This week I visited Maia Cruz Palileo and Kimo Nelson at their respective studios in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, en route to Washington D.C. for (De)Centered: An Exhibition of Filipino American Artists that I co-curated with TSV’s director Isabel Manalo. I picked up their pieces for the show and had time to chat with them about their work and individual studio practices.
I met with Maia at her third floor studio at the Brooklyn Army Terminal overlooking the bay. Housing several different industries within a large complex (including a chocolate factory, noted Palileo), the building also provides artist space through Chashama.
Over cups of tea, Palileo talked about her current work. Having just wrapped up her solo show, Dear, Dear, Dear, at Taymour Grahne Gallery in Manhattan, her space was inhabited by numerous recent oil paintings and fresco sculptures. Working from images of historical figures from the Philippine-American War, as well as family members, her work addresses themes of Filipino American history and culture that have long been overlooked.
Still Life with Banana Catsup, is a more personal piece based on her experiences in the Philippines and correspondence with her grandmother. Banana catsup, a popular condiment in Filipino culture, had its beginnings in the WWII era when there was a shortage of tomatoes. The red-orange bottle is a familiar sight in Filipino kitchens from the Philippines to the United States. The painting will be featured in (De)Centered.
Just a couple blocks away, I met Kimo at his studio. With a warm smile and wave from the iron staircase on the side of the building, he led me to his second floor studio divided between himself and two colleagues. We shared a connection with Signal Fire, an organization that connects artists to wild places through group hiking and canoeing trips, centered on themes including land, environmental, and indigenous rights. Filipino American Artist Directory also interviewed him as a featured artist in January 2017.
Canyons, rivers, and glaciers occupy Kimo’s canvases, drawings, and paintings on paper. As a Signal Fire guide, his time in the wilderness provides material and inspiration for his landscapes. The highly textured, tactile quality of his work lends itself to the experience of moving through the land.
“Filipino Americans occupy an interstitial space,” commented Nelson, when discussing identity and sense of place in his work. Not quite Filipino and not quite American, we talked about the ‘inbetweenness’ and difficulty of defining the Filipino American experience. Without figures, his landscapes show the passage between the many places he grew up, traveled, and lived. Small details in his studio, a coffee mug from Manila, and a book about the Grand Canyon, mark the range of his travel.
Three of Nelson’s works will appear in the upcoming show. With a rented Nissan packed with both artists’ artwork, I then made the three and a half hour drive to Maryland to drop off the work at WAS (Westwood Art Studio) Gallery in Bethesda, MD. The show will open the evening of May 13 and run through June 16. More information on filamartistdirectory.com and WAS Gallery.