Palo Alto Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - March 12, 2010

A history in silkscreen

Nancy Hom has chronicled Bay Area colors and communities in her prints

by Rebecca Wallace

The politics of identity were big in the 1970s: Who are you? What's your ethnicity? Who's your community? Fresh out of art school, China native Nancy Hom leapt into chronicling the colors, issues and events of San Francisco in silkscreen.

"I tried to see the commonality of my identity with other communities that have struggled for social justice," she wrote in an artist's statement. "I painted murals with Latina artists, mounted exhibits for an African-American gallery, protested with Filipino tenants in Manilatown, silkscreened posters at Mission Grafica and in Japantown, danced in Carnaval ..."

All the while, Hom was falling for the vivid hues of silkscreen prints. In those days, oil-based inks were more common than today's water-based inks, which she finds less vibrant. And in a non-digital world, silkscreen prints were some of the easiest media to reproduce.

"It's a very democratic medium," Hom said in an interview, laughing. "I liked that aspect of it."

These days, a show of the San Francisco artist's work, hung at Stanford Art Spaces, is like a Bay Area history in silkscreen. Many of the pieces hail from decades past and promote events or causes, such as her exuberant Carnaval posters, and a 1980 print for International Women's Day that features one woman's uplifted face and the slogan "Working Women: We can shut this country down."

Hom's serigraphs are being shown with Larry Richardson's paintings and mixed-media works, many dealing with his African heritage; and Susan Goldsmith's dreamy, layered mixed-media images of trees. Stanford Art Spaces exhibitions show art mainly in the halls of the Paul G. Allen Center for Integrated Systems, but there are some other pieces up in the David Packard Electrical Engineering building and Building 420 (the Psychology Office).

The artworks of Hom and Richardson share a particular kinship when they make powerful statements about race. For instance, Richardson's "To Be Sold," a dramatic painting about slavery that depicts a black man behind an old advertisement for a slave sale, is displayed across from Hom's stark 1996 print "No More Violence Against Asians."

The Hom work has an open-mouthed face looking at bullet holes and small red splashes of blood. It's done mostly in silkscreen, but Hom used paint for the splashes, she said. "It just seemed like a very immediate, sudden violent act, as opposed to carefully drawing the blood and screening it. It's a different mindset when you create it, and then the viewer will feel it."

Hom said the print drew its painful inspiration from violence against Asians in the Bay Area and in other parts of the country, particularly the 1982 Detroit beating death of a Chinese-American man whose white killers had allegedly blamed the Japanese for the declining American auto industry.

Another powerful piece in the Stanford show is the 1985 silkscreen "A Future For Our Children," which shows Hom's 3-year-old daughter looking lost in front of a beach-like scene with a mushroom cloud. Hom created the piece as part of a multi-artist calendar project opposing nuclear war.

"I chose August," she said. "It was the month of Hiroshima."

During her career, the Pratt Institute graduate has been active in developing neighborhood arts organizations. Her work with the Kearny Street Workshop, which promotes and produces Asian-American arts in San Francisco, stretches back 30 years and includes an eight-year stint as executive director. In 2003, she was granted a KQED Local Hero award. Hom has also written poetry and prose, and been a graphic designer and an illustrator of children's books.

Many of her works feel less political and more family-oriented and gentle, including a series of mother-and-baby prints. In 1982's "Mother and Child," a woman smiles serenely as she feeds her infant. The piece was part of a campaign to encourage teen mothers to get proper prenatal health care. It's a straightforward image with graceful lines, like much of Hom's art.

That's part of what attracted Stanford Art Spaces curator Marilyn Grossman to Hom's work when she first saw it in the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco.

"I liked the purity of her work," she said. "It's so simple, but it really grasps you."

Several of the prints on exhibit, like "No More Violence Against Asians," incorporate some paint, and these days Hom is working more pastels and paint. And harking back to her early Carnaval days, she's pursuing salsa, swing and blues dance.

"I've always gravitated toward the things that interest me," she said. "Art and performance and just the joy of community life."

What: Silkscreen prints by Nancy Hom, shown with mixed-media works by Susan Goldsmith and paintings and mixed-media art by Larry Richardson

Where: Stanford Art Spaces gallery; works are shown mainly in the Paul G. Allen Center for Integrated Systems at 420 Via Palou on campus.

When: Through April 15. Buildings are open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: Free

Info: Go to http://cis.stanford.edu/~marigros or call 650-725-3622.

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