"Cynthia Tom's work is both haunting and celebratory, rooted in heritage and inspired by imagination. From the emotional resonance of her Angel Island series to the rich textures of 'Woman w/ Spinning Chairs,' Tom consistently matches real-world with whimsy to create transcendent art." Ron Curran, Editor and publisher, BANG! Magazine, 2001
Euphrat Museum of Art-Cupertino, CA - November 1999-January 2000
"PASSING: (The need to pass for something you are not.)"
"Cynthia Tom has written eloquently about passing, for example how it can be a positive life skill. Her art work and life stories reveal many forms of passing." Jan Rindfleisch-executive director,
Candi Farlice and Diana Argabrite
Works Gallery, San Jose- July 28-August 21, 1999
"NINE LIVES: Rethinking Identity"
"Cynthia Tom frequently combines unexpected elements to challenge not only aesthetic perceptions, but also stereotypes of Asian women. By positioning these female personas in enigmatic environments, the artist is negotiating and projecting her sense of self. These environments, usually surreal and timeless, are backdrops for constructed ideals of the engendered social being......
Upon closer inspection, a silent dialogue exists within a psychic landscape of shifting order and values. What emerges is a new identity forged by self-determining standards." Nora Nguyen, curator
S.F. Arts Commission Chinatown Community Gallery, July 2000
"Cynthia Tom's paintings are a perpetual study of the feminine qualities in the relationship with the world, and vice versa." Roger T. Lee, Mhs
San Francisco Arts Commission, Chinatown
S.F. Arts Commission Chinatown Community Gallery
It is always difficult to present artists of different media and viewpoints in a single setting. It is exciting when it happens, for the space these different art pieces occupies becomes a grand opera with each contributing their unique voice that cannot exist without the rich environment that it finds itself in.
Cynthia Tom's paintings are a perpetual study of the feminine qualities in the relationship with the world, and vice versa. Bringing awareness to the feminine form through the surreal usages of geometric space, Cynthia also creates a powerful social commentary by liking the female body with socially constructed icons, which in turn, creates an icon of her own that is vested with symbols from her cultural background as well as contemporary culture..
Passing (The need to pass for something you are not.)
Euphrat Museum of Art, November 23, 1999-January 27, 2000
The exhibition Passing focuses on the activity of passing for something else, on what is gained and what is lost. Immigrants often drop part of their surname or change it completely. Others pass for other cultures or races, perhaps for advancement, perhaps for survival. Most of us pass at one time or another. The Passing exhibition examines this activity from a variety of viewpoints, such as race, ethnicity, calls, and sexual orientation.
Passing grew from an idea of artist Candi Farlice. The exhibition was curated by Candi Farlice and Jan Rindfleisch working with Diana Argabrite and developed through discussions with the artists.
Candi Farlice, Daniel Harris, Kay Kang, Lisa Kokin, Gayle Tanaka, Cynthia Tom, Rev. Timothy T. Tayor, Flo Oy Wong
Cynthia Tom has written eloquently about passing, for example how it can be a positive life skill. "Used correctly and developed from a base of knowledge and self-worth, the art of 'passing' can be a great skill, especially in situations of potential conflict." Her art work and life stories reveal many forms of passing. Hom Shee Mock, 1923: An Angel Island Mug Shot, is a portrait of her grandmother's mug shot, often part of an installation Crossing the Blood Brain Barrier. It is related to the fear of drawing attention to oneself, perhaps a mindset from fear of the government in China (Under Mao, the simple act of crying was seen as an act of rebellion). Her family members have avoided sharing stories about their past. However, her paintings have become a catalyst to begin some dialogue with her relatives.
Recently, Tom feels the women in her paintings are becoming more Asian (before the faces were Anglo). Tom's art looks at the mix of east and west, being Chinese American. In one self portrait Aspiration, a modest Chinese dress form is in the background, while in the foreground Tom wears an elegant brazen Western outfit and is smoking: "But I don't smoke. It has to do with passing in my job, being more outgoing. Learning it is OK to travel to either end of the spectrum depending on the situation." In another surreal self-portrait, Finding Your Voice, she is again beautifully gowned, but one sees a small artist mannequin figure within: "Being proud of who your are and where you come from. Honor that voice and know when to use it and when to keep it in a quiet place.
Jan Rindfleisch-executive director, Candi Farlice and Diana Argabrite
The relationship between art and society, along with the personal and the public, is considered in Nine Lives. These underlying narratives are culturally and historically important in understanding the growing complexity of this country's social landscape.
Cynthia Tom, artist.
