A behind-the-scenes look into an upcoming New West pop-up gallery

Reflecting on my lifelong artistic practice, while preparing for Colossus

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Close up of a black leather jacket with a hand-painted image of a side profile anime bust with white skin, red eyes, and icy blue hair. The person is looking up at a starry sky while red water sits below
For more pieces, check out @gemstoneart_ on Instagram. ILLUSTRATION: Yelin Gemma Lee / The Peak

By: Yelin Gemma Lee, News Writer

Editor’s note: Lee is one of the artists involved in APT POP through the upcoming exhibit, Colossus.

I don’t remember when I started loving art. When I reflect on my childhood, I see finger painting, symphonies playing through the house from morning to night, and my first sketchbook. I see one year old me picking up the pencil at my doljanchi, traditionally symbolizing I will become a scholar. Doljanchi is the first birthday celebration in Korean culture, where the baby chooses an item in front of them to foretell future talents or good fortunes. 

For me, that pencil foreshadowed a future of countless sketches and mountains of eraser shavings, the rise and fall of my mother’s shoulders as she played piano, and my father’s oil paints turned into masterpieces. Most of these early memories of indulging in art are from before I could even articulate what I felt in those moments. 

Art was never meant to be defined by words, anyway.  

I will be showing my work at APT POP’s exhibit Colossus this April, which features many different expressions and definitions of art. I spoke to Ben Pilger, the co-curator and founder of APT POP, to learn more about his vision for the show. 

“More than any other show that we’ve put on, Colossus is going to be spectacle. It is eye-catching. The work that we have exhibited is both vibrant and also muted. It is a contradiction in and of itself, like the word ‘colossus’ — something so large that it eclipses everything smaller than it,” said Pilger. 

Colossus will be Pilger’s first art exhibition in a public space, and the longest time my own art has been displayed in a gallery. In the last few years, I’ve mostly been creating hand-painted leather jackets. I enjoy the process of selecting jackets from thrift stores, cleaning and preparing the leather, and sealing art onto it just like a canvas. I like that I can combine my artistic inclinations with my love for fashion and sustainability. It feels meaningful to give new life and love to something old or unappreciated. 

Although I’ve sold quite a few pieces, received commissions, and been accepted into a handful of art shows throughout my university career, the more I focused on the monetary aspect of art, the less inspired I became. After I signed the artist’s contract with Pilgerand as the submission deadline and the end of my last undergraduate semester quickly approachedI found myself too stressed to create. “Is my art good enough to sell? What if my work doesn’t sell? What does that say about my art?” 

To combat these thoughts, I decided to paint whatever I wanted, for myself first and foremost. I want to make art on my own timeline, without being overwhelmed by the pressures of producing marketable work. In other words, I’ve made up my mind to set my art, and therefore myself, free. 

“As an artist, I don’t believe you need to monetarily make a career out of making art. I feel like you need to make something that you enjoy and that you personally justify on a poetic level,” said Pilger. “Know your history, know the world around you, and know why you made it [ . . . ] Find within yourself the justification; and in doing that, I think you justify someone else buying it.”

Since this shift in mindset, I’ve finished pieces I had sitting around waiting for final touches, and started new ones based entirely off of my own ambitions and inspirations. My justification is that my art is a protest. Joyfully creating, claiming art space, and healing through art as a queer person of colour is a form of protest, in a world trying to subjugate us. 

For the first time, I feel like the values of the curator and where I’m at in my artistic journey align. “We imagine colossus now, the word ‘colossus,’ to be this large moment, which will be the start of something new — it’s where we’re going,” said Pilger. 

This pop-up gallery, which started with big dreams and multi-media art shows in Pilger’s apartment, goes public for the first time with 14–15 participating artists, myself included. Despite a two year delay and barriers to securing a permanent art space due to COVID-19, Pilger storms onward hoping for one thing: that the public sees the show he put together and participates in the magic of this large moment.

APT POP’s pop-up gallery will be held at 431 Front St. April 2–30 from 12:00 p.m.–10:00 p.m. every weekday, with events every weekend. The opening night will feature poetry readings and a band performance. To keep up to date on the gallery, follow @aptpop on Instagram.