June 10, 2012

“Cultural Confluences: The Art of Lenore Chinn” at the Luggage Store


Lenore Chinn posing with Bing, 2001 (acrylic on canvas, 48 x 64 in.); courtesy the artist

As the title of this exhibition promises, cultural confluences prevailed at the Luggage Store Gallery, where Lenore Chinn’s retrospective opened on Friday. Representatives of San Francisco’s multicultural arts/activist communities climbed the narrow staircase to the second-story gallery, where Chinn graciously presided over a carefully chosen ensemble of key works.

Eight major canvases spanning twenty years of portrait practice mirror the diversity of the artist’s extended kinship circle. Chinn’s iconic self-portrait Butler’s View (1993) anchors the selection, which includes oft-exhibited works such as Before the Wedding (2000), picturing the artist Kim Anno and her partner Ellen Meyers (before it was possible for them to wed), and Bing (2001), a portrait of the Bay Area abstract expressionist Bernice Bing set against a backdrop evoking her work (and the confluence of Eastern and Western traditions).

Lenore Chinn, Butler’s View (acrylic on canvas, 30 x 36 in.); courtesy the artist

Kim Anno posing with Before the Wedding, 2000 (acrylic on canvas, 66 x 44 in.); photo: courtesy of the artist

Chinn’s recent painting The Oracle Room (2011), produced with support from the San Francisco Arts Commission Individual Artist grant program, makes its public debut here.


Lenore Chinn posing with The Oracle Room, 2011; acrylic on canvas, 30 x 40 in.; courtesy the artist

These portraits dignify subjects whose psyches, bodies, and relationships have undergone the indignities of discrimination based on race, gender, and sexual orientation. Collectively, this body of work — vibrant and strong — redefines what community, friendship, family, creativity, and Culture with a capital C look like.

Jen Banta and Lenore Chinn; photo: Elisabeth Cornu

A lushly illustrated catalogue published in 2010 by the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center, and edited by Jen Banta, prefigured the exhibition. Containing essays by Moira Roth, Valerie Soe, and myself, as well as a foreword by Chinn and an introduction by Banta, the catalogue fleshes out Chinn’s oeuvre more fully than the linear footage of wall space at the Luggage Store Gallery permits.

There is nothing like seeing Chinn’s works in person, though. The imposing scale of the paintings, the photorealist effects created by Chinn’s painstaking brushwork, the vitality and richness of her palette, and the astonishing charisma of the subjects themselves contribute to the power of a face-to-face viewing experience. The exhibition — product of a collaboration among the Kearny Street Workshop, the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center, the Queer Cultural Center, and the Luggage Store Gallery — remains on view throughout the month of June.


Comments (4)

  • What a great artist and a wonderful together person. I wish she would paint more Mexican present day subjects and leaders. She is depicted in my book as a “Chicana” and she was gracious enough to allow me to use many of her paintings, her art is by far the most exciting art to come out of the U.S. in many a year. Is her art for sale? I am a “Sino File” because of my past Asian students and friends who give me many books about Chinese culture and when I was in the States, would take me out to eat at the various Chinese restaurants in the Bay Area. What can I do, or buy this wonderful artist, who lives to paint and help others. I offer my prayers for a long and healthy life for Lenore. May she continue to walk on the sunny side of life. It is an honor to know such a great intellect and artist.
    Her old partner who retired in Mexico,
    Sally de la Riva Rubio

  • Lenore’s work is astonishing. She captures people’s character n relationships with great power n perception. Happy to see others appreciating how really good her work is.

  • Lenore Chinn is a San Francisco/Bay Area treasure whose detailed and colorful paintings reveal the beauty of the artist and the communities that she loves so dearly. These communities, in turn, loves her dearly as well. Jen Banta did an outstanding job in her role as editor of the Cultural Confluences catalog. What an honor it is for me to be one of Lenore’s many friends. She enriches us all.

  • Fabulous observations of my Cultural Confluences of our community and an honor to have such a turnout for the occasion!

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