Cynthia Tom grew up in near the Hunters Point district of San Francisco, where there were few Chinese people. "I don't speak Chinese," the artist says. " My parents never taught me [their] native language. They used the language to tell secrets." However, she points out that she has a rich heritage to draw from in her work. She credits Bay Area artists Joesam for encouraging her to pursue this artistic direction and Flo Oy Wong for philosophical guidance. Additionally, she identifies legendary jazz musician Thelonius Monk and Surrealist painters Leonor Fini and Remedios Varo as prime influences for her thought process and style.
Tom frequently combines unexpected elements to challenge not only aesthetic perceptions, but also stereotypes of Asian women. By positioning these female personas in enigmatic environments, the artist is negotiating and projecting her sense of self. These environments, usually surreal and timeless, are backdrops for constructed ideals of the engendered social being.
Her fondness for textiles and fashion is apparent in her work. At times, a Western style dress is topped with a Chinese collar on her figures. Moreover, the clothing takes on its own autonomy. In Conjecture and Monks in Disneyland, the artist uses dress forms as metaphors representing the essence of a person. "The may live in different environments and they may or may not have clothing or fabric covering them and sometimes these dress forms are open to reveal their interior, but their essential core always remains the same."
Daughter on the Ceiling was painted in the presence of Tom's father, who passed away in 1998. The title was inspired by his request to view the painting on the ceiling during his last weeks. It also signifies, for the first time, a gesture of acknowledgment and approval from her father.
Drawing upon her evolving identity and family history, Tom explores the meaningful ways in which Asian women can assert their presence in society. She finds that viewers often bring another dimension to her work. "I enjoy it when my paintings become a catalyst for people to share their stories and examine their long standing habits of though'" she writes. Upon closer inspection, a silent dialogue exists within a psychic landscape of shifting order and values. What emerges is a new identity forged by self-determining standards.
"Tom uses her paintings to combine juxtaposed images, particularly eastern and Western symbols, with the hope of challenging stereotypes and traditional roles, shifting paradigm's and evoking questions."
Six Asian American Bay Area women are trying to break down old assumptions about Asian American art, by presenting modern art that does not adhere to a single standard. Hence, the title of their group show at Washington Square Gallery in San Francisco,
The multiple perspectives represented in the works of Yeung Ha, Wynne Hayakawa,
Cynthia Tom, Grace Ilagan Angel, Rachel Osajima, and Deena Eng Chikamura offer a small-scale re-interpretation of the very meaning of Asian American Art.
"These artists are all very unique and very strong in their expression"' says gallery owner Julina Togonon
Tom uses her paintings to combine juxtaposed images, particularly eastern and Western symbols, with the hope of challenging stereotypes and traditional roles, shifting paradigm's and evoking questions. Each of Tom's paintings feature a beautiful Asian woman in a surreal environment that, when placed in a certain way, relate to the female body. The art work in the exhibit "is part of an ongoing series exploring my Chinese heritage, its effects on my life, and those around me" which Tom notes has had and important influence on her as an Asian American woman.
Over There: A critical guide to San Francisco events
Open Studios '98
The hush and anonymity of whitewashed buildings conceal a lot of work. Stanley Goldstein makes plein air portraits washed in motion and light. Mirang Wonne-Choe's large canvases feature boulders suspended in space, tumbled in bright color and sometimes spurting fire or tangled in twine. A receding checkerboard ground, a house of cards, a costumed mannequin, and floating chairs are part of Cynthia Tom's psychological terrain..
Inside their studios, the four create individual worlds of thought and personal history. For Tom (Bldg. 101, studio 2311), painting is an excavation of unexplored culture. "I don't paint intentionally", she says, "I don't even have a pre-sketch. I see something-kind of a blur- and I'm frustrated if I can't work it out on canvas." What emerges becomes "fuel for asking questions about the past"
Of all the art, Cynthia Tom's installations question rather than exclaim. The neutral eyes stare out behind this vast implication of space and time conveying an uncertainty of our relationship to the world and the universe. Through the unflinching stares, we are confronted with the eternal need for meaning.
2002 Exhibition Essay by Roger T. Lee,
San Francisco Arts Commission's Chinatown Community Gallery
"Slowly Enter" -San Francisco Arts Commission, Chinatown Gallery
March 30, 2002 - May 24, 2002
Shari Arai DeBoer, Jacqueline A. Ford, Kay Kang, Nakazato LaFreniere,Cynthia Tom, Katherine Westerhout
Curator: Rachel Osajima
"The artwork in the exhibition conveys each artists' unique exploration of color, texture and abstract imagery. Each individual piece invites the viewer to enter a quiet, intimate world which encourages a sense of focus and thoughtful contemplation."
