: What inspires you?  Other artists?  Your process?  A theme?

LS: Other artists’ work.  I get “art crushes” on work that I respond to strongly.  Something resonates when I look at their work and I want to go running back to my studio and start working myself!  I also get inspired when I hear of colleagues speak of a new project and are explaining their theme(s) to me.  

MKM: If there is an artist that inspires you, is there a specific work that you find particularly interesting?

LS: I am currently looking a lot at Joshua Hagler’s work.  I have been drawn to his work since I first encountered it a few years back when I went to a lecture at UC Berkeley given by Maja Rusnik (his wife, whose work I am also entranced by) and himself.  I was very taken by that first group of work I saw from both of them, however like even more the current more abstract work Joshua is doing now, from the look of his website.  

MKM: What are your interests outside of art?

LS: Gardening.  Lots of gardening.  Walking in nature.  

Linda Simmel
An der Nute, 1929/2019
photo etching
image size: 6” x 8″

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

LS: “This too shall pass”

MKM: How has COVID impacted your practice?

LS: I was about to put painting aside and concentrate on printmaking….but the opposite happened as I hunkered down in my home painting studio and concentrated on painting and drawing.

MKM: What is your dream project?

LS: My dream project is to design a stage set for a dance company, OR to create a room installation, an installation that makes use of the whole space inside the walls & floor and that offers an immersive experience.

MKM: What can we expect from you in the next year?

LS: I am starting to lay out plans for an artist book that has been running around my mind for a very long time now, with parts already started.  It is something quite personal, using artifacts and letters from my father and great uncles during the time of fascism’s rise to power in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s.  It is really meant to be a piece for my daughter, so that she may ponder her history from my side of the family.  I will make a concerted effort this time to pull it together and have something cohesive within the upcoming year. Oh yes, and of course more painting; deeper dives into current themes. 

The Hiking Club: A Vocabulary of Yearning

Linda’s upcoming solo exhibition, The Hiking Club: A Vocabulary of Yearning, will open spring 2023 at New Museum Los Gatos.

The Hiking Club: A Vocabulary of Yearning intertwines the story of being the daughter of an immigrant with landscape, trees and the sublime in nature. It pairs reverie of a father’s youth with a daughter’s yearning to walk in nature. The works in the show, Linda Simmel’s Infinite Longing series, are in part homage to landscape, trees, and the histories they’ve lived in, as well as to Simmel’s immigrant father and the time in which he lived. 

Simmel’s father wandered the woods outside of Berlin and greater Germany with his hiking club in the late 1920s. The trees, among which he and his friends wandered, were witness to their discussions about the possibilities of a new social order under the Weimar Republic. As we know, that progressive state did not last. As a result, her father had an intense idealism and large loss, a romantic pull as well as dark experience. Inherent in an immigrant story is the “if only” question and its subsequent residue of longing. What if there was no abrupt change, what would the story have looked like then? 

Before emigration it was among trees that the psychic tone of Simmel’s father’s life was formulated. Hiking in nature is a national pastime in Germany; May 14th is national “Hiking Day”. The forests provided the physical cauldron in which Simmel’s father developed his “Weltanschauung”, his philosophy of life. Simmel returns, or rather moves forward into that “cauldron” of landscape and trees; walking there to meditate on the gaps and absences in her own life and to simply walk toward her life. 

The Infinite Longing series has affinities with Romanticism of the late 1800s, an aesthetic that portrayed a metaphysical experience of nature. Likewise, Simmel values wild places because they inherently allow our minds and psyche to connect with the infinite; to be anchored in the universe and to surrender and rest in the power of nature. 

Linda Simmel
Dark Wood 1, 2019
oil, house paint, shellac on canvas
66” x 96” overall

To learn more about Linda Simmel, please visit:

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/

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” 4/11/21
2. Lucian Gomoll, “The Performative Spirit of Amalia Mesa-Bains’ New World Wunderkammer.” Cultural Dynamics 27, no. 3 (November 2015): 359.
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:
Music for this episode is “Time Alone” by Mild Monk
Follow him at:
IG: @MildMonkMusic
Spotify: Mild Monk
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.

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:

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 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 – 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.

To Hear and Be Heard – Sandow Birk

To Hear and Be Heard

Sandow Birk

Sandow Birk (b.1962) is a well-traveled graduate of the Otis Art Institute of Parson’s School of Design. As the recipient of many grants and fellowships, his work has brought him to locations around the globe, including: a NEA International Travel Grant to Mexico City in 1995 to study mural painting, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1996, and a Fulbright Fellowship for painting to Rio de Janeiro for 1997. In 1999 he was awarded a Getty Fellowship for painting followed by a City of Los Angeles (COLA) Fellowship in 2001. Birk was awarded a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship in 2007 and in 2014, he was named a USA Knight Fellow. Recent artist residencies include the Auckland Print Studio, New Zealand (2017); McKinney Visiting Artist at Indiana University, Bloomington, IN (2017); Ballinglen Arts Foundation, County Mayo, Ireland (2016); University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, WA (2014); Alila Villas Soori, Bali, Indonesia (2012) and Tamarind Institute, Albuquerque, NM (2011). 

