The Offering (48″x48″): I love pieces that develop in their own time. As these paintings grow with me over months, my challenges, wishes, joys and sorrows get embedded in the layers. The painting becomes a time capsule that captures who I am and how I’m feeling as the piece evolves.
I love some of the color and energy in the earlier versions, but these passages, while pretty, were meaningless. I relish paintings where the struggle leads me to unknown places and pushes me beyond my capabilities. At their best, my paintings feel like an archeological discovery, as if I’m unearthing something that’s always been there. The finished piece is something I never could (or would) set out to paint. So these origin stories remind me of how a painting came to be…
June 15, 2023: I am both here and not here…a meditation on impermanence that is resonating with me today. And so I embedded it in the first layer of this 48″x48″ piece.
June 18: Starting to build up surface history that I can later work back into. Happy to be working large once again…
June 22: Working on large pieces in a small studio makes it hard to stand back and view the painting from a distance. So posting progress pics on Instagram scales down the image, allowing me to troubleshoot compositional problems and figure out where the piece wants to go next…🤓
June 25: Very early stages yet, but after a brief TimeOut, we’re starting to listen to each other…
Collaged transcripts, oil & cold wax medium on wood panel
The daily writing practice I started when I was 7 has become the creative cornerstone of my life. Writing makes my subconscious conscious—it is my key to mining the stories I’ve inherited about who I am and where I come from. Then I head into my studio to make sense of what I have just unearthed. The act of creating shows me where I stand in the flow between cultural inheritance and legacy.
Family stories form the foundation of this painting…
June 28, 2021: A new piece has me burrowing back in to the family stories I collected for my film, A Lot Like You. I’m cutting up transcripts of stories told to me by my family on Mt. Kilimanjaro, and gluing them onto a 36″x60″ wood panel. Even in paper form, my Aunts’ stories are arresting. What a gift that time was. 17 years later, I’m still feeling the ripple effects of our conversation in the hut. (I tell the story of our time together in my 2016 TEDxSeattle talk, Why the World Needs Your Story.)
June 28, 2021 (end of day): Record breaking 110° in the studio today. Foundation laid. 15 square feet of transcripts. Calling it a day. Going to melt into a G&T!
July 13, 2021: Laying down some warm tones over the collaged transcripts ~ the first of many layers to come. I expect this painting to be a slow and steady build over the coming weeks.
July 14, 2021: Next layer on the 36″x60″ transcript painting…
July 19, 2021: Can’t stop laughing at this guy! No time to paint the last 4 days, so my starting layers totally dried. Time to start again. It’s way too early to be precious about any of this. So I get to start the day scribbling, doodling, writing, painting with colors I don’t usually use to reactivate the surface. Getting this piece from 0 to 60 so I can cruise into the week ahead…
This piece taught me about the role of art in my life, which I wrote about here. But I wanted to assemble the origin story of this painting. So here’s a look back at the rather challenging evolution of this painting.
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2/14/2020: New day, new words, new piece. The words inscribed on this piece is the following quote from John O’Donohue: “Your soul knows the geography of your destiny. Your soul alone has the map of your future, therefore you can trust this indirect, oblique side of yourself. If you do, it will take you where you need to go, but more important it will teach you a kindness of rhythm in your journey.”
2/14/2020 End of Day: This metro map of my hometown will be coursing thru the painting like veins just below the surface. #Rockville #RedLine
2/20/20: I seem to have painted myself into a corner. By the end of the day, the painting was feeling too tight and controlled.
3/2/20: …and now for something Completely Different. The metro piece has taken a turn as I play with perspective and purples for a change.💜
I’ve recently become aware that I need to refine how I talk about my creative process. My process is largely iterative ~ far from linear. I love repurposing old paintings, building upon the history that is already there. I’m happy to abandon ideas of where I was trying to steer my painting, and open myself up to where it wants to go.
