Our exhibition Shapeshifters includes ceramic sculptures by Cathy Lu, that explore themes of immigration, assimilation and cultural hybridity. We sat down with Cathy to discuss how she came to ceramic sculpture, and how she incorporates her personal heritage into her work.
On October 28th the George Adams Gallery will open an exhibition of paintings, drawings, sculpture and textiles by Craig Calderwood, Terri Friedman, Cathy Lu and Cate White. Despite the range and variety of their respective media, all four are united by their interest in using untraditional materials and probing personal identity. The title, Shapeshifters, refers to a strategy of complex layering or disguising that each artist utilizes, which forces the viewer to engage with each work through a process of decoding. Fundamentally, personal experience is the starting point for all four, whether via social conventions, autobiography or a consideration of race/class relations. The juxtaposition of so-called “high-brow” and “low-brow” materials and techniques leads to a maximalist approach that can simultaneously critique or amuse, yet ultimately, the depth of insight each piece reveals is deeply satisfying.
Calderwood’s drawings and paintings address queer identity and life, pulling from the coded languages of underground communities to craft poignant scenes that celebrate “otherness.” As a predominantly self-taught artist, they make use of a range of materials that often have personal significance, for example Notes on ♀ on ♂ from my Eight-Year-Old Self, 2018, which combines stitched, painted, appliquéd and drawn images on fabric, to create a tactile, dimensional surface. The complex patterning within these works reference a myriad of sources – and are in a way miniature narratives themselves. However, by confusing or obscuring the figure in parts, Calderwood looks to move away from traditional ideas surrounding gender.
The over-sized wall hangings that Friedman produces push the limits of what weaving can accomplish. Friedman considers herself more a painter/sculptor, moving between abstraction and figuration: shifting textures, colors and forms from flat to dimensional, thin to thick, subtle to bold, all within the limitations of a woven structure. Embedded within these elements Friedman adds references to her personal experiences, either through text or the suggestion of body parts. In Thank You Aneurysm, 2018, one of her largest works at 102 x 96 inches, the title has been woven into the fabric and though at times obscured, apparent tears and draped and hanging strands over the surface seem to illustrate the potential threat of the titular aneurysm.
Choosing to work in ceramic enables Lu to explore the stereotypes that surround the medium, both cultural and material, through her identity as Chinese-American. Considering the tradition of Chinese ceramic techniques, forms and imagery and filtered through an American lens, she questions ideas of authenticity and ownership held by herself and others. A common motif for Lu is the peach – an object with both Chinese and American connotations. In her sculptures the fruit becomes an environment to host an array of similarly conflicted tropes, questioning how fundamental such assimilation is to the larger American identity.
The portraits White paints - of herself and others - reflect her own upbringing in rural California and an intimacy with what she considers the “cultural margins.” She addresses class, race, gender, trauma, morality and power in an empathetic and democratic, often caustic style, with works such as Weez in the Cell, or Celeste Guap Selfie, which both specifically reference the ecosystem of Oakland politics. More broadly her paintings mediate between social strata, engaging with multiple cultural touchstones from pop culture to art history and beyond, providing a narrative that is personal and universal, comic and tragic.
Craig Calderwood lives and works in San Francisco, CA and has shown extensively in solo and group exhibitions in and around the Bay Area. Most recently their work was featured in the 2019 exhibition Queer California: Untold Stories at the Oakland Museum of California. Earlier this year it was announced that they have been commissioned by the San Francisco International Airport to create a large-scale installation for the Harvey Milk Terminal 1.
Terri Friedman lives and works in El Cerrito, CA, and is an Associate Professor at the California College of the Arts, San Francisco. Her sculptures and installations have been exhibited extensively for over twenty years, most recently with solo exhibitions at the CUE Art Foundation in New York and Shoshana Wayne in Los Angeles. Friedman received a 2021 San Francisco Artadia Award and was an artist in residence at Facebook where she was also selected for a major commission.
Cathy Lu lives and works in Richmond, CA, and is an Assistant Adjunct Professor at both Mills College, Oakland, and the California College of the Arts, San Francisco.In 2020 Lu was the subject of a solo exhibition at the Jacki Headly Gallery at Chico State University, CA. She received the 2020 NCECA Emerging Artist Fellowship and this past summer was an artist-in-residence at the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, Montana. Also this past summer, her large-scale installation, Customs Declaration was on view at the Berkeley Art Center, Berkeley, CA.
Cate White lives and works in Mendocino County, CA. She has been the subject of solo exhibitions at venues including the Mills College Art Museum, Oakland, CA; the Oakland Museum of California; and the Roswell Museum and Art Center, Roswell, NM. She was a recipient of the 2014-15 Tournesol Award from the Headlands Center for the Arts, and hosts her own satirical YouTube series, “How Do You Paint.”