- Rachel Osajima
Art Out of Time, Art Out of Space"
Exhibition Essay by Roger T. Lee, San Francisco Arts Commission's Chinatown Community Gallery
Art exploring space has dominantly been the realm of spatial artists such as sculptors or architects, and art exploring time has been the focus of artists working with music and cinematography. When an artist who typically works with two-dimensional art tackles the nature of time and space, the results are often varied. However, in exhibition "Slowly Enter", six artists give us their comprehending vision of space and time, in a breathe-taking array of fluid narration.
Of all the art, Cynthia Tom's installations questions rather than exclaims. The neutral eyes stare out behind this vast implication of space and time conveying an uncertainty of our relationship to the world and the universe. Through the unflinching stares, we are confronted with the eternal need for meaning.
Shari Arai DeBoer's images convey a deep texture located within the art's own complex visual relationships. The delicate intersection of colors and shapes give rise to affinity for a location within our imagination. This inner space lacks both a definite form and structure, yet it is from these anamorphic visions that we give rise to more formal and codified ideas and thoughts.
The digital prints of Nakazato LaFreniere draw the viewer into a vortex with constantly shifting points of gravity. The aspatial background serves as an infinite canvass where the artist suspends the tyrannical law of perspective in order to create a landscape that is made only of lines and color fields. Akin to the ascetic school of Chinese brush painting, the result is a conceptually conflicting yet visually harmonizing equilibrium of movement within stillness. By the voidance of spatial markers, these prints deftly project the movement of energy without deferring to things devoid of motion.
Through the camera lens, Katherine Westerhout imprints her own deep reflection upon her subject matter of abandoned spaces. The anti-ego meditation and the poetic desolation transport us away from our inhabited cityscape, and evoke the aftermath of our absence. One has the eerie feeling of attending one's own funeral, to simultaneously imagine a world without us and with us imagining that absence. The photographs convey a vast measure of time, evoking a sense of temporal vertigo.
In Kay Kang's work, space is defined through the symbolic atmos arranged within a visual lattice which harmonizes the individual into a coherent whole. The art pieces aptly portray space not as an underlying medium that objects is immersed in, but as the relationship between objects. And through these objects in relation, the arrangement creates a portal for the mind to detect the presence of space. Through the self-referential arrangement, the organic self balances with an artificial geometric structure to generate a lasting spatial and ideological tension.
By Raina Han, San Francisco State University, Asian American Studies Dept.
May 22, 2002
Cynthia Tom has a serious addiction and it looks like she will be consumed by it for the rest of her life. Her addiction: painting. When she is not in her studio, she is off on business trips for a pharmaceutical company, as if she leads a double life. Is she an artist trapped in the body of a businesswoman, or is she a businesswoman trapped in the body of an artist?
The third generation Chinese-American San Francisco native never dreamed of being an artist while growing up between Portola and Visitation Valley in a culturally diverse neighborhood. Although she entered her college years hoping to study social welfare, she graduated with a degree in Business from San Francisco State University. Luckily for her, those business classes paid off as she embarked on her career as an artist, finding out that making art and selling it are two entirely different occupations. One of her first words of advice for any future artists is to, "take business classes," since her degree has greatly helped her in the field of creating fine art.
Although hard to believe she has had no formal training, that may explain why she is completely uninhibited in her paintings free to paint what pleases and inspires her, not burdened with someone else's idea of techniques and rules.
But one would never guess that she suddenly decided to become a painter in her thirties, when she stumbled upon the realization that she, too, had the creative gene of her parents. Tom's parents, both artists, never encouraged or dissuaded her from becoming an artist. She says she wishes she had paid more attention to their artwork in her youth since she discovered that her love of found objects comes from her parents.
Initially, Tom made collages onto purses that she sold at fairs and boutiques. After three years, and running into copyright issues, she took up painting in acrylics and also began experimenting with mixed mediums. Her mind was swarming with so many images that she just had to mold it into something physical and real; therefore, she painted. Her choice of acrylic paints is more of an environmental and health factor. Even though many other artists are partial towards oil paints, she avoids that medium due to its' harsh chemicals and fumes.
Several aspects of Tom's work make her so unique as an artist. First, she is an extremely prolific painter in her considerably short painting career. Secondly, she approaches her painting with a passion yet also with a realistic and practical approach. Not many artists mention, or admit, that there is more to the profession than just creating art there are the promotions, the bookkeeping, the finance, and the health insurance to think about. Unlike many artists who ship off their work to galleries, Tom rarely allows her work to be sold without her guidance. Instead, she opts for a hands-on approach. Whether it's painting in residencies at museums such as the Legion of Honor, or in her private studio at Hunter's Point Shipyard, Tom actively speaks with anyone interested in her work, whether it's a client or a curious passerby.
