Painter

Painter Tschabalala Self Wants to Keep Her Life Separate From Her Work. Will the Art World Let Her?


For as long as women have been making art in the public domain, (often male) critics and curators have looked to their work to offer some great revelation about their personhood—their mental health or their beauty or their niceness or their rudeness. Yayoi Kusama’s art is “driven by her inner experiences” and “visual hallucinations.” Alice Neel is “brimming with politically charged empathy.”

These artists’ gifts, the narrative goes, come from a place deep within, inextricable from their character or spirit. Helen Frankenthaler’s biographer Alexander Nemerov once wrote that appreciation of the artist’s work required him to “abandon his expertise.” 

This is not to say that female artists—particularly those, like Frankenthaler, who had money and whiteness and virtually every privilege at their disposal—have not enjoyed robust careers or scholarship. But it has been nearly impossible to prevent the bleeding of their lives into their work—whispers about how daring or rebellious this one was, or how everything that one made comprised an act of resistance.

Viewers are often asked to separate the art from the artist, but only if the artist is a man who has behaved badly. They are almost never asked to do so if the artist is a woman—especially if she is a young woman, even more so a young woman of color. 

Tschabalala Self, Sapphire (2015). Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.

Tschabalala Self, Sapphire (2015). Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd.

***

If ever there were an artist working today who understands this dilemma—how revealing any real part of you can, through subsequent projection, forever inflict upon your work an irremovable stain—it is Tschabalala Self.

The 31-year-old artist has, over the past few years, become one of the most sought-after young creators in the United States. The glare of the spotlight has left her extremely deliberate about how much of herself she reveals. When we spoke about her major solo exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art (through September 19), she was precise and careful with her language. In conversation, she rarely goes off script and has a tendency to dive deep into historical references, careful not to betray any glimpse of the umbilical cord that tethers what she makes to the core of her.

“I actually prefer people not to know any real facts about me,” Self said earlier this summer. “It’s more interesting for them and for me, for people to just assume things and then for it to be ambiguous about whether or not it’s true.”

“Whatever they come up with I am sure will be more interesting than the truth,” she added.

Tschabalala Self, "Sunday" (2016). The Byron Nelson Family Collection. © Tschabalala Self

Tschabalala Self, Sunday (2016). The Byron Nelson Family Collection. © Tschabalala Self

While carefully maintaining her personal boundaries, Self has spent the past year and a half pushing herself to become vulnerable within the confines of her work. For the Baltimore Museum, she created three new paintings in response to works by Matisse—an experience she called “inspiring” and one that required her to reach beyond the safety of her purview, linking her work to something external. 

This fall, Self will create her first live performance, for the Performa biennial in New York. It marks her first time working with real bodies in lieu of fabric subjects. The piece—in which two actors, one male and one female, face off in a non-linear dialogue—will push her to relinquish some of the control she has so carefully cultivated.

“I want to take more risk in regards to what I’m willing to incorporate into my practice, to keep exploring my ideas and amplify them,” Self said. “Maybe I’m a little more open-minded now.”

***

It is no surprise that Self’s relationship to success in a predominantly white art world is fraught. She is uneasy when her works end up in the wrong homes or at auction, where collectors bid on Black bodies with wine glasses in hand. She has made her views on this abundantly clear in previous interviews

Her market ascent began shortly after she finished graduate school at Yale in 2015, where she came away with an M.F.A in painting and printmaking after completing her undergraduate degree in studio art at Bard College. 

By the time she entered the art world as a professional, eyes were already on her—she had little room to experiment privately. She signed with her gallery, Pilar Corrias, in 2017. She’s had solo shows at the Hammer Museum and the ICA Boston. Her 2019 Hammer exhibition, “Bodega Run,” which featured a series on the local bodega as a bedrock of community in Harlem, received rapturous critical acclaim.

It is easy to see why: to look at Self’s work is to be jolted by her layered figures who are, more often than not, lone Black women depicted as assemblages of hand-painted and found fabrics like blue denims, floral prints of dinner-table cloths and sundresses, and tan brown textiles that recall the color of Timberland boots. Together, they map the textures of Self’s childhood in Harlem, where she was raised by her mother and a close-knit community of women, many of whom had deeply personal relationships to style.

