Philip Oyung is a descendant of one of the first Chinese family to immigrate to Nevada County. He attended Union Hill, as did his father back in 1910. His grandfather emigrated from Guangdong province, China in 1905 to be a cook at the Star Mine in Grass Valley.
Inspired by Ruth Chase’s ambitious multi-media installation about the land we live on and the notion of belonging, Racial Literacy, Nevada County offers a free, facilitated community conversation in the World Café style at Summer Thyme’s where the BELONGING Community Exhibition, curated by Ruth is on display.
We are collaborating with Chase to expand her artistic intention by creating the opportunity for local residents to experience, as she states, “powerful insights that allow people to find a sense of belonging within their community.” We also welcome Nevada City Rancheria Secretary Shelly Covert.
Join us to talk with each other in a real and candid way about our own sense of belonging along with our relationships with the Nisenan people and this beautiful region that the Nisenan have called “home” for thousands of years.
SHE Persisted an event by YubaLit | Featuring Author Bridget Quinn
This is an essay I read at SHE Persisted about how I overcame a time in my life when I was the most discouraged and wanted to give up being an artist. It starts and ends with a self portrait I painted that changed my life and was the first step I took to create my own “rags to riches” journey. Well, not so much not riches in the form of money.
Spring 2015: I’m on the back end of my 40s, and this time I’m going to really give up. Pursuing an art career feels hopeless, and the uphill battle I’m fighting right now is more than I can handle. It’s 4:00 am Monday morning—hot coffee, cell phone, Facebook app, and the dog. Every week my husband will be gone from Monday to Thursday or Friday. I’ve committed to homeschooling our only child; I feel lost, I feel alone. Every bit of my spiritual energy is being given to our beautiful daughter who will turn 10 in May. I had no idea that motherhood would take this long or be this hard, that I would feel so disconnected from my dreams and my art. I’ll be 50 before ya know it; I don’t have the time or energy to pick up a paintbrush. “Who am I kidding? Get a real job! I’ll never be a working artist.” I’ve been through this before, but this time it’s different.
When I was six, my home was on the Venice boardwalk, and within me was a well of strength I would not realize I had until I was older, much older. To be totally honest, I was at my very strongest then. I wanted to be the first woman president when I grew up. At that age, dreaming big was easy. The fact that my tutu matched my bodysuit was enough affirmation for me to believe that I could do or be anything. I remember that dance outfit like it was yesterday; I remember the empowering feelings that went with it, too. It seems like it was the only time in my life where my dreams belonged to me, and I was in them wholeheartedly, against all the odds.
Summer: There are signs that the demands of motherhood are changing. I’ll try to paint a self-portrait of that little girl. The one who dreamed big dreams.
In the late ’80s, I was a student at the San Francisco Art Institute. I wanted to be an artist with a gallery and be in a museum; I wanted to fill my life with conceptual artist friends and travel the world, eating exotic foods and drinking too much wine. Every idea I had about being an artist came from school, a book or someone else’s life had already lived. As the years go by, I no longer fit into that dream; in fact, I don’t have time to dream.
Fall, I am almost done with the self-portrait. It makes me cry for months, will I ever stop crying? I go with it. I paint, and paint for hours over weeks and into months, one painting turns into 13, turns into a whole installation with audio and video.
It’s August again, I’m 52, I have my first solo exhibition today, the LA Weekly will be there. I try to stay present as 400 people attend. That’s a lot of hands to shake, my feet are hurting me in the killer shoes that tell the world “I still got it.” The following morning I will wake up to some 500 texts with my name tagged all over Facebook and Instagram, they will keep coming for the rest of the day and throughout the following weeks. The City of LA will mail me a Certificate of Appreciation for that one self-portrait that turned into the West of Lincoln Project. I never saw any of this coming.
Today I embark on a project called I AM HERE, about how women maintain their sense of belonging. It’s no coincidence that I am working with the theme of BELONGING because that has been the theme of my life. Perhaps the theme of life?
Three years ago, I had no body of work and 30 years of a whole lotta nothing on my resume. Two years ago, I embarked on a dream more significant than I could have imagined—a dream where I belonged to my art.
Here’s my self-portrait, “Stronger Than You Realize.” I realize now that I AM stronger than I ever thought. I did not find it in a book or a movie; I found it by letting go of an old story, one that was never meant for me, and moving forward, one tiny brave step at a time, toward my dreams. The dreams that were meant for me.
Bridget Quinn is an Art Historian that delves into the lives and careers of 15 brilliant female artists in her book Broad Strokes. Learn more. These images were taken at SHE Persisted on May 31st at the Stone House for YubaLit.
The Venice Tribute Wall provided a space for the public to share their stories, memories, and memorial related to Venice.
