Pop art exhibition revives Asian-American youth icons

Louise Leong

pop art exhibition opened at the Rui Cunha Foundation yesterday evening, showcasing the works of California-based contemporary artist Louise Leong.

Leong, whose family is from Macau, has an artistic background in silkscreen printmaking, a technique traditionally used for the commercial production of t-shirts. Having studied this method for fine art application, Leong today creates contemporary pop art using characters, products and icons from her youth.

“A lot of my imagery is bound in childhood memories of play and nostalgia,” said Leong yesterday at the exhibition opening. “A lot of people see my work and say that they remember [these items] from my childhood. As we grow older these memories grow further and further apart from us, and so I like to make art to recall those memories, and I think that resonates with people.”

Among the items depicted Leong’s work are ice tea beverages and cartoon characters – some recalled from her childhood, and others a product of her imagination.

“I am inspired by childhood play memories and children’s media, like comic books and cartoons. I loved them as a child, and I continue to surround myself with them,” she said. “I’ll see something and think: oh I need to paint that. It’s very childlike; the way that children paint and draw what they know. It’s not always conscious for them.

“Part of the reason that mascots and cartoons are so special to me is because when you are a child, even before you can speak, you can recognize images,” she added in conversation with the Times. “A lot of this just comes back to nostalgia. I draw things that link to my roots and my childhood.”

Leong was the U.S. curator for the “Macau x San Francisco Art of Illustration” show, a 2016 exhibition showcasing 40 artworks from 20 artists based in either Macau or the United States. According to organizers, the exhibition was designed to connect both places with “a visual language shared with a sense of humor, surrealism and graphic appeal.”

Leong’s work resonates broadly with other Asian-Americans that have a connection to the items, characters and products shown in her art.

As for Macau audiences, for whom these items are somewhat commonplace, Leong thinks her art can help to revive memories of their youth.

“At the very least it might be novel to see a painting of something so commonplace in a gallery like this,” she said. DB

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