Birk’s work can be found in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, NY, NY; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, NY; The Getty Center, Los Angeles, CA; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA; among many others. Recent solo exhibitions include the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, Eugene, OR (2017); Riverside Art Museum, Riverside, CA (2017); University of Anchorage, AK (2016); SDSU Downtown Gallery, San Diego, CA (2016); Thatcher Gallery, Univ. of San Francisco, CA (2016) and Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA (2015).

Sandow Birk has collaborated with his wife Elyse Pignolet, a practicing artist, on several projects, including American Procession (2017). He is represented by Koplin Del Rio Gallery, Seattle, WA, P.P.O.W. Gallery, New York City and Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco, CA.

Sandow Birk
The Rupture of Civility, 2020
Acrylic on canvas
12” x 16”
Courtesy of the Artist and Koplin Del Rio Gallery

The Rupture of Civility

At the start of the COVID19 pandemic, Los Angeles based artist Sandow Birk began a series of metaphorical marine paintings reminiscent of European history painting, which has inspired his work since he was a student in art school. In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, these grand paintings often depicted battles, tragic events and disaster, emphasizing heroic action and suffering to impart lessons to viewers. 

In this 21st century painting, the actual size of The Rupture of Civility belies the dramatic view of a once powerful and united ship, now broken in two, adrift and tossed about as it sinks in a vast stormy sea. What appeared to be mighty and indestructible is actually quite vulnerable. Was the disaster the result of misguided navigation? A divided crew? Birds circle ominously overhead and spilled cargo is lost, as neither side of the ship is able to help the other. 

Sandow Birk
A Few Bad Apples (Killed by Cops), 2019
Acrylic on canvas
26” x 60”
Courtesy of the Artist and Koplin Del Rio Gallery

A Few Bad Apples (Killed by Cops)

In recent years Sandow Birk created a series of detailed paintings that illuminate social and political issues such as police brutality, mass shootings, white terrorism and civil unrest. In A Few Bad Apples (Killed by Cops), Birk compresses such events into a panorama that spans night to daytime, a reminder of the constant 24-hour nature of violence in our country. Big city high-rise buildings yield to rolling green hills and intersect with streets lined with small businesses and homes. Interspersed is a church, a penitentiary, The White House, recognizable landmarks such as the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, and locations associated with police brutality

Throughout this varied American landscape there are many people and there is much conflict. Life and death happen all at once in dramatic detail. Flowing one into another, Birk paints multiple historic events depicting excessive force and murder at the hands of the police. Citizens not under assault stand nearby capturing evidence on cell phones. While some people seem stunned or desensitized, others protest with signs in hand demanding accountability and change. 

To Hear and Be Heard – Phillip Hua

To Hear and Be Heard

Phillip Hua

Born in San Jose, California, Phillip Hua was raised in the city that would eventually become the heart of Silicon Valley. As a child, he spent his days wandering the many fields and creeks now replaced with redevelopment, fueled by the tech industry. He eventually received his BFA from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. 

Hua’s work has been exhibited in galleries, museums, and art fairs nationally and internationally. In 2016, he was awarded a public art commission from the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) for the redesign of the 19th Street Oakland BART station and a public art commission from the San Francisco Arts Commission in 2018. 

His work has been featured by Art Practical, The San Francisco Chronicle, SFWeekly, California Home + Design magazine, White Hot Magazine of Contemporary Art, Huffington Post, Interior Design magazine, and 7×7 magazine, among others. 

Hua lives and works in San Francisco and is adjunct faculty at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco where he teaches Digital Media. 

Phillip Hua
We Are San Francisco, 2015
Collaged digital monotype
11″x14″ (Each portrait in grid)
Courtesy of the Artist

We Are San Francisco

Phillip Hua envisions a community where differences don’t define what is possible between us. In this shared life in the city, citizens meet and are present with one another. Hua explains, “In this series, I created bisected portraits of the people of San Francisco, merged with another. Plumbers with bankers, techies with tattoo artists. From the Presidio to the Portola, and the Marina to the Bayview, these portraits were a way to connect, literally and figuratively, the rich cultural diversity of the city. Everyone from the freaks to the geeks, to the hipsters to the homeless. The open arms of the city embrace all who reach for it. This series serves to bring people together into the same ‘space’ as a way to urge unity through turbulent times.”