But in the midst of these bold 180s, one can miss the fact that there is a method to the madness. Every layer is deliberate and serves a purpose. Every layer is infused with intention. And this intention, whether it can be seen in the final piece or just felt, can be sensed by the viewer when they stand in front of the finished painting.
For example, here are four starts to four separate pieces:
• A meditation on contemplative imagination (and the ways that our art can amplify our activism).
• 2 collaged panels of transcribed interviews with my family/Chagga tribal elders.
• And images of notable milestones in my life.
Even though my approach might seem intuitive and loose, rest assured, it is not random or mindless. Every layer serves a purpose and informs the final piece, even if they lie deeply embedded beneath the surface…🤓
🔴 1/5/2021: “Quieting the Mind” (40″x30″) is a painting I never thought would leave my house. It’s a subtle piece that’s impossible to photograph ~ so it was never going to sell online. And being mostly white, it didn’t show well on white gallery walls. So I stopped showing it/sharing it, and hung it in the espresso colored living room where I write every morning. Then a dear friend/neighbor/fellow artist asked if she could come by this weekend to see my paintings. And this is the piece that caught her eye. It’s amazing how each painting finds its way to the person who’s meant to have it. This one is easily overlooked by some, mesmerizing to others. And it’s a piece that could only ever have been bought by someone who saw it in person. Thank you for taking the time to notice this piece, S.G. I’m honored that it will be living on in your love-filled home at the end of the lane.🌸
Here is a look back at the relatively swift evolution of this piece.
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Process shots of the piece as it evolves, starting with blanket layers of colors. First the warm layers…
“The Truth Has No Borders” is a multimedia piece that integrates 40 years of writing, photography, music, film, and art into a single cohesive, immersive installation.
It was originally created to exhibit in a shipping container for COCA’s 30-day Storefronts [UN]contained Residency in 2016. Lately, I’ve been feeling the need to revisit this project, and fully realize my vision. But I’ve been struggling with how to convey the impact of this piece in grant/exhibition applications.
I shot this test video on-site when I only had the first two layers of paper panels up (I wanted to see how the projection & sound worked in the space.) The final installation had 7 layers of paper panels. But my dream is to FILL the room with floor-to-ceiling encaustic paper panels — a layered paper screen embedded with images of my Mom’s Korean family, that are illuminated by the projected moving imagery of my Dad’s Chagga family on Kilimanjaro.
When I brought this dilemma to Larry Calkins, he suggested building a model of the project to film. Brilliant!! And so my diorama project begins…(projection and sound to follow).
This 24″x 24″ painting has undergone a surprising number of transformations before finally settling on the Broadstairs piece currently exhibiting at Northwest Encaustics. As one of the more epic #NoPanelLeftBehind pieces, I decided to trace Broadstairs back to its origins, and offer snapshots of its evolution over the past 2 years…
March 13, 2017
Most of my pieces begin with writing…whether it be part of a journal entry, passage from a book, lyric, poem. The base layers here also includes wood glue burn, yellow india ink, and several clear coats of encaustic medium.
March 13, 2017
School’s out, which means my studio assistant is on hand to scrape back the layers. Always happy to let the kid loose on my paintings. I consider this a good return on my investment.😉
…This body of work hangs together loosely. To me, they are more about the process, the journey of becoming. They evoke the layered narratives that we all carry—as individuals in this present moment, and as the embodiment of our ancestors’ stories spanning generations and continents. They represent new directions I am taking as an artist — using mark-making, texture, cold wax medium and organic materials to tell a story. Some of these pieces came into being fully-formed. Some were labors of love, with 2 or 3 completely different paintings existing beneath the surface.
While I am excited to share these paintings in their current incarnations, some of them will be radically transformed – melted, scraped down, carved into, painted over—when they return to my studio. But as a lover of process, I believe that even our work-in-progress selves deserve an occasional spotlight…to be seen, witnessed and considered in our current state of being…and becoming.