Inherited from her parents, Tom has an affinity for found objects. Different images and ideas that she mentally picks up become the groundwork of her paintings. Her paintings, rarely planned out or sketched in advance, for she is too impatient for detailed sketches, become a constant work in progress, which she will paint over and over again until satisfied. Her trademark style is evident in her paintings where dark and light are strongly contrasted, while still using a wide range of luscious colors against a haunting background. Many viewers of her work are drawn in by the appealing beauty of her paintings, and then pulled deeper into the images. She unconsciously develops different painting series, depending on the particular images she is preoccupied with at the time. Whether it's an artistic fetish for checkered patterns, clothing, or bamboo, she is able to incorporate these ideas into the more complex psychological undertones in each of her paintings.
"I'm obsessed with [painting]," Tom says from her sunlit studio in San Francisco. "Even after all this time, I can't wait to paint. I see a picture in my head and I don't know what will happen with the rest of the painting, but I just need to see the image. I get really agitated if I don't do it."
Although she pays attention to the placement, the balance, the usage of colors, and also not forgetting a sense of humor, when painting; her "mental collages" are transferred onto her canvas without a specific meaning, necessarily. She explains her paintings get interpreted after she's completed one, but she says she has discovered that her work is often reflective of current issues in her personal life and very autobiographical, while also representing issues that personally affect others. But she tries to leave the interpretation of her paintings up to the viewer, to become a subjective and personal experience for him or her.
Tom found that her paintings have become tools of communication for her clients and fans, opening up subjects such as family, female and ethnic issues. For Tom, growing up in a family with a lack of communication and acknowledgment, she understands why such a forum is valuable for understanding human relationships and connections. She realizes her paintings don't speak to everybody, but when she sees how people are personally affected by her work, that is where her gratification comes from.
"It's how I give back to the world. It's not about fame, it's about taking care of the people that are attracted to and affected by my work. I'd like to get formally into healing work and use my paintings as the props," Tom says, hoping that her art can not only be put on a wall or mantle, but one day, she hopes that she can provide some sort of therapeutic help though her artwork.
At the same time, Tom does not give into the myth of the starving artist, romantic as it may be. She has a realistic and practical sense that most artists try to ignore, or don't speak about. She needs to pay her mortgage payments, have health insurance, and a secure financial future. Fortunately for her, that's where her business degree pays off, although she never knew when she graduated college that she would be applying her business skills towards her art. Realizing the need for financial security to support her passion and career as an artist, she also works in pharmaceutical sales.
"How many living, female, minority artists do you hear of?" Tom says, honestly explaining that she does not want to be a "starving artist" for the rest of her life. It can keep her from aspiring to new heights artistically.
Tom finds that being an Asian American has not been an obstacle for her in her professional or artistic life; instead, finding quite the opposite because artwork by Asian Americans happens to be a niche market. However, just as in other industries, being a woman has been an obstacle. Another big challenge is due to financial differences. "Being from a very working class family and female, I don't travel in the same circles as a lot of the directors, owners, and curators of galleries and museums who are often wealthy and male." She says that many artists struggle desperately to make a living and are constantly in survival mode. "Does it help your creativity if you are always worried about the pennies you are spending or loosing the roof over your head?" Any person, who is an artist for a living, knows that their "product," as Tom calls it, is a luxury item. The majority of buyers do not consider a work of art a necessity.
Tom, along hundreds of other artists, sells much of her work through "Open Studios" at the Hunter's Point Shipyard twice a year, an event that usually brings in about 12,000 visitors. Like many other artists frustrated by the gallery system, Tom sells most of her work privately and thrives on the direct contact with her clients.
Tom is aware, observant, and realistic about the emotional and economic difficulties of being an artist.. In addition to the challenges and politics of the art industry, Tom faces challenges in society because she is a woman. Through painting, she can bring awareness to and challenge those hurdles. One of the main issues that run through her work is about self-acceptance, especially of the female body. Some have commented to her that she seems as if she objectifies women, since the curvy female figure is prevalent in much of her work. Tom replies that on the contrary, she celebrates women, tries to reinforce the concept that the female form is beautiful, and encourages the acknowledgement of different body types.
For Tom, her paintings of women express an acceptance of her own body. Tom says, "I like painting women with curves. I think I'm trying to embrace my own body because I'm not skinny by any stretch and being an Asian woman with large breasts I'm politically and culturally incorrect. In fact, my grandmother used to bind my mother's chest with an ACE bandage didn't work."
