We had the good fortune of connecting with Sandra Low and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sandra, what makes you happy? Why?
Ears: Listening to Depeche Mode makes me happy because you can be angsty and dance at the same time.
Nose: The smell of moss sold in craft stores, because it whispers dark, damp, earth secrets that I know nothing about.
Eyes and Brain: Making things makes me happy because it makes me feel like I exist in this world and that I’m magic! I grew up pretty sheltered and science fiction and fantasy entertainment offered up the most extreme escape from my reality. My overheated imagination enjoys the visual and conceptual possibilities.
Mouth: Cheetos, because they’re orange and DELICIOUS
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I’m a visual artist that parodies consumerism and stereotypes in goofy, angry, funny, and sentimental paintings and drawings. I’ve been fixated on depicting kitschy subjects covered in melted cheese, set within romantic landscapes. I enjoy the symbolism and yuck/yum factor of the golden, dripping entombing of birds and Greek statues. I also like making weirdo drawings about my mom that talk about the immigrant experience across different generations. Earlier this year, a poster that I designed was chosen by L.A. Metro to display in all of their buses for a couple of months. That was really exciting.
Trying to forge a career in the arts is tough. I survive by living with my mother (don’t judge me) and teaching. You have to have a belief in your own work and a level of self-centeredness to carve out the time and energy to work on that practice–it may not be pretty, but I think it’s necessary to keep yourself going in the long run.
Continually build your art family: colleagues, friends that you can mutually help, learn, and gain strength from. Learning to network is essential; most opportunities have been the result of being referred to by someone else. This is unfair and a hard skill to master (I still don’t understand it), but that’s why you go to graduate school, grab an art friend and go to openings, post on social media, and force yourself to meet new people once in a while. Luckily, the art world is small and attrition is huge, so hang tough, don’t be a jerk, and keep making the shit that you want to make. But also don’t be ignorant. Know what contemporary “fine art” looks like and how it functions–the vocabulary, the history, the attitude–which can be intimidating. Know about the different art worlds, and understand how your work might fit into it and how you want to be regarded in it.
I think being an artist of color in the U.S., you get put into certain boxes, whether you want to or not. It restricts you but it can also work to your advantage at times. It’s a social and economic system built on the moneyed class, connections, and the “feels”, so if they don’t “get” you, you gain entry mostly as a novelty act. I don’t know the secret to navigating all that is. I just don’t think you can ignore it and hope you’ll transcend it through your awesome art that people will judge on its own merit. Make your noise and stand your ground, whatever form it may take.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
First of all, no one ever has or ever will come to me for “the best time ever.” But if I had a visitor–and I’m going to assume that all of these place are going to be around after we emerge from the pandemic lockdown–I would start out on the Westside to squish sand between their toes in Santa Monica and visit the UCLA Hammer Museum. In Culver City, there’s the truly one of a kind Museum of Jurassic Technology and gallery hopping, from the mega-space Blum & Poe to Walter Maciel Gallery.
In Hollywood, we could visit LACMA (although the construction is not making it ideal right now), go people watching on Hollywood Blvd, get brisket at Bludso’s, and drinks at the HMS Bounty. An open-air concert at the Greek or Hollywood Bowl would also be memorable.
We could spend a couple of days exploring downtown: Santee Alley is a must, then you might as well see some art at the Bendix Building and MOCA. Browse The Last Bookstore and then rest your feet with a drink and tater tots at Cole’s. There’s a little shrine in my heart like a squirrel’s nut cache in a tree hollow for the almond cookies at Queen’s Bakery in Chinatown. Then we would end the day by bathing in the transcendent uni cream udon at Izakaya & Bar Fu-Ga. in Little Tokyo.
To the south, we can see what a collective can achieve by seeing the space shuttle Endeavor at the CA Science Center, and what one person can create by visiting Watts Towers.
On the Eastside, there is the Huntington Library, Pasadena City College’s monthly flea market, shopping for any grocery item imaginable at Hawaii Supermarket in San Gabriel, and fantastic Asian eateries everywhere you turn in that area. Right now, Cantonese diner food sounds really comforting, so I’d vote for roast duck and dumpling noodle soup at Sam Woo BBQ, located in Focus Plaza, which was the San Gabriel Drive-In theater in a former lifetime.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
A big shoutout to Art Salon Chinatown, the brainchild of activist curators Sonia Mak and Shervin Shahbazi, who have, for 2 years, dedicated programming and exhibitions to showcase Asian American artists during their pop-up residency in the middle of Chinatown. With no support other than the generosity of the building’s owner, Richard Liu, for the gallery space, they have worked to raise the profiles of artists who, like the gentrifying neighborhood it occupies, often feel like their voices get drowned out except to serve as a novel flavor packet of local color. (https://artsalonchinatown.com