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The Magic Of The Everyday: An Interview With Shizu Saldamando

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I first encountered Shizu Saldamando‘s work at LAX. Her intricate and intimate pen-on-bedsheet portraits flank the “Departures Hallway” between Terminal 7 and 8, and brought me out of my air-travel tunnel-vision long for a few pleasurable minutes. Saldamando’s work appears at the airport as part of LAX’s newly initiated Influx project, which aims to “transform the airport’s public spaces into art spaces.”

Weeks later, I was given a tour of the Vincent Prince Art Museum by writer Marisela Norte. I was delighted to recognize Saldamando’s work, exhibited in the solo survey show When You Sleep Featuring large scale portrait drawings of “everyday” scenes and subcultures, the work makes her subjects shimmer, their magic heightened by the deliberate neglect of scenes’ backgrounds. Most of her subjects are young and racially diverse, and their urban music scene context is read through their style choices. These are portraits of young Angelenos in an environment they’ve chosen and helped to create, whose identities exist both within and beyond race – a complicated layering that Saldamando captures with sophistication.

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Who are the people in your work?
Mainly friends and family. I like to portray familiar moments and people I admire and appreciate. They’re all kind of homage pieces.

What is your idea of a hero?
A lot of what I try to capture are different subcultures or scenes in which people have created their own world outside of larger alienating constructs. People that create or seek out music outside of corporate radio, people who reinterpret and recycle fashion, music, art, etc ., are really important to me in that they reject notions of corporate fads and consumerism and use their own ingenuity and creativity to make their own life experience a more hospitable and pro-active process.

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Can you talk a little about how you use craft in your work? What do you think the domestic has to offer?
I appreciate craft and the historical roots it has with my family, as an activity that my Japanese American side of the family participated in during WWII when they were interned in the Japanese American internment camps. Crafting was a social coping mechanism and a necessity, both during and after the camps. My aunt organized crafting parties at her house and took my grandmother to craft class every week, when she could walk. I realized one of the reasons I used paper collage in much of my work was because it was a material I had used to make cards and other crafty things when I was little. I used to help my mom when she taught random kids’ workshops. Craft as an art practice has been a huge artistic influence growing up, and for that reason it was natural to incorporate it into my larger art practice – and would be almost dishonest if didn’t. I wouldn’t say I am deliberately referencing the “domestic.” It is such a large part of everyone’s upbringing and life and therefore in referencing the everyday and “mundane”, it inevitably comes up. The collage aspect of some of the work functions in a way similar to fashion in that each paper choice references different contexts and adds another layer of meaning to the work.

I love your drawings and collages, but was really excited about Translation. Can you tell me a little about this piece, and how you came up with it?
I wanted to capture the experience I had spending time with my grandmother and not being able to speak Japanese and her having a limited english vocabulary. When i would visit we would end up watching her Japanese novelas and they were rarely subtitled so she would have to translate for me. I view that piece as a kind of video portrait of her and at the same time a portrait of our interaction.

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What are you working on now?
I’m working on some new drawings for a group show going up at the Oakland Museum next year.

And last, what moves you about living in California?
The west coast is special for its huge Mexican and Asian populations, of course. I appreciate all things associated with both.

Shizu’s show When You Sleep is on view at Vincent Price through December 7. Get more on the show here.

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