Sunday, March 11, 2012

Chinese American Artists Working in Los Angeles

This post title is borrowed from the title of a current exhibit at the Vincent Price Art Museum located on the campus of East Los Angeles College, Monterey Park, California.

Image courtesy of the Vincent Price Art Museum (VPAM)

The genuine lives of Chinese Americans are seldom portrayed in the media.  Likewise, artistic achievements by Chinese Americans in Los Angeles have not received adequate attention from art historians, including the period since the end of World War II.  The 'Round the Clock exhibition is a rare, prideful opportunity to appreciate the lives of five men through their delightful artwork, as well as their productive work careers.  After wandering through the large gallery hall, everything is all right:  the artists are strong role models, and they remedy the media vacuum with a huge dose of positivity.

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(Click on image to enlarge) (Above four images courtesy VPAM)

My visit to the museum Saturday, March 10th, was enriched through the presence on the gallery floor by Milton Quon, the fifth artist exhibited.

(Click image to enlarge) Courtesy of VPAM
Several of his children were present also, and I had ample time to speak with everyone.  I asked Mr. Quon whether there were any women artists in his circle, and Helen Liu Fong came to his mind.  Fong was an architect - her achievements are included in the Chinese American Museum's current exhibition Breaking Ground: Chinese American Architects in Los Angeles (1945-1980) showcasing the work of "four pioneering Chinese American architects whose contributions were critical to the development of Los Angeles' urban and visual landscape between 1945 and 1980."

Although 'Round the Clock does not include a female artist, there is a strong consolation:  Sonia Mak, guest curator, is the woman who spearheaded this exhibition to make it possible.

From left:  Timothy Quon, Sherrill Quon, Milton Quon, and Sonia Mak.  The watercolor drawing behind Mr. Quon was inspired by Winslow Homer.
I learned quite a bit about Milton Quon - and I think it was mutual.  He is curious and interested in everyone around him.

He had a role as an extra in Sandra Bullock's 1994 film "Speed" portraying a "Chinese" passenger on a bus.  On the film set, he passed the long hours of waiting by sketching the activity going on around him.

Milton Quon explains how he first met artist Jake Lee, with son Timothy looking on.
I did not have the notion to ask what compelled him to his subject matters.  I do know that he is a native Angeleno.  On exhibit includes a piece from 1990 entitled "Refinery East Los Angeles."  Below is "Chavez Ravine Grocery, Effie Street" from about 1952.  Was he aware of the impending doom for the Chavez Ravine neighborhood to be redeveloped for public housing or for a ball park?

(Courtesy of VPAM)

Showcase of Tyrus Wong's commercial projects, including greeting cards.  (Courtesy of VPAM)
George Chann's "Shy Boy" (Courtesy of VPAM)

John Kwok's abstracts (Courtesy of VPAM)

For a critique of this exhibition, read Blouin Art Info.

For an interesting Q & A with the curator, Sonia Mak, read the Huffington Post issue of January 19th. 

Update: Read a review on the Los Angeles Times Culture Monster.

'Round the Clock is an admission-free exhibition - see it before it closes on May 25, 2012.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

History of East Los Angeles, Cal.

Updates have been made February 6th, 2015 to this post and are in red font. I was inspired by an impassioned comment I received (which you can read below in the comments section).

A rich past and the colorful present of East Los Angeles has been the source for web essays including Tomas Benitez's "East L.A.:  Past and Present" and Nathan Masters' piece at KCET's SoCal Focus.  Another essay worth reading is John Arroyo's 2012 "Four Generations in East L.A.".  A recommended seminal history book is Ricardo Romo's East Los Angeles, History of a Barrio, 1983, Univ. of Texas Press.

Educators recently toured parts of this vast unincorporated area of L.A. County as part of a teachers conference called Facing History and Ourselves.  The tour was described in Marvelia Alpizar's piece in EGPnews.

About six months ago while driving through the narrow streets in search of the freeway on-ramp I spotted an unusual corner lot at Floral Drive and Humphreys Avenue.  The 710 Freeway sliced up this neighborhood years ago.

Several days ago I returned (twice), but both times there was no one to inquire about the cactus garden at this corner.

The area is Belvedere, long established as a Mexican American enclave.  The developer Janss subdivided this suburb Belvedere Heights in the 1910s.  Janss then opened Belvedere Gardens in the early 1920s further and further south beyond Whittier Boulevard.  The corner of Floral and Humphreys was quite possibly part of an earlier development (William Humphreys beginning about 1889 bought large tracts of land outside the L.A. City limits, and this area was labeled the Humphreys' Boyle Heights Addition on assessor maps).  The homes along the cactus garden were a part of the Observation Heights tract.

The Maravilla place name spills over into this area.  "Maravilla" has had negative connotations in the later decades of the 20th century, but its Spanish meaning for "wonderful" or "wonderment" provided something positive for Mexican families, most of whom were homeowners in the Maravilla Park Tract beginning about 1925.  The tract was concentrated along Mednik, Kern, Arizona and Dangler, just south of Gleason, and the tract was separate and unrelated to the Belvedere projects by Janss.  A lack of water was an early issue for the Maravilla families, and when it was sorted out they got their water from the Belvedere Water Company.  The Belvedere place name was used more widely in the early to mid-20th century by the newspaper and map makers; the area was also a part of the Belvedere Judicial Township.

The growth within the security bars is a commodity. The "nopal" or prickly pear, is widely used as a delicious vegetable in Mexican dishes.
What was contained in this garden commanded reverence, but I left this thought out of the original posting.  I wanted the images to speak for themselves.  Let me state that I think the plants are a metaphor for the long, rooted history of the neighborhood's Mexican culture.  My omission of my personal commentaries led me to be viewed an egotist intent to exploit the community's "cultural treasures and identities".

A short drive south on Humphreys down to First Street would lead me to the Chinese Cemetery of Los Angeles, where my great-grandfather is buried, as well as my paternal grandfather, and my two grandmothers.

The cemetery butts up against the onramp to the 60 Pomona Freeway westbound.  Shown are the backsides of some of the headstones from the early 1930s - note all were mended - about ten to twenty years ago no-good vandals smashed all of them in halves.

This view by the corner of 1st and Eastern shows the modern headstones - these facing east, whereas the previous picture shows the older headstones facing west.