Another issue that drives Tom is trying to encourage women to nurture one another and themselves, something most women often don't ever successfully learn or accomplish. Tom remarks, "Society teaches women to compete with each other and not to develop a nurturing attitude towards one another. Some of my paintings are speaking to women to empower themselves, or to honor their intuition or to hear their voices. Because once you start honoring yourself, you begin to nurture other women. I think if we start doing that, a lot of ills in society may be cured."
Despite the financial struggles as an artist, and while trying to express issues that women face, in addition to issues she personally deals with, especially regarding her family and her Asian heritage, ultimately, she wants people to apply her paintings to themselves individually.
Tom does not care too much for all the labels that are attached to her and her work, whether it's being called an "Asian American female artist" or a "surrealist artist." Tom sees herself simply as an artist, who is driven by a need to paint, and chooses to ignore any pigeonholing during her creative process. In response to what people have tried to define her as, she simply says, "Society insists on labels, and sometimes you have to provide labels for marketing purposes. So I do it, but really I just want to paint."
Although many have asked if Magritte, Lenore Fini and Remedios Varo influence her, Tom insists that she is more of a "narrative" painter rather than a surrealist painter. She sees her paintings as a way to tell a story. She is not aspiring to belong to an art movement.
The driving force for Tom is most evident when she is painting. An obsession, a fervor, a deep love, whatever the word, a major portion of Tom's life is just to paint and just to create art. Of course, the voice of reason at the back of her mind (for some that voice is louder or quieter than others) coincides devotedly with the passion in her heart, and reminds Tom to continue to paint to live, while living to paint.
Art as a vessel; a container of the subject, the canal through which the subject moves through, and the embodiment of the subject. In "Female as Vessel as Female", the six artists shares their vision through a wide range of technique and medium; all of them unique, and all of them powerful.
The rhythmic weaving of Renee Baldocchi is the transcendence of an ideal when an artist draws artistry from necessary skills. With the personal mementos held together by the threads, Renee reiterates many cultures's metaphor for the entangling fate of human affairs. Examining her complex pieces up close, one is struck by the variety of details, while from afar one sees a simple pattern. The works stride the dichotomy between reflection and experience, where the latter does not always give rise to the former.
Drawing upon the strength of bronze, Lori Kay infused feminine majesty with strength through her medium and harmony through her artistry. The figures are certain, aware of their own desires and carries out the will of their sculptor. Her "Laced Up Torso" evokes the grace of Venus de Milo without the vestal withdrawal. In its posture is the life-affirming, bracing against the constraint of its form. Her sculptures are graceful without resorting to frailty, proud without haughty. This humane nobility. These forms.
Adele Louise Shaw's provocatively named series "Oology" frames the traditional masculine discomfort with the feminine reproductive power through the use of the scientific presentation. Beyond the unease, Adele celebrates the potentiality of life, and the actualization of nonconformity through its painful breaking away. Her works suggest at the enormity of the uniqueness with tell-tale signs of what has hatched from the egg, but artfully avoids limiting the viewer's imagination.
After exploring the iconoclastic social construction of woman in her previous works, Cynthia Tom's newer works center on the ego-presence of the female. The woman is now the subject proper, present and essential. Her subject is aware of self, aware of the self's power and its effect on the viewer. With new vigor, Cynthia communes directly through the painting, and places the icons in orbit, adding to, not defining nor distracting from, her clear vision of the frank female spirit.
Anchoring from daughter Cynthia Tom's surrealism, Sue Tom re-contextualizes surrealism within the universe of the unconscious. She quotes familiar image with brackets of feminine symbol, and the relational space between icon and symbol is a mute and haunting boudoir of the soul. The collage is a complex landscape, revealing much with few rich and minimal gestures.
Tina Lauren Vietmeier's encaustic collage captures the intimacy of the female body, and preserves the feeling along with the artifacts. The style evokes the unearthing of Vesuvius, where the everyday items vanished under a great cataclysm. Tina creates the appearance of her work having been lost to time in order to make them new to the viewer. In understanding the works as lost items found, the viewer unconsciously excavates their own experience to in order to connect with those things that's both contemporary and immemorial.
In these works, art is the content, the vessel and the pathway. The panoramic view of the exhibition creates a complex and sophisticated universe where the feminine has the honor that is due to her, through the celebration of her individuality, her rich inner spirit in this material world.
- Roger T. Lee, MHS
2003 Journey of Elevation. female as vessel as female
After exploring the iconoclastic social construction of woman in her previous works.
Cynthia Tom's newer works center on the ego-presence of the female. The woman is now the subject proper, present and essential.