Tschabalala Self, "Loner" (2016). Craig Robins Collection. © Tschabalala Self

Tschabalala Self, Loner (2016). Craig Robins Collection. © Tschabalala Self

Self’s prodigious body of work has placed her among the ranks of excellent Black female artists who are at least 20 years her senior: Amy Sherald, Calida Rawles, Carrie Mae Weems, and Kara Walker among them. In the art history of the future, these women will undoubtedly be grouped together for reinventing, in remarkable ways, Black figuration for the Black community.

For everyone else—non-Black viewers—appreciation can happen, but there will always be a gulf between them and a life experience that is not theirs by birthright. Within that gulf, projection, fetishization, glorification, and appropriation can flourish. Emotion is conflated with understanding and encroaches upon an artist’s ability to present work on their own terms. 

Just as Self is hyper-aware of how she as a creator may be perceived by the public, she is also conscious of what it means to have non-Black viewers take joy in her work. To admit to liking Self’s art as a non-Black person is to confront what compels you to linger before it: the winking, goddess-like energy of her figures, with their fulsome hips and thighs and breasts, their hair full of health.

Look even more closely, and you may find that the expressions of Self’s characters contrast with the energies of their bodies. They are contemplative, neutral, occasionally blank. Are you sure you are really seeing me? they seem to ask.

***

“I’m not very good at looking at myself in the third person,” Self said. “I can’t fully wrap my head around what other people truly think of me. I have ideas, you know… but I don’t know how accurate those are. I think that’s probably for the best because if you were to see yourself the way other people do, I would imagine that would be very toxic.” 

Tschabalala Self. Two Women (2019). Rubell Museum. © Tschabalala Self

Tschabalala Self, Two Women (2019). Rubell Museum. © Tschabalala Self

Self’s uneasy relationship with her audience should not be confused with a refusal to articulate what her work stands for. On her website, she proclaims that her pieces are “dedicated to naming” the phenomenon of how “collective fantasies surround the Black body, and have created a cultural niche in which exists our contemporary understanding of Black femininity.” Her art speaks truth to power pointedly and publicly—but that doesn’t mean she has to do the same as Self, the person.

When Self and I talk about how Black women artists are fetishized and how this might be prevented, she becomes a little less vague. “As an artist I believe you can take the reigns and assert some level of agency in the scenario if you choose to,” she said. “One must create boundaries and control their narrative. You do not have to concede and be complicit with that narrative that is projected onto you, you know what I mean?”

She is also wary of cultivating a kind of art-star persona that might make her less accountable for her actions. “If you think about how people talk about artists in films and biopics, they’re often depicted as these mythic figures,” she said. “All their sins are overlooked, all their bad deeds are explained away because they’ve become so godlike.” 

***

In an interview I conducted last year with Self and her partner Mike Mosby, a curator and DJ, Mosby described Self as “not really” a social person. She is selective about art events she attends and with whom, usually sticking to a tight-knit group of artist friends. 

Over the course of 2020, Self made daily pilgrimages from the home she shares with Mosby in Hudson, New York, to her studio in New Haven, stopping for breakfasts at Barbara’s (one fried egg, bacon, and two pancakes) and pizza at Brick Oven. She thought often about loneliness, and the loneliness of her figures. 

Perhaps it is fitting, then, that her two latest projects—the Baltimore show and the Performa performance—put her once solitary bodies in groups or couples. 

Installation view of Tschabalala Self: By My Self at the Baltimore Museum. © Tschabalala Self

Installation view of Tschabalala Self: By My Self at the Baltimore Museum. © Tschabalala Self

The inspiration for the Baltimore show came out of research Self conducted into the museum’s large Matisse collection. She came upon on a rare sculpture, originally titled Two Negresses, that portrays Black women embracing one another.

Self created three paintings to play off Matisse’s work, which was specifically intended for the white male gaze. Her figures, kinetic and bodacious women portrayed in bright colors and various textures, seem to challenge Matisse’s to a sort of contest of the spirit. They are also a celebration of the fact that Black women can now be depicted in the halls of museums by artists who look like them.

Installation view of Tschabalala Self: By My Self at the Baltimore Museum. © Tschabalala Self

Installation view of Tschabalala Self: By My Self at the Baltimore Museum. © Tschabalala Self

Self is still ambivalent about how much of herself to show to the world beyond her work. In lieu of performing in the Performa commission herself, she opted to hire actors. But after spending a year disconnected from most people, she is newly inspired to explore connection. 

