Meeson Pae Yang on view at SoLA Gallery
The Unseen made Visible
Losing ourselves in the art of Meeson Pae Yang
by Bondo Wyszpolski
In 1998, when Meeson Pae Yang was a senior at Peninsula High School in Rolling Hills, her brother died of cancer. “That was a very difficult time,” she says. “I was trying to process all of that, the fact that I lost my brother and he was only 15.”
“At first I started journaling and writing things down, but it felt like the actual words couldn’t convey what I was feeling at the time. So I bought a whole bunch of art supplies and started making things, paintings and sculptures, and I realized, Oh, you know, this is something I’m really interested in and I want to explore that.”
Meeson attended UCLA, initially with plans to major in English and sociology. Well, plans are one thing, destiny is another.
“Towards the end of my second year of college I decided to apply to the Fine Arts Department.” One problem, though: She had to submit a portfolio with 15 examples of her work.
“Since I didn’t have a background in art,” Meeson explains, “I didn’t have a portfolio. I was going to just throw the idea out the window and not apply, because how do you just make a portfolio from scratch? There was about a week left, and I just got the feeling that I should give it a try. So I stayed up all night for a whole week, made those 15 things, and then submitted (the portfolio) and somehow I ended up getting into the program.” She then studied new genre or non-traditional sculpture for two years.
After finishing that program Meeson took a breather. “I felt like I needed to learn some technical skills to be able to build what I was visualizing in my mind. So I took some sculpture classes at El Camino College and learned basic skills, like a little bit of mold-making using different materials. From there I just continued on and started building a body of work.”
A body of work, one should note, as a result of her participation in group shows in several South Bay venues. On Saturday, August 12, “Meeson Pae Yang: Installations and Painting” opens at South Bay Contemporary’s SoLA Gallery in Los Angeles. That’s the gallery and studio space that Peggy Zask and Linda Jo Russell opened earlier this year. Meeson is the gallery’s current artist-in-residence, her residency having started June 1. In the meantime, while residing in Torrance, she’s been creating work in her San Pedro studio, and that’s where this sit-down, face-to-face interview took place.
Meeson came to Peggy’s attention back in 2010, if not before, when she was in a group show at Zask Gallery. “I watched her progression as an artist,” Peggy says, “through exhibitions at El Camino, Angels Gate Cultural Center, and in various art collections. She is a recognized and respected sculptor locally, nationally, and internationally.”
Internationally? Yes, her work has been shown in Spain, Switzerland, Germany, England, Italy, Turkey, China and South Korea.
Now, what of the work itself? We can see that it’s different, and it could even be tagged as biomorphic surrealism; but what’s underlying the creation of it?
Early on, Meeson begins, “I was exploring ideas about internal parts of the body, but in an abstract way, so not realistic or representational. The source imagery would be from things in the body.”
Meaning “cells and how they move and how they grow,” she continues. “I still see that thread throughout my work, but it’s a bit different in the sense where I would use a lot of latex and resin. I was looking at Eva Hesse; I was really inspired by her work and Kiki Smith, and how they dealt with the body.”
Back then the emphasis may have been on “the internal organs and skin and how everything functions together, whereas now it’s more focused on the microscopic and pulling those things out and expanding it, shifting the scale of it.” Also, Meeson adds, “lots of layering, whether it’s varying the materials to make interesting textures or layering different sheets of plastics or mirrors to get light refractions and reflections.” Still, as before, what informs her art is “an interest in biological functions, biology, geology, astronomy; things related to nature.”
A large work table in her studio, spread out with a banquet of materials, some manufactured and others straight from nature, seems to bear this out. Among the latter one finds cork bark, seed pods, a dried mushroom, coral, quartz or crystals, and various tidepool discoveries. “These are things I look to,” Meeson says, “to get ideas or to figure out [problems] if I’m stuck.”
Overall, the textures are softer, more earth-toned, than assemblage or collage culled from metals or other hard materials. There’s still the sense of soft tissue over hard tissue, and the oeuvre as a whole feels fluid and organic.
“I do a lot of experiments and I see how materials interact,” Meeson says as we look over the objects on the table. “I guess what their inherent properties are, and I try to work with that and flow with that. And then, at times, taking groups of materials and transforming them into something else.”
This is often achieved through repetition, where multiples of a particular object lend it new meanings and identity.
Immersive? Step right in!
Anyone acquiring Meeson’s larger work may have trouble finding room for it.
“I really like taking a space and transforming it into an experience for viewers,” she says. “The fact that they can sort of weave in and out of the work and experience it from the bottom to the top, and then feel like they’re really embedded in the piece, is an interesting aspect of the installation for me. I’m always exploring how the work fits into a space and how people view and interact with the work.”
One result is that things appear to be in abeyance rather than fixed or immobile. Meeson often hangs elements of her work so that it seems to be floating in space. “It kind of gives this feeling that things are suspended, a freeze-frame of something that’s about to happen, and then it kind of gives it this otherworldly sensation.”
Meeson is prolific, but she’d produce even more work if not for outside obligations. This is one dedicated artist:
“I teach digital fabrication at Cal State Long Beach,” she says, “and I also teach at Angels Gate Cultural Center.”
Does she hail from an artistic family? I think the answer is yes.
“My Mom is a clothing designer,” Meeson replies. “She makes a line of women’s clothing.” And her father? He created silkscreen designs for apparel, and ran a company for a long time. But it also seems that another catalyst for her art, particularly when Meeson describes her interest in cells and the internal workings of the human body, was the decline in health and death of her brother. When asked about this, she replies, “Yes, my brother’s death definitely impacted my exploration of art, the body, organs, cells, etc., and then on to things related to nature and the body.”
It’ll speak to us, too
To try and summarize her artistic focus, at least in a general way, because art like this can’t be squeezed into one category, Meeson says, “I like to take what is seen or not visible to the eye and bring it to light, to the forefront, and use that not just as an inspiration, but to show that many things are interconnected and intertwined. And I like to use a lot of universal concepts like ‘systems,’ ‘relationships,’ ‘structures,’ ‘patterns,’ and so on.”
Although these are just words, she says they’re pretty powerful because each one contains so many meanings, and thus are good jumping-off points for works of art. One other important thing is that Meeson prefers to keep her work open-ended, that is, to give the viewer just enough information for him or her to form their own interpretation of what they see and experience.
Her work may be unique and unusual, but it’s always ready for a one-on-one dialogue. And seeing it first hand, we can begin to have some wonderful conversations.
Meeson Pae Yang: Recent Installations and Paintings opens with a reception on Saturday, August 12, from 5 to 7 p.m. at South Bay Contemporary, SoLA Gallery, 3718 W. Slauson Ave., Los Angeles. Through Sept. 2. Call (310) 429-0973, or go to southbaycontemporary.org. One may also access the artist’s website at meesonpaeyang.com. ER