Lucy Arai, 57, became enthralled with ink art while she was experimenting with her calligraphy brushes, sumi ink and handmade paper. Now she sees ink as a medium of art that tells the story of a movement that has inspired her for decades.
“Exhibiting art in ink by Asian-Americans and Asians in America juxtaposes the singularly most distinctive artistic and literary tradition of Asia with the altering Euro-centric heritage of America. East meets West and they are no longer isolated, nor are they mutually exclusive,” Arai said.
SF State’s Fine Arts Gallery is one of four Bay Area venues showcasing “The Moment for Ink,” an exhibition where cultures collide connecting generations of Asian American ink artists. It displays ink art from American artists generally of Asian American ancestry who worked in the United States.
“It is important to have exhibitions such as ‘The Moment for Ink,’ because they will record the lineage of the ink tradition; they inspire and are catalysts for new directions, and provide assurance that humanity will never lose contact with our rich cultural heritages throughout human history,” Arai, featured artist, said.
The exhibition offers a fusion of historical and contemporary art. There are traditional ink paintings like Chang Dai-chien’s lotus flowers and newer forms of ink art by artists, like Arai’s handmade paper and sumi ink installation.
“Ink as a media is used in a variety of different ways in the 120 years of art featured in the current exhibit, some artists use a more traditional method, and many contemporary artists have taken the media and interpreted it in more modern ways that pay homage to abstract expressionism and other art movements,” Leane Bradley, 22, museum studies major said.
It’s hard to believe that an art exhibition can take over 19 years of preparation, but SF State art professor Mark Johnson explains how vital it is to gather Asian-American art history in San Francisco.
“Over the course of my time here we’ve done a lot of research into this topic because since we are in San Francisco it seems like we should do this research,” Johnson said. “It’s really our story, it’s San Francisco’s backyard and our best art history story is our Asian-American art history.”
David Funk, a 43-year-old art major, said that he understands how significant “The Moment for Ink” is in San Francisco and is honored to be one the 25 students currently working on the exhibition.
“San Francisco is the epicenter; this is where these artists moved to,” Funk said. “This is a once in a lifetime (opportunity) to work on. It’s a real important collaboration in the arts especially in ink painting for San Francisco.”
Arai, one of the artists students Funk got to work with, was born in Tokyo and moved to the Bay Area in 1988. Her mother convinced her that in America, the large Asian-American population in San Francisco would be the most receptive to her ink art.
“San Francisco is the geographic and symbolic gateway from the East and to the West. There is a dense population mass of historic, recent and transient Asian communities in the Bay Area,” Arai said. “Boundaries are becoming diffused and relationships are as fluid as the waters of the Pacific Ocean east and west flow under the Golden Gate Bridge. San Francisco is the metaphor and embodiment of the twain meeting and becoming one. We set an example for the rest of the world.”
Johnson’s students this semester said they realize how fortunate they are to work on the final product and see the exhibition that combines centuries of history.
“I feel really lucky to be taking this class this semester. I think it’s really interesting how the gallery is set up, you start with the first painting and one of them is 120 years old and you go toward the end and one was created in the gallery and it’s a month and a half old,” art major, Bridget McMahon, 23, said. “It’s been rewarding to draw that history to the present.”
Whatever your preference in art may be, there is something in the exhibit for everyone to enjoy.
“Because there’s so many themes touched on here, no matter what kind of art you’re interested in you can find something here you like and that’s kind of rare,” McMahon said. “You’re able to draw these works together; it’s really a show people can take something away from. No matter what you like you can find something that will affect you or inspire you.”
SF State’s Fine Arts Gallery will be showcasing “The Moment for Ink” until Saturday, March 23. The gallery is free and open Wednesday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The extended exhibition can be seen at the Chinese Culture Foundation, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and Silicon Valley Asian Art Center.