“I think one positive thing that’s come out of this chaotic time—2020 to me was the straw that broke the camel’s back after several chaotic years—is that I’m more open to doing things I wouldn’t have considered doing otherwise,” she said. “Why not? Everything else that’s happened has happened. You might not ever get the chance to do these things ever again.”

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The Art World Remembers the Late Painter Hung Liu, Who Valorized Everyday Immigrants in Monumental Portraits


On the eve of her first museum retrospective, Oakland-based painter Hung Liu, one of the first Chinese artists to find success in the U.S., died on Saturday, August 7 from pancreatic cancer. She was 73.

Over the course of her career, Hung Liu created large-scale paintings and installations based on photographs, often drawn from her own family history as well as those of other immigrants and refugees.

“She left this world in the same way she lived, with compassion for those who will miss her so profoundly, with immense courage, and with unthinkable generosity and grace,” the artist’s Santa Fe gallery, Turner Carroll, wrote on its website.

Hung Liu: Portraits of Promised Lands” is due to open at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., on August 27. It will be the institution’s first solo show by an Asian woman.

Hung Liu. Photo courtesy of Hung Liu and Jeff Kelley.

Hung Liu. Photo courtesy of Hung Liu and Jeff Kelley.

“The National Portrait Gallery mourns the loss of Hung Liu, whose extraordinary vision reminds us that even in the midst of despair, and when people help each other, there is joy,” Kim Sajet, the museum’s director, said in a statement. “She believed in the power of art—and portraiture—to change the world.”

Born in Changchun, China, in 1948, just months before Mao Zedong established the People’s Republic of China, Hung was a baby when her family fled the Red Army. Her father was imprisoned, and she did not see him again until 1994. During the Cultural Revolution, the artist herself spent four years doing manual labor in the countryside for “re-education.”

Hung Liu in 1972. The art spent four years doing manual labor during China's Cultural Revolution. Photo courtesy of Hung Liu.

Hung Liu in 1972. The art spent four years doing manual labor during China’s Cultural Revolution. Photo courtesy of Hung Liu.

Out of fear of the government, Hung burned most of her family photographs during the Cultural Revolution. “Even to have a family photo taken, that itself showed that you were not poor enough,” she explained to the Smithsonian’s Portraits podcast just last month. “In China, the poor are the most trustworthy.”

This loss led to a fascination with old photographs that became the foundation of much of Hung’s work, creating work that she hoped gave voice to the working class, to people lost to memory. Her canvases are overlaid with linseed oil that causes the paint to drip, a style she dubbed “weeping realism.”

These layered visions of the past speak to the difficulties of life in Maoist China. Hung also documented the challenges of the immigrant experience. She spent her last few years making works based on Dorothea Lange’s photographs from the Oakland Museum of California’s archive, seeing parallels between families displaced by the Dust Bowl and the Chinese farmers of her youth.

Hung Liu, Twelve Hairpins of Jinling (2011). The painting was based on a photograph from World War II. ©Hung Liu.

Hung Liu, Twelve Hairpins of Jinling (2011). The painting was based on a photograph from World War II. ©Hung Liu.

“Whether exploring the conditions of women and children, the brutality of the Cultural Revolution, or the collapse of American feudalism, Liu’s paintings humanize the lives of everyday people,” artist Carrie Mae Weems told Turner Carroll. “She’s remarkable.”

In recent years, Hung’s work had become controversial in China, where a 2019 exhibition at the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing was canceled due to government censorship.

The artist initially trained in Social Realism, the propagandistic style favored by the Communist regime, at Beijing Teachers College and the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing. After waiting four years for a passport, Hung moved to the U.S. in 1984 to study at the University of California San Diego under Allan Kaprow, Fluxus artist and Happenings pioneer.

Hung Liu, Resident Alien (1988). Collection of the San Jose Museum of Art, gift of the Lipman Family Foundation, ©Hung Liu.

Hung Liu, Resident Alien (1988). Collection of the San Jose Museum of Art, gift of the Lipman Family Foundation, ©Hung Liu.

It was at a 1988 residency San Francisco’s Capp Street Project that Hung painted one of her best-known canvases, Resident Alien, a self-portrait of the artist’s green card replacing her birthdate with her date of arrival in the U.S. and her name with “Cookie, Fortune.”