To Hear and Be Heard – Nazanin Hedayat Munroe

To Hear and Be Heard

Nazanin Hedayat Munroe

Nazanin Hedayat Munroe is an artist, designer and historian specializing in textiles and costume. Dr. Hedayat Munroe received her Ph.D. from University of Bern, Switzerland and M.A. from San Jose State University in art history, specializing in historic textiles from the Early Modern Persianate World. Dr. Hedayat Munroe is currently Director of Textile Technology and a tenure-track Assistant Professor of Business & Technology of Fashion at CUNY – NYC College of Technology, where she lectures on textiles, historic dress, and contemporary issues in the fashion industry. From 2011—2016 she worked at The Metropolitan Museum as a textile specialist, publishing several articles and teaching courses at the museum in her area of expertise.

A nationally acclaimed textile artist and NEA grant recipient, her installations and research focus on expressions of cultural identity expressed through clothing, ranging from complex woven designs to digitally printed and smart textiles. She received her M.F.A. from Cranbrook Academy of Art and B.F.A. from Savannah College of Art and Design in textile design and fiber art. She has exhibited her garments and textile-based installations at several museums including the M.H. De Young Memorial Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cranbrook Art Museum, San Jose Museum of Art, and The San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles.

An Interview with Nazanin Hedayat Munroe

MKM: Why did you pursue art? Were you always creative? 

NHM: I was always creative; from the age of about six, I spent many hours writing stories about characters who traveled back in time. Then I would draw and paint their elaborate wardrobes by looking at history books. I started making clothes around this time too, I had a little miniature sewing machine.

MKM: You are an artist and scholar – Can you tell us about the interchange between your fine art practice and your academic, art historical work? 

NHM: In retrospect, it makes sense that I became a textile and garment designer who also studied art history, bringing these two disciplines together in my work. I research my garments pretty extensively while I’m designing, and when I’m writing about historic objects, I experiment in the studio to put myself in the place of the artist. These two approaches fit together nicely for me.

MKM: What inspires you? other artists, your process, research, a theme?

NHM: Most of my work is inspired by Persian culture and literature, contemplating themes such as destiny and divination; as well as issues pertaining to women and their idealized representations in art and literature as passive beings, when in fact they were often master strategists and mediators. The ideas become distilled into key words and images (I usually include text in my work), and then I create my installations to invite viewers into the psychic or physical space. If there is a common goal with all my work, it’s to take ideas from Sufi poetry and give them physicality, so the viewer is walking into a poem.

MKM: In your fine art practice, what is your most important tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?

NHM: I like to think of tools and techniques as a means to an end; I start with a vision of a piece, which usually consists of an installation and a garment(s), and then apply the technique that will express that vision. I work with paintings, sketches and textile samples before making the larger piece. Some of my favorite techniques are silk painting, dyeing and screen printing; color and motif are major elements in my work. I started as a weaver, but it’s difficult to make large work without an appropriately sized loom, and in New York I just don’t have the space for it.

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

NHM: I’ve always been pleasantly surprised by viewers, who are truly so generous with their enthusiasm and willingness to contemplate the ideas in my work and share their responses. The most memorable responses have been at venues in California and New York. The “Permanent Madness” performance and exhibition at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles (2006), which played out a scenario from Nizami’s Layla and Majnun, and included audience participation; this was also displayed at The Metropolitan Museum (2012). The performance/exhibition at the San Jose Museum of Art, in which I displayed the “Destiny House” (2007) and gave live Hafez destiny readings (a form of fortune telling with Persian poetry)—viewers were lined up throughout the museum! My artist residency and exhibition “Animedallion” at the de Young Museum (2008) had a great turnout for the closing, which included a live musical performance by a Sufi group. “100 Destinies” (2015) was shown with the Westchester Arts Council in New York at Persian New Year to an enthusiastic audience, with a musical performance of Persian poetry; and the Graduate Theological Union’s Doug Adams Gallery in Berkeley, CA (2017) had a lot of great press, and a beautiful catalog by Carol Bier. The common thread was that these works all involved silk textiles and Persian Sufi poetry as the basis for the work, and included an element of audience participation. I think there is some universal truth that those poets tapped into that comes across to viewers, which is really enhanced by the visual and performing arts. 

MKM: How has COVID impacted your practice and teaching? 

NHM: COVID-19 has impacted everything. A virtual exhibition, as accessible as it is to global audiences, is not the same as having a live opening and meeting other artists and viewers. There is something magical in that, and the human connection is really missing. As far as teaching—same thing! Online teaching has some advantages, but I miss being in on campus with my students where we can connect face-to-face.

MKM: What can we expect from you in the year ahead? 

