Audiences can’t get enough of California artist Chelsea Ryoko Wong’s paintings of simple, everyday joys


Our memory is playing tricks on us – objectively, our most formative and definitive thoughts are probably a bit off. Remembrance is both static and active, a way of visiting the past and creating it at the same time. When Chelsea Ryoko Wong did After the dentist with dad (2022), she painted not only from, but with, her memory: her father is shown as he appears today, aged 84, while Wong depicts herself standing with him as a young child.

The floating roast ducks swaying above the counter and the cheerful, colorful tiles lining the storefront resemble the facades of Chinatown in her hometown of San Francisco, though she draws inspiration from the father-daughter tradition of getting together. reward with the Cantonese specialty. to spend dental visits in his hometown of Seattle.

“I wanted to paint this moment, but I wanted to make it cross-generational,” Wong explained from his Mission District studio. “It’s a collage of past and present memories. Artists have the power to create their own world, so my work is a mixture of reality and fiction. I like to give people space for their own story in the picture.

Chelsea Ryoko Wong After the dentist with dad (2022). Photo: Glen Cheriton, Impart Photography; Courtesy of the artist and Jessica Silverman, San Francisco.

Many of the works (all made in 2022) from “Gravitational Pull,” his recent solo exhibition at Jessica Silverman in San Francisco, settle into similar composites that celebrate the simple, authentic pleasures of coming together. While works such as Fisherwomen and Mint tea in the sauna at sunset reflect the care and intimacy that comes from quality tete-a-tete, she is best known for scenes such as those in A modern feast, Cast on a foggy dayand Joshua Tree with Friends. In these, diverse groups of loved ones and acquaintances are happy to share a meal or collectively navigate the sublime natural terrains of California.

These easygoing shots are an open invitation to the viewer: “She pays such close attention to the size of the characters [in these paintings]”, said Jessica Silverman. “She makes it seem like we can all be in the picture with them.”

In a perpetual news cycle of division, violence and social regression, reflecting true diversity and inclusion within one’s circles can seem like a radical and politically charged act. For Wong, that’s how it’s always been. Her father is a political science professor from Hong Kong, whose family lived under Japanese occupation. His mother is Japanese-American, whose family spent time in American internment camps during World War II. Her three half-sisters are half black and half Japanese.

“We all have very different origin stories, but we grew up as a family and we still are a family,” she said. Discussions of race and culture were standard dinner items.

Chelsea Ryoko Wong A modern feast (2022). Photo: Glen Cheriton, Impart Photography; Courtesy of the artist and Jessica Silverman, San Francisco.

Wong is also deeply rooted in her immediate surroundings, and her work is tied to personal landmarks with site-specific and public works. San Francisco activist collective 100 Days Action invited Wong to paint an animated mural showing the interior of Hon’s Wun-Tun Noodle House, one of his neighborhood vigils, on the outside of the restaurant when he was closed early during the pandemic closures.

“I wanted people to have a connection to this place even if they couldn’t be open for business, and maintain that presence, given what it means to the Chinese community here,” Wong said.

She sees her work as a gesture of warmth and solidarity, in response to the escalating threats of violence directed at AAPI communities over the past two years. She has also adapted one of her paintings to adorn the Yetunde Price Resource Center, a community space in Compton, Los Angeles that provides counseling and healing through trauma-informed programming. It is named after the late older sister of Venus and Serena Williams, who was killed in 2003 in an act of gang violence in the neighborhood.

Chelsea Ryoko Wong Fisherwomen (2022). Photo: Glen Cheriton, Impart Photography; Courtesy of the artist and Jessica Silverman, San Francisco.

Draw inspiration from San Francisco’s artistic heritage

Wong studied graphic design and illustration at Parsons in New York and at the California College of the Arts in Oakland to earn his BFA in printmaking. Although not formally trained in painting, her distinct style is instilled through her studies: she lays down flat layers in her paint, similar to the technique used to make etchings. “She is [also] a great colorist,” said Silverman, describing how Wong likes to pair two discordant colors together and challenge himself to achieve one in the middle that brings all three together in visual harmony.

The gallerist was drawn to Wong’s work in 2020, making masked visits to her studio when Covid forced so many aspects of society – and socializing – to slow down. Perhaps unwittingly, Silverman also drew on another common thread of the hyperlocal record: Mission School artists from the San Francisco Art Institute in the 1990s and 2000s, including Barry McGee, Chris Johanson, Ruby Neri, and Claire Rojas. . Considered part of the lowbrow art movement, their work gave the area its unique murals, graffiti, comics and folk art, and although the group emphasized accessibility and nimble methods and materials, such as spray paint, they often lacked representation.

“I had been thinking a lot about the mission school footage,” Silverman said. “I see Chelsea’s work as an update of that, which was mostly about white bodies.”

More women floated behind the artist during our visit to the FaceTime studio. She was working on a painting of women relaxing in the water and drying their traditional clothes. cheongsam dresses on the flat rocks protruding from the Yuba River, a former gold rush settlement near Sacramento. I see a copy of Forbidden City, USA: Chinese-American Nightclubs, 1936-1970a history of nightlife in the 1930s and 40s in San Francisco, on his desk.

Chelsea Ryoko Wong Bathers, 2022. Photo: Glen Cheriton, Impart Photography; Courtesy of the artist and Jessica Silverman, San Francisco.

“[Asian] Women weren’t really allowed to come to the United States at that time, and there was so much racism against Chinese people,” Wong said, referring to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. “I’m reinventing this era so that these women can live their best life,” laughs Wong.

Work in progress is featured in “Wonder Women,” an exhibition about self and identity as seen in figurative art, as well as gifts of magic and wonder, with works by Asian American women and diaspora and non-binary artists, on view at Deitch’s New York location. “Chelsea’s works depict the everyday joys that exist in Asian American communities across the United States, and I felt her voice was essential to include here,” says Kathy Huang, Deitch’s Managing Director and Curator of ” Wonder Woman”.

“Wonder Women” and “Gravitational Pull,” along with “Manta,” a two-person exhibit at New Image Art in Los Angeles, are the most recent in a string of back-to-back commissions and projects for Wong. This summer, she will also participate in Silverman’s group exhibition at TOA Presents, the exhibition space of The Orange Advisory, an art consultancy in Minneapolis. Wong is also nominated for the San Francisco Museum of Art’s SECA Art Award, an annual celebration of emerging Bay Area artists who are shortlisted for presentation and publication by SFMoMA in December.

Chelsea Ryoko Wong Joshua Tree with Friends (2022). Photo: Glen Cheriton, Impart Photography; Courtesy of the artist and Jessica Silverman, San Francisco.

Sales of his work are also gaining momentum. Although his current exhibition includes only seven paintings, priced between $10,000 and $15,000, Silverman has already fielded more than 30 requests. “We thought either the collectors who support our program would be interested in his work, or Chelsea’s loyal clientele would lead us to new collectors. Both of those things happened,” Silvermans said. The gallery is currently finalizing Wong’s first institutional acquisition.

And given the artist’s mapping of the dreamlike topography of her state, she may already have her next point of inspiration. At the end of our interview, Wong was leaving the studio a little early to head to Point Reyes, where his friends were crabbing off the shore.

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