Other major works include Going Away, Coming Home, a 2006 layered glass mural permanently installed at the Oakland airport that measures 10 feet by 160 feet. Currently, she has a solo show at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, featuring Resident Alien.

Hung’s work appears in the collection institutions including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and Metropolitan Museum in New York City, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Hung Liu, <em>Going Away, Coming Home</em> (2006) at the Oakland International Airport. ©Hung Liu.

Hung Liu, Going Away, Coming Home (2006) at the Oakland International Airport. ©Hung Liu.

“Hung Liu was such a vibrant and vital part of the art world in the Bay Area and beyond,” de Young curator Janna Keegan said in a statement. “Hung Liu’s art practice focused on recovering the stories of people who have been often forgotten in traditional historical narratives. The legacy and wonderful oeuvre she leaves behind will ensure that she too will always be remembered.”

Hung is survived by her husband, art critic Jeff Kelley, their son, Ling Chen Kelley. She is also represented by Rena Bransten Gallery in San Francisco.

See more photos of the artist and her work below.

Hung Liu in her studio with Rat Year (2020). Photo by John Janca, courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C. ©Hung Liu.

Hung Liu in her studio with Rat Year (2020). Photo by John Janca, courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C. ©Hung Liu.

Hung Liu, Sisters (2000). Collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C., gift of the Harry and Lea Gudelsky Foundation, Inc.; ©Hung Liu.

Hung Liu, Sisters (2000). Collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C., gift of the Harry and Lea Gudelsky Foundation, Inc.; ©Hung Liu.

Hung Liu, Untitled (2005, from "Seven Poses" series. Collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, gift of the Greater Kansas City Area Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. ©Hung Liu.

Hung Liu, Untitled (2005, from “Seven Poses” series. Collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, gift of the Greater Kansas City Area Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. ©Hung Liu.

Hung Liu. Photo by Paul Andrews, courtesy of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art.

Hung Liu. Photo by Paul Andrews, courtesy of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art.

Hung Liu, Winter Blossom (2011). Collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in honor of the artist and the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of the National Museum of Women in the Arts; ©Hung Liu.

Hung Liu, Winter Blossom (2011). Collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in honor of the artist and the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of the National Museum of Women in the Arts; ©Hung Liu.

Hung Liu, <em>Migrant Mother: Mealtime</em> (2016), based on a Depression-era photograph by Dorothea Lange. Collection of Michael Klein, ©Hung Liu.

Hung Liu, Migrant Mother: Mealtime (2016), based on a Depression-era photograph by Dorothea Lange. Collection of Michael Klein, ©Hung Liu.

Hung Liu: Portraits of Promised Lands” will be on view at the National Portrait Gallery, 8th and G Streets NW, Washington, D.C., August 27, 2021–May 30, 2022.

Hung Liu: Golden Gate (金門)” is on view at the de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco, July 17, 2021–March 13, 2022.

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Painter Amy Sherald’s New Show in Los Angeles Encourages Patient Looking and Quiet Contemplation—See Images Here


In these turbulent times, creativity and empathy are more necessary than ever to bridge divides and find solutions. Midnight Publishing Group News’s Art and Empathy Project is an ongoing investigation into how the art world can help enhance emotional intelligence, drawing insights and inspiration from creatives, thought leaders, and great works of art.

 

 

What the gallery says: “Amy Sherald is acclaimed for paintings of Black Americans at leisure that achieve the authority of landmarks in the grand tradition of social portraiture—a tradition that for too long excluded the Black men, women, and families whose lives have been inextricable from the narrative of the American experience.

Subverting the genre of portraiture and challenging accepted notions of American identity, Sherald attempts to restore a broader, fuller picture of humanity. She positions her subjects as ‘symbolic tools that shift perceptions of who we are as Americans, while transforming the walls of museum galleries and the canon of art history—American art history, to be more specific.’”

Why it’s worth a look: Sherald, who spent the past year making the five pictures in this show, is famously a slow-moving, intensely focused artist. Her reduced production allows her to carefully articulate the sorts of details that characterize her precise paintings: the soft smear of pink on the dog’s nose in A Midsummer Afternoon Dream (2020), the broken fencing along the dunes in An Ocean Away (2020). Her careful painterly fluency encourages appropriately patient, measured looking that is rare in the 21st century.