Cynthia Tom is a surrealist painter, meaning that her paintings are intense irrationals of a dream. Cynthia Tom has lots of works of art to talk about, we both analyzed one of her paintings and then we also stated how it was related to the Augie Tam article. The person from the Augie Tam article that I would most agree with is Paul Pfeiffer because he talks about what contributions the Asian Americans have given to the history and culture of the United States. And also what he said about Western aesthetics and that Asian American aesthetics is no different than that. In the article by Augie Tam, Paul Pfieffer stated
“It is most interesting that those people who are the quickest to question the validity of a unifying Asian American aesthetics on the basis of the diversity within the term “Asian American” would never think to question “Western (meaning Euro-American) aesthetics” which is based on an equally diverse area with an equally turbulent history. When we speak of Euro-American aesthetics, there is room for diversity and a myriad of cultural influences, many of which come from Asia and other parts of the world. But when we speak of the possibilities of an Asian American aesthetics, it must either be monolithic or not viable.”
I would have to agree to what Paul Pfeiffer said because it is true that Euro-Americans say that they have an aesthetic, and they are in the same boat as Asian Americans, but still they think that Asians Americans don’t have an aesthetic. I would think that it should be the opposite that the western aesthetic doesn’t exist and the Asian American aesthetic exists because Asian Americans talk about what they and their people have gone through, the stereotypes, and many other real things that are happening around them. Then, I would think that the Western aesthetics talks about not what the Euro-Americans have gone through but what the other Americans have gone through. This is what I think about the aesthetics.
I would also think that Cynthia Tom believes that there is an Asian American aesthetic because she says that
“Her paintings persuade us to look beyond the aesthetic and challenge stereotypes and traditional roles, question paradigms, and encourage our internal dialogue.”
I also related the Augie Tam article to Tak Toyoshima’s “Secret Asian Man” The one that I related it to was the one about the “Golden Arches”. This comic talked about the real event that McDonald’s did for the Asian Americans around the world, and it talked about McDonald’s paying tribute and respecting Asian Heritage and saying that the diverse culture and the everyday American lifestyle become one. The Anglo McDonald’s worker was also giving out T-shirts that said “I am Asian” but what the Asian American customer said in his head about he T-shirt was that it should have said “I am Asian American”. To me this was a good thing and a bad thing that McDonald’s did because it means that the Westerners are respecting Asians, but to a certain point saying that they are a part of American history but they aren’t real Americans. Like what Paul Pfieffer said in the Augie Tam article, he said “given the immense contributions that we have made to the history and culture of North America, we are sorely lacking any adequate structure for revealing and recognizing those contributions.” Also, another example would be that the things that Asians did at their respected countries, for example Buddhism and their traditional food like sushi are very well known in the states but Asian Americans in the states aren’t. Here's the site of the comic.
Tak Toyoshima: Secret Asian Man "Golden Arches"
For Cynthia Tom, her themes also speak about real things that happened to her and her people. She also talks about the stereotypes about the Asian women and what the Westerners think about them (women), and also her culture (Chinese). For example in one of her paintings called “Aspiration” it is a self portrait of herself and it shows her in a western outfit and is smoking but, but in real life she doesn’t smoke. In the background it shows a traditional dress in the background. Then, she says that it has to deal with being more outgoing and passing in her job, which means that she has to try and be more like a Western person. Tom also said that sometimes that it is good to pass depending on the situation of the spectrum. I think that the theme for this painting was about the Asian experience in the Western world, and what the Asian Americans go through to fit in. To me, I liked the paintings because it was beautiful and colorful, because it had what her paintings meant on the side of the paintings, and it helped out a lot. Because if I was just surfing through the internet and saw the paintings, I wouldn’t know what the paintings would have meant, and probably would have just went on to another site.In the Augie Tam article, Paul Pfeiffer said “The discussion of an Asian American aesthetics is viable only if we are truly committed to revealing the complexity of Asian American experiences.”, and Cynthia Tom said that her artwork “is part of an ongoing series exploring my Chinese Heritage, it’s effects on my life, and those around me” and she noted that “is has been an important influence on me as an Asian American woman.”I would agree with Paul because that is what aesthetics is about; writing, painting and composing about your culture and your experiences. I think that Paul Pfeiffer and Cynthia Tom both see the same thing about the Asian American aesthetics, and that’s why I would agree with Paul Pfeiffer in the Augie Tam article.