The West of Lincoln Project was installed at the Venice Arts Gallery. Currently, this project is seeking a permanent, semi-permanent, or other installation locations.
I am continuing to collect stories as part of the Venice Tribute Wall. Submit below and send images to> RuthChaseFineArt@Ymail.com
The BELONGING project is a journey I’m taking with the community of Nevada County. Every week I ask a question on Facebook that explores how we find a sense of belonging. Here is the question I asked most recently.
How do the friendships you had growing up shape your sense of belonging now?
Growing up I felt an incredible pain from feeling like I didn’t belong in my own home while I dreamed of belonging where I wasn’t wanted, with my dad. My dad and I shared the same looks and big personality, I felt comfortable with him because we were alike. As a child my friendships often reflected these same family dynamics, feeling like an outcast in friendships that I perceived I didn’t belong in because I wasn’t enough. Further making me feel incredibly insecure about if I would ever belonging with anyone, anywhere. I think that is why I cried so much on my wedding day, someone wanted me to “belong” with them. To this day I rarely feel like I fit in with most people so I cherish the relationships where I do feel a sense of belonging. After many years of rejection from the art world, I have come to realize that none of it is personal and that I belong to myself first and foremost.
So, how do the friendships you had growing up shape your sense of belonging now?
A pop-up installation where Ruth gave hugs, postcards, and took photos.
This backdrop was painted by Ruth and photos were taken to share the value individuals have in our communities. The public was encouraged to hang their photo at home where it can be seen as a reminder of their importance.
Please email Ruth your I BELONG HERE images from wherever you are RuthChaseFineArt@ymail.com
Amy, she’s a freaking trip, in all the best ways. An incredibly interesting, strange, distant, focused person, the real deal. Sitting with her was like being with someone who was hallucinating, my guess is that she was reading spirits and energy the whole time. As we sat in a hotel room to film the scene I was in with her (not the Holbrooke), across the table from each other, it felt like she was reading me, or the room around me, her eyes were darting back and forth, over and around me, but never looking at me, even when I spoke to her. I loved every minute of it. After our scene together, I then sat to draw what she described both on camera and off. Texting her photos of the progress to make sure the image was matching what she saw. The hardest thing about drawing a quality piece was all the distractions that took me away from being in my own place of channeling. Though I wouldn’t have wanted to mix in with the energy there, so I guess it worked out for the best.
NO VACANCY OUTLINE: Retired NYPD homicide detective Steve DiSchiavi and physical medium Amy Allan investigate paranormal activity at a small-town hotel in Grass Valley, California. Their separate investigations take harrowing turns as Steve uncovers the hotel’s history of destructive fires and scandalous violence, while Amy comes face-to-face with the deranged dead during her overwhelming walk.
I opened the mail today and found this certificate of appreciation for the West of Lincoln Project. Not sure what it means other than it felt great to have it in writing from an unexpected source.
Ruth Chase with two of her paintings at the opening of “West of Lincoln”
Eddie Hadvina points to the painting of himself as an 11-year-old Boy Scout. In it, he’s wearing an olive green cap and a red kerchief with his khaki uniform, a skateboard in one hand and a trophy in the other. On his left shoulder is a patch representing Venice’s Troop 34, which he joined at his mother’s insistence.
“That’s where all the trouble started,” says Hadvina, now 56 and sporting a gray goatee. “That’s where I met all my Venice Hoodlum friends,” he says, referring to a street gang that was active in the neighborhood in the 1970s.
Hadvina’s parents, both Hungarian immigrants, visited Venice on their honeymoon in 1960 — Hadvina says he was conceived during that trip — and decided to move there two years later. Hadvina discovered skateboarding when the sport was still brand-new and being pioneered in the neighborhood by people like Stacy Peralta, one of his peers. But Hadvina’s substance abuse problems weakened his chances of becoming a professional skateboarder.
“When I was a teenager I was really good at skateboarding and surfing,” he says. “But every time I showed up to skateboard, I’d never make it in [to the skate park] because they’d all be partying and I love partying.”
Hadvina, who on a recent Saturday wore a baseball cap and a T-shirt printed with images of the Venice Skate Park, is one of the subjects featured in artist Ruth Chase’s exhibition “West of Lincoln.” The show of a dozen paintings and accompanying audio portraits, which opened earlier this month and runs through Sept. 10 at the nonprofit Venice Arts gallery, seeks to tell the stories of people who grew up west of Lincoln Boulevard in the 1970s, when the neighborhood was better known for poverty, gang violence and a burgeoning youth skating culture than for billion-dollar tech companies, designer boutiques and trendy restaurants.
Like Hadvina, many others featured in Chase’s project experienced violence and addiction to drugs and alcohol from a young age. Some spent years trying to recover from habits they picked up on the streets of Venice. Nearly all recall a tough, eclectic neighborhood that felt nothing like the wealthy, sterilized enclave it is today.
