Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Cindy Shih and Bill Yancey

This week at Arteaser, we met up with a couple artists showing their work privately in an apartment in San Francisco. Part of what the residents hope becomes a rotating series, guests were invited to share an evening celebrating art by friends.

Earlier this year, when Sarah Hobbs moved into her new Noe Valley apartment with her roommate, Valerie, she was not satisfied with the bare walls that stared back at her. At the same time, she knew several friends who created art, but were not active in showing it.

“People didn’t want to make art for no reason. I think people want to think that people are looking at what their doing, so that was the hope that if we put up art in our house that people would want to make it more because someone was looking at it”

While not an artist herself, Hobbs enjoys art and firmly believes in art appreciation, so she proposed the idea of a rotating gallery show to Valerie. As a painter not entirely comfortable sharing her own work, Valerie hesitated, but ultimately agreed:

“Because I have such a personal relationship with it, it was hard for me to accept this idea […] I knew there’d be weirdness about it, but I knew at the end everyone would be ‘That was so nice and great and it was so fun to see people’s art and [have] everyone get together.’”

Hobbs had seen works by her colleague, Cindy Shih, on a blog. Shih started the blog in late 2007 to document her work after being inspired by a friend:

“She was taking some classes at the local art institute and she just started doing some pastels and putting it up on a blog […] I was inspiring to see because […] she’s an engineer and she decided to take some art classes because she was interested. She really never did art before […] I can see the progress that she’s making in the work she’s doing […]”

Born in Taiwan, Shih had a natural talent for lifelike drawing. The realization of her talents started to come when a childhood friend asked ‘How do you know which side to shade?’ Indeed, Sarah and Valerie’s show featured some works by Shih dating from junior high:

“I felt like a lot of [my work] was just languishing on the bottom of my bed […] I just decided to archive it by taking a picture of it and then threw it up in a blog”

A fan of work by Egon Shiele, Shih is drawn to the artistic process:

“I remember going to Europe and […] picking up Michelangelo’s drafts […] I just wanted to have his sketches so I could see the process that he takes to make his masterpieces. That’s what I’m interested in - seeing how everyone develops their style”

Her repertoire of figure drawings and studies reflect that interest, but accepting the incompleteness was not easy:

“I don’t do any faces because I want it to look unfinished because I don’t feel like I ever can finish it […] I used to really struggle with that, when I was younger, I felt like I could never finish something and that’s why I didn’t want to draw, I didn’t want to paint because […] I didn’t know how to finish it and it was never actually done”

Hobbs and Shih had shared ideas about art initiatives in the past, so Hobbs suggested that Shih be the inaugural artist in their home gallery experiment. Accounts of Shih’s initial reaction vary, but at some point Bill Yancey, another colleague, was approached to join in the endeavor:

“It’s hard because people don’t want to show their art […] I didn’t even think we would get anyone to hang their stuff up […] The hardest thing about this was in all honesty was getting people who are like, ‘I want to do this.’’”

A native of Modesto, California, Yancey grew up creating graffiti art in public spaces, inspired by artists like Alexander Rodchenko:

“I would just go to the library and check-out like twenty books at a time. I was really into Russian Constructivism”

Working full time left little energy to create for years, but feelings of boredom, among other things, have driven Yancey back to creative pursuits:

“I just do stuff that I would like to hang on my wall and I usually end up giving it to friends”

Taking wisdom from his father, Yancey considers how to balance career and art:

“I don’t look for fulfillment in my work […it’s] how you get the money to do the things you love to do. Your job isn’t what you love to do. Which sounds kind of defeatist and sad, but I think it’s actually a good way to go about things”

Shih, on the other hand, has struggled more to find such a balance. Hesitations manifested early when decided whether to attend art school and she continues to face challenges in pursuing her art:

“I definitely did [think about going to art school], but every single time I though about it the rational part of my brain told me that I probably shouldn’t […] The dream has always been to make [the rational side and the artistic side] come together. It could be now, it could be later, it’s just that there’s always thing in the economy or family that keeps me from doing that.”

But for a night in a Noe Valley apartment, a group of friends were able to enjoy the art that happened despite these challenges. For Sarah and Valerie, their walls were no longer empty, but grander schemes have yet to emerge:

“It was more just, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to sort of have this excuse of let’s all get together and appreciate the fact that our friends have these great personal pursuits’”

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