Asian American Art Aesthetic - Paul Pfeiffer said “The discussion of an Asian American aesthetics is viable only if we are truly committed to revealing the complexity of Asian American experiences.”, and Cynthia Tom said that her artwork “is part of an ongoing series exploring my Chinese Heritage, it’s effects on my life, and those around me” and she noted that “is has been an important influence on me as an Asian American woman.”I would agree with Paul because that is what aesthetics is about; writing, painting and composing about your culture and your experiences
“The art work in the exhibit "is part of an ongoing series exploring my Chinese heritage, its effects on my life, and those around me"
I agreed with the opinion of Meena Alexander about Asian American Aesthetics. Alexander believes with a resolute “yes” that there is Asian American Aesthetics in art (178). I think that Cynthia Tom's work is good example of Asian American aesthetics in art. A large series of Tom's paintings feature beautiful Asian women in surreal environments or pictures of the female form in dresses combining both Eastern and Western styles. Tom uses her paintings to combine images, both Eastern and Western, challenging stereotypes and traditional female and Asian roles. In many of her paintings, the viewer will notice Asian women, Chinese characters, and Asian style dresses. She expresses herself through a combination of both the female form and Chinese imagery. Along with the beautiful imagery depicted in her paintings, there are often complex psychological undertones hidden in her paintings.
There are two issues that frequently show up in her paintings. One issue that Tom faces is that she is both Asian-American and a woman. She can brings awareness to and challenge these issues in her paintings. One of the main issues that run through her work is about self-acceptance, especially of the female body. Tom celebrates the female form by trying to reinforce the concept that the female form is beautiful, and encourages the acknowledgement of different body types. For Tom, her paintings of women express an acceptance of her own body.
Another issue that drives Tom is of being Asian-American. Tom does not care too much for all the labels that are attached to her and her work, whether it's being called an "Asian American female artist" or a "surrealist artist." Tom sees herself simply as an artist, who is driven by a need to paint, and she chooses to ignore any labeling during her creative process. People are always trying to label her as either a "female" or "Asian-American" artist. In response to what people have tried to define her as, she simply says, "Society insists on labels, and sometimes you have to provide labels for marketing purposes. So I do it, but really I just want to paint." It appears that Tom does not care too much for all the labels that are attached to her and her work, whether it's being called an "Asian American female artist" or a "surrealist artist." In stating this, Tom finds that being an Asian American has not been an obstacle for her in her professional or artistic life, but instead, she finds it to be an advantage. Tom finds that artwork by Asian Americans happens to be a niche market and she is prepared to take full advantage of it.
Although I really enjoyed all of her paintings, the painting that I felt had the most meaning and that was an excellent example of Asian-American Aesthetics is Tom's Angel Island Series. Tom is successful with this series of work because it is easily interpreted by a general audience. This series of work is easier to interpret than her other works. Fred Houn states that, “Art must reach broadly and include and reach different classes, but it must be clear whose interest it serves” (48). I believe that Tom’s Angel Island Series accomplishes that. Angel Island was a detention center operated by Immigration and Naturalization Services as a gateway to control the flow of Chinese immigrants to the United States. Angel Island was often called the “Ellis Island of the West” (178). Alexander believes that an artist needs to “evoke chaos a power equal to the injustices that surround us.” I believe that Tom accomplishes that with these series of paintings. The Angel Island series educates the viewer about the Angel Island Immigration experience on Chinese women. These paintings give a voice to the women interned and interrogated on Angel Island from 1910-1940, San Francisco. The Angel Island Series is reflective of both current and past events. Tom uses her paintings as tools to communicate personal issues that have affected herself and others. The focus of these series of paintings are of interpretive "mug shot" portraits of Chinese women. These are paintings taken from the actual “mug shots” taken from Angel Island. Tom’s exhibit also includes a number of items evocative of the times, such as poetry, interrogation transcripts, books, photographs, etc. By painting these “mug shots” of these women, Tom educates the public of hardship and struggles that Chinese immigrants had when coming to America. By creating these pieces of art she is both educating the public and honoring the women of her past.
I agreed with the opinion of Meena Alexander about Asian American Aesthetics. Alexander believes with a resolute “yes” that there is Asian American Aesthetics in art (178). I think that Cynthia Tom's work is good example of Asian American aesthetics in art.
Cynthia Tom's work is both haunting and celebratory, rooted in heritage
and inspired by imagination. From the emotional resonance of her Angel
Island series to the rich textures of "Woman w/ Spinning Chairs," Tom
consistently matches real-world with whimsy to create transcendent art.
Editor and publisher, San Francisco
BANG! Magazine 2001
Article about Cynthia Tom by Jonathan Farrell, Chronicle 2004
A pair of golden eyes greeted me as I walked in the lobby of the Pacific Professional Building. (California Pacific Medical Center)
Through the automatic sliding glass doors those golden eyes on a large canvas welcomed me to an array of paintings that are part of the over 50 works by native San Franciscan artist Cynthia Tom.
