Meet the Artists: The de Young Open 2023

By artists Jennifer Jang, Robert Hightower, Subha Joshi, Celise, Beverly Patterson, Mathilda LaZelle Moore, and Liz Boeder

December 14, 2023

Subha Joshi in front of her work Golden light of the Golden State, 2023. Photo courtesy of Subha Joshi

The second iteration of The de Young Open, our juried community art exhibition, features artworks by 883 Bay Area artists. Here, five of these artists tell us about their works and what it means to be part of the exhibition.

Jennifer Jang, Memory

Jennifer Jang in front of her work Memory, 2023. Photo by Magnolia Molcan

My painting, Memory, is very special to me. It was inspired by my grandmother who had dementia. Seeing the process of her decline gave vision to this piece. I used watercolor and graphite on paper stretched over wood panels. I incorporated a muted and monochromatic color palette to communicate the idea of a fleeting memory and sadness. Utilizing the translucency of watercolor, I wanted to give my work a haunting but luminous quality. My intention was to express the beauty and brevity of life. 

Isolation and darkness are recurring themes throughout my artwork. I am inspired by youth, nature, and nostalgia. My concepts and ideas derive from both the Bible and my personal life.

I took a break from creating artwork formally for the past seven years. This is the first painting that’s back on a wall. And it’s also served as a prototype for my future work. It’s an incredible experience to know it resonates with people.

Robert Hightower, Never Let Go

Robert Hightower in front of his work Never Let Go (#281), 2023. Photo by Lucy Miller

Never Let Go consists of four different types of black: black watercolor, black acrylic, black oil pastel, and black oil paint. The story in the imagery is the fight of letting go of your past so that you can move on to the future. You’ll see a suit with a hand coming out to formalize your future, and there’s a hand from the bottom base of the painting that’s holding the man. It’s the struggle that we have of holding on to our past and accepting change in the future. Until you let go, you can’t really grow. 

Black and white is something that resonates with me personally, being a person of African American descent. It’s kind of how I’ve seen the world since I’ve grown up from a young age, is being these two sides and you’re either one or the other. With my art, I wanted to convey that same emotional connection, but my trademark is there’s always a splash of red, and red symbolizes the connection that we all have. Our blood is red, which means that we have this unified thing that makes us all human.

Subha Joshi, Golden light of the Golden State

Subha Joshi in front of her work Golden light of the Golden State, 2023. Photo courtesy of Subha Joshi

For me, photography is akin to meditation — an experience of tranquility and a trancelike state when I hold the camera. Aside from the photos I carefully plan and snap, my absolute favorites are the ones that catch me by surprise — you know, the ones I never saw coming. 

When I was hanging out in San Francisco with my friends in August 2022, we were all about getting this planned shot with a Sturgeon moon and the Transamerica Pyramid. But, classic, clouds were messing up our view. So, while we waited for the perfect conditions, I started scoping out alternative compositions. Guess what? I turned around, and there was that mesmerizing sight of the Golden Gate Bridge. At that particular moment, everything was painted in a single hue — golden. The whole scene was bathed in this golden glow that blew me away. 

Visitors at the exhibit asked me about Photoshop, wondering if I tweaked it. Nope, not a bit. This photo captures Mother Nature’s raw beauty.

Celise, Courtney

Celise in front of her work Courtney (#413), 2023. Photo by Lucy Miller

This artwork is a heartfelt tribute to my sister, Courtney Knott, capturing her in a serene state of Arcadia, a place of tranquility and repose. Throughout the years, Courtney has navigated a multitude of life-threatening health challenges and intricate life circumstances. However, during the nine months I spent crafting this painting, she was grappling with a particularly daunting health condition known as pulmonary embolism.⁣

Watching my sister confront such formidable adversity, especially as her sibling, was an emotionally challenging experience. It reshaped the purpose of my artistic endeavor. Initially, my intention was to create yet another portrait of Courtney. However, as I delved deeper into the painting, it metamorphosed into something more profound — a representation of her rightful place of respite.⁣

Through Courtney, I aim to capture the profound transformation and the indomitable spirit that defines her. It stands as a testament to her enduring strength and a portrayal of the peaceful, rejuvenating sanctuary that she rightfully deserves.⁣

Beverly Patterson, US

Beverly Patterson in front of her work US, 2023. Photo by Lucy Miller

The title of my work is intentionally one that can be read two ways: as “US” for United States and as “us.” We live in a deeply divided time when each political party embraces the image of the United States flag as a symbol of their national spirit. This piece is a three-dimensional expression of the divisiveness of our country. Viewed head-on, one sees the American flag composed of individually stamped colored triangles. Lean far to the right, a double tessellation pattern of arrows converge into a tight formation of a red arrow pointing decisively to the left. Lean far to the left, it’s the opposite. At each extremity, the sight of the flag is lost. Each side has an imposing and dominating view of its intentions. This is the state of US. This piece asks, “Where do you stand?”

At the artist preview, I walked through with my jaw dropped! Meeting and networking with so many artists in one place was a huge thrill. I continue to be amazed by the depth of talent represented. I've returned again and again — each time discovering new artworks. What's especially impressive is that The de Young Open 2023 is a sampling of the talent in the Bay Area; this unique exhibition is having a positive ripple effect across the art community locally and beyond.

Mathilda LaZelle Moore, Vestigial Orbit

Mathilda LaZelle Moore in a still from her work, Vestigial Orbit

My practice is about relating to possibility. How do you relate to unfathomability, the edges of fathomability? For me, relating is foundational to meaning, and meaning is foundational to being human. 

Right now, we live in the information age. No one’s thirsty for information, knowledge anymore. Everyone’s thirsty for meaning, and everybody’s craving that connection. Nowhere is that more obvious than our contemporary conversation about artificial intelligence. We have created technology as an extra arm, an extra limb for humanity. And it can be as any tool, both harmful and helpful. Part of the way that artificial technology, or what we’re calling AI, is different is that it feels aesthetically so familiar and so human.

I think it’s important to dig into how we relate to that. How do we relate to what we have created? When I’m making work, that’s really what I’m trying to do, is relate to those challenging, slippery things. 

Liz Boeder, Lakshmi ~ Three Aspects of the Divine, The Second Aspect; Humanity

Liz Boeder in front of her piece Lakshmi ~ Three Aspects of the Divine, The Second Aspect; Humanity (#815), 2023. Photo by Lucy Miller

This piece is actually the second in a triptych. I felt this was especially apropos for us because the pandemic caused us to all be very separated from each other physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Those three things, I felt like I could potentially bring together in this triptych, which is the spiritual, the human, and the enlightened aspect. I wanted to create this pixelated Lakshmi, in which each pixel represents the colors of humanity and the spiritual and the human combined. 

I walked through the exhibition, and I had the worst case of imposter syndrome I’ve ever had. I thought, What am I doing here? It’s generationally significant for my family because my mother wanted to be an artist. My father also wanted to be an artist. Because they weren’t encouraged to follow their art, they abandoned that dream.

Under very few circumstances is it possible for one’s work to be judged solely on its quality and not on some other tangential criteria. This wall behind me has the names of hundreds of people of color and hundreds of women. For many people visiting museums and many artists, it’s rare to see that much inclusivity on the walls of a museum. 

It’s validating for hundreds and hundreds of people who may have been wondering, Does my art matter? This is the de Young saying to 800 some odd artists, “Your art absolutely matters.”

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