Mocha Monkeys and Icees in Wailuku

GRAPHITE Multimedia Editor Dina Cordova speaks with two LA-based artists whose work she recently found on view at GR2 in West Los Angeles.

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How to Follow a Raincoat of Sunshine, mixed media on plexiglass, 14.38” x 10.75”

EDWIN USHIRO

What do you enjoy most?

Family and friends.

Describe your work environment.

At the moment, I am working on the floor since all my furniture was installed at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles for the Giant Robot Biennale 4 where I recreated my studio space.

What themes do you pursue in this exhibit (at Giant Robot 2)?

My work always surrounds the memories of my childhood growing up on the island of Maui.

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

Always remember where you came from.

What is one of your strongest memories from childhood? Do you think it has played a role in your art?

My Grandma taking my brother and I to go get ICEEs and a hotdog at Kaohu Store in Wailuku. Yes, they all eventually make their way into my artwork.

Describe the feeling of your favorite color.

Imagine a gentle continuous breeze on a warm summer afternoon. Light blue.

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Passing, mixed media, 44.5” x 34.5”

JENI YANG

What do you enjoy most?

I enjoy good times in the nature, hiking and camping. At home I enjoy good films, music, reading, cooking, collecting plant species and growing my kitchen jungle.

Describe your work environment?

It depends, my work studio in LA was like a jungle. There’re some planted tanks, some fish and shrimps, and a frog and a cat around me when I work. Right now I’m working internationally in Cadiz, in the south of Spain, which is a coastal city. I am here for a two-month artist residency program in which I will be working in a spacious two-story work studio with a view of the ocean. The studio is inside a contemporary museum, surrounded by the ocean in an urban/coastal environment. It’s walking distance to many historical architecture sites. The city of Cadiz has an ancient history of thousands of years.

What themes do you pursue in this exhibit (at Giant Robot)?

In this exhibit (The Year of the Monkey exhibit) I tried to pursue the theme of the animal character with one food item, since foods are very important in the Lunar New Year festival. In my current work (and also in the past Lunar New Year exhibit at Giant Robot) I’ve been trying to translate each animal into a food item. This year, the year of the monkey, I borrowed the concept of both “dango” (a type of mochi) and “3 monkeys” into my theme.

What is a key feature of the exhibit you would recommend visitors keep an eye out for?

I think visitors would find that even though Lunar New Year is not officially celebrated in the U.S. as a holiday, we can still enjoy its atmosphere in this exhibition. We can see the work related to the “monkey” created by artists coming from different cultural backgrounds.

What is one of your strongest memories from childhood? Do you think it has played a role in your art?

In my childhood, I remember growing up spending a lot of time in the farmers’ markets and night markets with my family. There are always plenty of delicious street foods in these markets where I grew up as a kid in Taiwan. Roasted chestnuts were one of my favorite street treats and usually were given to me as rewards for doing well in school. Up until today I’m still seeking chestnuts whenever and wherever I can to help me reconnect with myself, although chestnuts are not so popular and are pretty difficult to find in the U.S. Therefore, I sometimes let these chestnuts live in my art and grow together with me.

Describe the feeling of your favorite color.
My favorite color is green. Green to me is a sign of a new life, and a new beginning. Green is also the color that gives me the energy that generates naturally from the mother earth for my creativity. It is the color I think if I could touch it, then I could feel it. The color of green is something you’d feel soft and solid.

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