One look at a Wishcandy girl and it's clear that Portland artist Sashiko Yuen uses her "candy-coated horror show" as a feminist revolution. With pastels that pack a punch, her work explores themes of softness, sweetness, and strength - like gummy bears that bite. LA-based writer (and lady of indie-bookstore-mecca Stories) Leanna Robinson gets real with Sashiko on her work and her place within the world of art.
How has your identity as an artist changed over the years?
I went through a huge change in college both in my personal life and in my work. I started painting nude women and was introduced to different types of paintings; my mind really opened up after that. I took this class on international women's studies which helped me become more comfortable with feminism - that was a huge spark for me.
After college I was much more aware of how things are affected by sex, gender, and the patriarchy, so I got way more involved in politics. The more educated I become about things like gender and race, the more I put it into my art. For example, there's a lot of femme-phobia out there, so I like my work to portray the feminine.
I feel like your characters all very much alive. Can you tell me a little about how you picture their personalities or identity?
I guess they all have similar traits - mostly in that I'm trying express and question how our culture views strength. In the media, there's only one way the strong, unbreakable woman is portrayed. There needs to be more representation of femme-women or femme-people. I want project the idea that vulnerability is strength that people who keep getting knocked down keep getting back up too.
I feel like as artists there's the way that the public interacts with your work and there's the way you see yourself. How do you see yourself in the context of art and as an artist?
I feel like artists are generally underappreciated. We do this weird dance where we want to relate to the general public, but to make a living we're supposed to speak to the "high-class". So often the people who most appreciate my work are the "masses" - people who don't make enough money to buy things they don't necessarily need. I feel like all these systems are tied together and it's easy can get stuck making a certain kind of work that will sell.
So do you see yourself as an outsider of the contemporary art world?
I feel a little bit like an outsider. When it comes to arts programs, sometimes the painting department looks down on people doing graphic design, like "oh, you're a sell out, you're going to get a job". People would say things like "Oh, Sashiko's going to make it because her work is the most marketable". We were often taught that if your work looks good above a couch - you failed. There's a sea of us stuck in the gap between "illustration" and "art", and we're not being taken seriously so we have to do things like put on our own shows.
What interaction do you have with the art world?
I feel like in terms of the bigger art world there's a barrier to entry - it's all about who you know. I've been on the outskirts for five or six years now. I showed in a gallery in LA called Coagula Court Curatorial run by the lovely Mat Gleason who ran a punk art magazine for 20 or so years. He didn't care who he cut down in the art world - he'd walk up to the biggest name in art and say, "eff you". He started his own gallery where he'd show work worth ten thousand dollars next to art selling for under a grand. That was the closest I've gotten- I'm still trying to navigate that whole scene.
Are you involved in the art scene in Portland right now?
Oh yeah. I've been showing at Pony Club gallery every year since I started. Pony Club is an artist run gallery, so the owner will pass my name along to other galleries for group shows - especially now that I'm in town. It's good to have community, I've never really had that.
Interview by Leanna Robinson. Photos by Lauren Crow.