NHM: This year (2021) I am wrapping up two major publications: a book on Sufi poetry and textiles from the early modern period; and on the other end of the spectrum, a book on the history of fashion from the mid-19th century to the present. Publishing works on these seemingly extreme opposites, I see now that the universe gave me a chance to explore my career as a former apparel designer in tandem with my career as an artist and historian, and find connections between the two.

The Talismanic Garment Series

Nazanin Hedayat Munroe’s recent artwork comes from her Talismanic Garment series. In describing her motivation for this series, she tells us: “I began the Talismanic Garment series in January 2017, prompted by the changes we started seeing in our society—particularly the increase in overt prejudice and scorn. Making a series of protective garments based on the idea of sacred symbols combined with text, I drew upon my research of early modern garments from my own heritage. I felt that protective icons and Sufi poetry by Rumi was the cloud of psycho-spiritual armor that I need to cloak myself—literally and metaphorically—from the evils and hazards lurking in the world. Both garments incorporate Rumi poetry as the protective prayer. I hope someday to live in a world that doesn’t feel overrun by spiritual and physical illnesses and social discord, but I’m not sure we will ever set our talismans aside.”

Talismanic Ensemble for the Era of Covid-19, 2020

The Talismanic Ensemble came from my research of talismanic garments inscribed with astrological symbols and Qur’anic text, used as protective garments during the early modern era in the Islamic world. These garments protected against the “evil eye” (warded off with the image of an eye), black magic, wounds and illness, by creating a barrier with positive language. Words can protect in folk tradition too: mothers in Iranian culture pray for the well-being of their children by whispering protective verses and blowing the words around their heads like a magic cloud—something that my own mother did for me as a child. This ensemble is my attempt to create a protective cloud in this era of COVID-19, which is marked not only by illness, but also by fear and anger—things that have been present in civilization for millennia. These talismanic garments were traditionally worn underneath regular clothes, as if they would lose their power if exposed. In this series, I am reversing this practice by putting the protective images, and verses—which include mystic poetry and personal supplications—on the outside of the garment. The dress is printed with a pattern of a head sprouting positive thoughts, representing the inner self. The cloak is a physical barrier representing the social distance that separates all of us into bubbles of fear and isolation.

Talismanic Kaftan, 2018

The Talismanic Kaftan is based on my research of cloth and garments as protective devices in Middle Eastern culture. It is based on a warrior garment, representing my outer life working as an artist and professor in New York City, photographed on site for the performative image “NY: Struggle for Space” (2018).  For this piece, I constructed a “Smart textile” that speaks to the viewer, rather than the wearer: if the viewer gets too close, the colors change and blink.  Using a proximity sensor, the lights turn green, yellow, or red to indicate safe, close, or too close. They hold a steady light in green when the viewer maintains a safe distance. Although this piece was constructed before the 2020 pandemic, the concept of social distancing has added additional challenges to establishing individual comfort levels with physical interaction, making it that much more important to communicate with visual symbols. The use of light here is also a reference to Divine protection and enlightenment. The digital print on the kaftan is based on a “Khamsa,” a talismanic symbol usually made of metal and carried on the top of a standard when soldiers went into battle or worn as jewelry around the neck. Protective talismanic clothing was also worn on the body, inscribed with Qur’anic verse or Sufi poetry. Here, I have united these separate practices by creating a repeat pattern and printing it on the fabric. The undergown contains verses by Jalaluddin Rūmī, a twelfth century poet whose poetry was often reproduced in other media. The poem is translated to English, but I have kept the Persian word Khamūsh: in Rūmī’s medieval poems this means “silence” and is used by Rūmī to indicate the end of his ecstatic rantings; in contemporary vernacular, this means “to turn off,” i.e. lights. Essentially, the garment in this context functions as psycho-spiritual armor.”

Talismanic Gown, 2018

“My inner life is about supplication and the search for internal peace, as seen in the Talismanic Gown and the performative image “CA: Supplication for Serenity” (2018). The gown is my West Coast prayer dress, photographed in California as I stood in a gesture of supplication at the edge of the Pacific Ocean. The Talismanic Gown is based on my research of garments as protective devices and images on clothing as a powerful tool for communicating identity. The sheer overgarment is digitally printed with a design inspired by a 17th century Safavid velvet, referenced as the “Supplicant” pattern by scholars. The supplicant depicted on cloth is in a traditional pose of du’a (supplication) as she converses with the Divine. By donning the garment, the wearer becomes the supplicant by displaying her image on the garment, indicating her piety to the viewer. The undergown contains verses by Jalaluddin Rūmī, a twelfth century poet whose poetry was often reproduced in other media, digitally printed here on cotton. The poem creates a protective forcefield around the wearer, whose prayer becomes mingled with Sufi mystic expression. Sometimes we communicate the most through silence.”