“Most people either dealt with drive-by shootings — I got jumped — or knew somebody that died because of a gunshot or a knife, a stabbing,” says Chase, who grew up in the neighborhood in the ’70s and describes the culture as one of survival. “We always used to say, you go east of Lincoln to see green lawns and two parents.”
“You had to have a little bit of an edge or you’d get picked on,” says David Fowler, one of the people Chase featured in the show. “You had to hold your own, and people had to know that you were tough enough not to mess with.”
At the same time, Venice Beach was attracting free-spirited 20- and 30-somethings who moved there from across the country to live the so-called hippie lifestyle and find work on the boardwalk, with its tourist-friendly arcade games and cafes. “They experience Venice entirely different than a local does,” Chase says. “It was a weird contrast.”
Skateboarders David Fowler, left, and Eddie Hadvina
The first time Chase noticed Abbot Kinney becoming a destination was when Hal’s Bar and Grillopened on the block — then known simply as Washington Boulevard — when she was still a teenager. “We were on welfare. My mom, she didn’t read or write, she didn’t drive a car, and Hal’s moved in and it was like, ‘Wow, this is a cool fancy new place,’” Chase says. “I remember taking my mom there and realizing she couldn’t afford to eat there.”
Rhonda Lynn Wise, one of the subjects featured in the show, says it’s no wonder the area gentrified so quickly: It’s home to beachfront property. And yet, for years, she says, “West of Lincoln was a ghost town. That’s where the Latinos and the blacks and the surfers lived.”
Venice began to shed its ghost-town reputation in the 1990s, when developers swooped in aggressively. “Venice was the type of town where you passed your property down to your family,” Wise says. “When these developers came in, they put very large price tags on these homes. When someone offers you a million dollars for your home, you’re probably going to sell it.”
Rhonda Lynn Wise stands next to the painting inspired by her life.
Wise says her family never owned property, and she still marvels at the fact that her single mother was able to raise three kids in a three-bedroom apartment near the beach for about $300 a month. “It’s unheard of now,” she says.
Chase, who now lives in Northern California, came up with the idea for the “West of Lincoln” project during a visit to Abbot Kinney in 2014 — just a year before Hal’s was priced out of the block and was forced to relocate to Playa Vista. Chase found herself standing in the middle of the street, disoriented by what she was seeing: high-end shops and restaurants in every direction. When she returned home, she wanted to find other people who could relate to the quaint, scary, weird Venice of her childhood. She thought maybe they all shared similar experiences growing up, and she wondered how those experiences might have affected them as adults. She posted ads on Facebook and Craigslist seeking people willing to be interviewed and then painted. Getting them to trust her wasn’t easy.
“What I’d hear was, ‘Well, who the fuck are you?’” Chase says, imitating her critics. “‘What do you want? You’re just part of that motherfucking gentrification and you’re just gonna tell our stories and make money off it.’”
But word-of-mouth spread and Chase eventually found a group that agreed to participate, but only after she proved that she was one of them: a Venice native with no monetary incentive. It helped that she also guaranteed her subjects full creative input over the final result. Chase conducted interviews and then hired a writer, Gena Lasko — thanks to a grant from the Carl Jacobs Foundation — to condense them into short biographies.
Chase’s paintings are not intended as acts of realism but representations of each person’s upbringing and most transformational experiences. Hadvina, for example, is portrayed as a Boy Scout, but behind him is an adult silhouette referencing his present. The silhouette is painted to look like water, a nod to the empty swimming pools he got in trouble for skating in as a kid.
Chase’s painting of Fowler, a skateboarder who also struggled with drugs and alcohol, depicts him flying through the air on his board. On the bottom of his deck are the faces of his wife, children and parents. The visual is a metaphor for his support of his family through various health crises, including both his wife’s and his mother’s ovarian cancer diagnoses several years ago. Now a real estate agent in Venice, Fowler says he’s lucky to raise his kids in the same neighborhood where he and his wife both grew up, especially now that he can teach them not to repeat the same mistakes he made.
“Our kids go to the same elementary school we went to 40 years ago. It’s so amazing,” he says, “to be an example to them so they don’t have to suffer the way we did.”
After all these years, Hadvina and Fowler haven’t given up on their skater roots. They both ride for Santa Monica Airlines Skateboards and Hadvina still competes in competitions aimed at older skaters. Sober for more than two decades, it’s as if they’re getting to redo the childhoods they never had.
“We’re still doing airs out of pools,” Hadvina says. “We’re skating like kids.”
The closing reception for “West of Lincoln” is Sun., Sept. 10, 10 a.m.-noon, at Venice Arts, 13445 Beach Ave., Marina del Rey; (310) 392-0846, venicearts.org.