Along with those eyes which is entitled "Conscience Explored" are paintings that pulled me in to study further.
Surrealistic in style and full of vibrant expression the works speak of the subconscious and have an intuitive element that sparks interest.
CPMC has been host to local artists for over 15 years and in the beginning when the building first opened we worked with art galleries," she said.
"Galleries were expensive when they took their percentage, she added, so the physicians who own this building decided to feature and look for artists on their own."
"Artists in the Bay Area are fields a plenty," she exclaimed. Their process for featuring art has evolved and as it is now, the physicians have a committee that meets formally once a year to curate the year’s exhibitions.
"We don't take a commission yet we welcome artists to donate to charitable organizations," Vidaurri said. Baffled as to the mystery of why some works sell and others don't it was revealed that Tom has sold two painting so far.
Painting is what Tom has been doing since 1995, yet the development and journey of her art goes back much farther.
As a kid "my Mom was always helping us create things with scraps and discarded items neighbors would pass on to us." This is how Tom learned to find delight in discarded things and turning them into objects of art.
Mixed media is how Tom describes her early work. Learning the creative process from not only her Mom, but also from her from Dad, Richard. "My father was always the guy with the garage door open making art and enjoyed chatting with neighbors who stopped by," Tom remembered.
He sculpted and made pottery applying new interpretations to ancient techniques. A man of varied talents and interests, he liked jazz (among his favorites was Fats Waller) "his essence was enlightening...art, music and humor," Tom said.
It seems the eclectic element is the thread that inspires her painting as Tom said, "I try hard to work by pure intuition and aesthetic, without intent."
Eager to have a painting evolve she works without a finished concept. Beginning with one object that inspires and then another, Tom can have several painting evolving at once. "I have five to ten paintings going at the same time so I don't feel stuck," she said.
Off to one side walking past the elevators in the lobby Tom has a series of paintings that does have a definite theme. Entitled "Anomaly In The Veil," this series attempts to lift the veil of silence that surrounds the Chinese Immigration Experience on Angel Island which was from 1910 to 1940.
Angel Island a hiking spot for tourists, is not too far from the famous Alcatraz . Unknown to most casual visitors is that it was once used as a detainment center, sort of an Ellis Island for the west coast.
The discrimination and unfair treatment the arrivals received while on the island, did not reflect the ideals of democracy and freedom. Their detainment was more like prison.
Many of the detained were brought to the west coast to be "wives" and "sons" to carry on a family name. These people had literally been purchased and brought to the United States.
It was while looking into family history that Tom discovered the experience of her maternal grandmother Hom Shee Mock. Tom found that her grandmother was bought by her grandfather.
Like so many immigrants who were at Angel Island, the exact details of their past were suppressed and there was resistance to discussion about it.
The series Tom created that includes the painting of her grandmother was taken right from a ‘mug shot" in a collection of photos that she was able to obtain from the National Archives in San Bruno.
The "Anomaly In The Veil" is really part of a much larger effort that Tom and other artists have contributed to as a testimonial for the Chinese Cultural Center.
Vidaurri who found the series moving said, "I was amazed to learn that Cynthia has family that has been here in San Francisco for more than three generations." "I wish Cynthia was able to do more on that series, because everyday (in the lobby) I see how it touches people, she said" "Perhaps new immigrants recognize something of their experience," Vidaurri wondered.
There is more to her series of these paintings as Tom said, "we could not fit all the portraits." The Angel Island experience is "confusing and very sad." Mentioning how difficult it was to get permission to use the photos/artifacts and tell each story, "there is usually fear of exposure and shame so (the relatives) are too reluctant to give permission," Tom said.
Like Vidaurri Tom also noticed the impact the series has on people. "I (too) have noticed how it touches people," she said. Tom hopes to have the series shown on Angel Island in the building that was the immigration station. "I'd like to take my Mom's siblings there," she said.
As one who treasures venues like ArtSpan's Open Studios and looks forward to it each year, Tom said, "In my studio, I get so much feed back."
Recognizing the healing power of art, Vidaurri would agree as she said, "Having art here is very helpful." Vidaurri noted that over the years there have been patients asking about a particular painting or piece and wanted to buy it.
Hoping to one day devote all of her time to nothing else but art and support herself on that alone Tom is confident in her endeavor. As she said, "I believe my work has the potential to heal. During my Open Studios, my work often inspires deep impromptu therapy sessions. It's made me rethink what my art is meant for."
Not sure if at some point, she will pursue a degree to become a therapist. Tom does know art is her life. As she said, "I feel I am on the right path."
For more information about "Anomaly In The Veil" and other works by Cynthia Tom visit her website at: www.cynthiatom.com.