How it can be used as an empathy workout: The show draws its title from educator Anna Julia Cooper’s 1892 book The Great American Fact, in which she argues that Black Americans are “the one objective reality on which scholars sharpened their wits, and at which orators and statesmen fired their eloquence.” In Sherald’s works, the objective reality of “public Blackness,” as the show’s press release puts it, comes through in portraits of everyday people, living quiet yet proud lives. Perhaps more than anything, these figures invite an empathetic viewer, someone willing to approach the painting with kindness and humility.

“Her paintings,” as the gallery says, “celebrate the Black body at leisure, thereby revealing her subjects’ whole humanity. Sherald’s work thus foregrounds the idea that Black life and identity are not solely tethered to grappling publicly with social issues, and that resistance lies equally in a full interior life and an expansive vision of selfhood in the world.”

What it looks like:

Amy Sherald, <i>A Midsummer Afternoon Dream</i> (detail, 2020). © Amy Sherald. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Joseph Hyde.

Amy Sherald, A Midsummer Afternoon Dream (detail, 2020). © Amy Sherald. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Joseph Hyde.

Amy Sherald, <i>A Midsummer Afternoon Dream</i> (detail, 2020). © Amy Sherald. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Joseph Hyde.

Amy Sherald, A Midsummer Afternoon Dream (detail, 2020). © Amy Sherald. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Joseph Hyde.

Amy Sherald, <i>A bucket full of treasures (Papa gave me sunshine to put in my pockets...)</i> (2020). © Amy Sherald. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Joseph Hyde.

Amy Sherald, A bucket full of treasures (Papa gave me sunshine to put in my pockets…) (2020). © Amy Sherald. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Joseph Hyde.

Amy Sherald, <i>An Ocean Away</i> (2020). © Amy Sherald. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Joseph Hyde.

Amy Sherald, An Ocean Away (2020). © Amy Sherald. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Joseph Hyde.

Amy Sherald, <i>Hope is the thing with feathers (The little bird)</i> (detail, 2020). © Amy Sherald. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Joseph Hyde.

Amy Sherald, Hope is the thing with feathers (The little bird) (detail, 2020). © Amy Sherald. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Joseph Hyde.

Amy Sherald, <i>As American as Apple Pie</i> (2020). © Amy Sherald. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Joseph Hyde.

Amy Sherald, As American as Apple Pie (2020). © Amy Sherald. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Joseph Hyde.

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How Jiab Prachakul Went From Self-Taught Painter to Sought-After Star—All Before Her First Solo Show


After working as a portrait painter for 14 years, the 41-year-old Thai-born, Lyon-based artist Jiab Prachakul is finally having her first solo show.

The exhibition at San Francisco’s Friends Indeed Gallery, aptly titled “14 Years,” comes at a moment of snowballing success for the artist, who last year won the coveted BP Portrait Award at London’s National Portrait Gallery for her double portrait Night Talk. Like that work, the eight intimate and stylish paintings at the gallery feature Prachakul’s friends, all fellow Asians living in Europe.

“I didn’t expect to win—I just wanted to be selected to join the exhibition and have my work exhibited somewhere finally,” Prachakul told Midnight Publishing Group News.

Besting 1,980 other artists from 69 countries, it was a huge breakthrough for the self-taught Prachakul, who was inspired to begin painting after seeing a 2006 David Hockney retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery.

Jiab Prachakul, <em>Stand-by</eM> (2020). Courtesy of Friends Indeed Gallery, San Francisco.

Jiab Prachakul, Stand-by (2020). Courtesy of Friends Indeed Gallery, San Francisco.

She had excelled in art classes as a child, but her father discouraged the idea of pursuing it professionally. Instead, Prachakul studied film at Thammasat University in Bangkok. After graduation, she worked for three years as a casting associate in advertising production before moving to London, where that fateful museum visit changed the course of her life.

Not long after, Prachakul moved to Berlin and dedicated herself to painting. But while she steadily improved her technique, she found it difficult to gain traction in the city’s insular art world. “In Berlin, all the galleries don’t want to work with you if you’re not an academy artist or you’re not recommended by a professor or a curator,” Prachakul said. “A lot of people told me it was nearly impossible.”

Jiab Prachakul, <em>An Opening</eM> (2020). Courtesy of Friends Indeed Gallery, San Francisco.

Jiab Prachakul, An Opening (2020). Courtesy of Friends Indeed Gallery, San Francisco.

Art school might have been the right path if Prachakul had set out to become an artist at 18, but as it is, “I’m kind of grateful not to have too much training,” she said, noting that some of her friends with formal art education were discouraged by professors who didn’t believe in their work. “I would have to have tried hard to be what they wanted to see,” Prachakul said. Instead, “I set the standard for myself.”

And thought it may have taken longer this way, after the award came from the National Portrait Galery, the offers from dealers came rolling in.

Jiab Prachakul, <em>14 Years (Self-portrait)</eM>, 2020. Courtesy of Friends Indeed Gallery, San Francisco.

Jiab Prachakul, 14 Years (Self-portrait), 2020. Courtesy of Friends Indeed Gallery, San Francisco.

“I had a lot of galleries contacting me, but they were focused on selling. I’m not focused on becoming rich from my work, ” Prachakul said. “I needed help with a more academic kind of approach—I would really love to place my work in as many museums as possible.”

Micki Meng, the owner of Friends Indeed gallery, “focuses on emergent conversations of diaspora,” she told Midnight Publishing Group News in an email. “The work immediately spoke to me,” she said, praising Prachakul’s “talent, grit, and distinct voice.”

Jiab Prachakul, <em>Naked</eM> (2020). Courtesy of Friends Indeed Gallery, San Francisco.

Jiab Prachakul, Naked (2020). Courtesy of Friends Indeed Gallery, San Francisco.

Each portrait takes Prachakul weeks to complete. She estimates she has made just 40 to 50 finished works altogether, which makes it difficult to keep up with demand. Commissions are booked through 2023, according to the New York Times, even as she’s shifted to painting full time over the last year.

“I’m not a quick producer at all,” Prachakul said, “and everyone comes from everywhere, wanting a piece of artwork from me.”

Jiab Prachakul, <em>3 Brothers </eM> (2020). Courtesy of Friends Indeed Gallery, San Francisco.

Jiab Prachakul, 3 Brothers (2020). Courtesy of Friends Indeed Gallery, San Francisco.

The works in the show, priced between $15,000 and $30,000, are all sold. They went via “textbook placement,” Meng said, or what the dealer calls “the holy grail: Museums and board trustees who are building some of the most important collections of our time.”

It’s a giant leap for an artist who not long ago had to scrimp and save just to ship Night Talk to the National Portrait Gallery for judging.

Prachakul first entered the BP Portrait Award competition in 2017, but was discouraged when her piece did not make it past the first round. Two years later, her husband, blockchain architect Guillaume Bouzige, encouraged her to try again, and she advanced to the physical judging rounds.

Jiab Prachakul, <em> Connecting </eM> (2020). Courtesy of Friends Indeed Gallery, San Francisco.

Jiab Prachakul, Connecting (2020). Courtesy of Friends Indeed Gallery, San Francisco.

It was an exciting, but expensive, proposition that meant she had to pay to ship the work to London to be viewed in person—and then to have sent it back when it wasn’t chosen for the competition exhibition. Altogether, it cost about €2,000.

“I said, ‘That’s really encouraging, and I’m just going to try every year and set aside a budget,’” Prachakul recalled. The next year, her investment paid off.

Looking back at how the past 14 years have unfolded, Prachakul’s work has evolved from achieving technical perfection to creating a unique voice for herself. “I started out saying that I want to paint as good as the Old Masters,” Prachakul said. “Asian artists, we want to be known for our achievement.”

Jiab Prachakul, <em>A Conversation with Apichatpong</eM> (2020). Courtesy of Friends Indeed Gallery, San Francisco.

Jiab Prachakul, A Conversation With Apichatpong (2020). Courtesy of Friends Indeed Gallery, San Francisco.

But after a certain point, she began to realize that the painters she most admired, like Hockney and Kerry James Marshall, didn’t represent the community that she was part of. “They are painting their subject matters, not my subject matters,” Prachakul said. “I could wait forever for my identity to be counted—but I am an artist. So I can do it for myself, instead of waiting for someone else to do it for me.”

The realization “was an explosion of emotion: I need to capture Asian representation in my work,” Prachakul said. But she also hopes it has broader appeal. “Of course it’s about Asian diaspora and Asian identity, but moreover I want to speak about the experiences we all have as human beings.”

Jiab Prachakul: 14 Years” is on view at Friends Indeed Gallery, 2458 Great Hwy, San Francisco, California, February 21–April 30, 2021.

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