There have been a couple highlights in the past year and a half. Two notable ones: staying covid-free (so far) and the opportunity to show my onion skin artwork in a gallery.
I started working with onion skins in my basement studio space in Portland, Oregon, in 2015 which was my non-digital play space, away from the computer. I was dabbling. I love all things paper, and had been working with pressed leaves already, but found the papery quality of onion skins to be something new and alluring. I tossed a handful on my desk after dinner one night and started exploring by adhering pieces of the onion skins to paper. I loved the way the onion skins tore and revealed uneven, organic edges. They also captured and reflected light beautifully. They also took on an attractive humanistic appearance. All that inspired creating human figures which has always been a source of inspiration, particularly from dance and sports.
After moving to Taiwan, I set up my office/studio (digital/analog) and continued to work. I was thrilled to find that Taiwan grows a lot of onions! Fast-forward, I’ve made quite a lot of these onion figures, enough to call it a collection, which I named ‘Dancing Onions’ for this show.
Back in November 2020, I was part of a group ceramic show in Taichung. It was organized by Keramos Studio where I’ve been going since late 2019, which is operated by Darryl Bisson. My friend Holly introduced me to this studio, and we started carpooling every Tuesday, for a 3-hour open studio/class session. Each year Darryl offers all members an opportunity to put 2-3 pieces in the Keramos Studio annual exhibition, hosted by Lei Gallery. This became my foot in the door at this gallery.
That show planted the seed for a solo show. I never shared my onion works aside from Instagram, so I thought it would be a nice way to show the work, as a collection, verses one offs on social media. I also think my pieces have a sculptural three-dimensional quality that doesn’t fully reflect in digital form.
While this seed is growing I’m riding the grief rollercoaster from the loss of my dad who many of you know died in a hiking accident on May 14, 2020. The holidays were a low point, and I was looking for a positive distraction to get through spring. In February, I reached out to Jon Renzella, the owner of Lei Gallery, and asked how he works with artists. He said he offers the gallery space to one artist for a full month, and May and July were available. It was meant to be! I took the May slot and started planning what pieces I would show. This is a not-for-profit community art space, and he takes no money from artists. Artists can sell if they want or not. It’s an incredibly low-stress, relaxed atmosphere for a first timer, like me. All this flexibility meant I had a lot of decisions to make.
Behind the Scenes
I had been on and off researching framers in Taichung basically since I moved here because I love well framed and matted art and hate a blank wall. Now this sounds easy, but it’s not when you’re not fluent in the local language. Also, I’m a stickler for acid-free materials which is surprisingly rare to some framers here and when you can get it, it’s unusually expensive. It’s mind-boggling! Upon a couple recommendations from several respected artists, I was told this guy was the best. I gave him one onion piece as a test run, but I couldn’t get over his shop. I was also mentally exhausted trying to communicate due to the language barrier. People swear he’s the best, and he was busy, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave 21 pieces with him and have the cost of the art be wrapped up in the frame.
I miss Luke’s Frame shop in PDX.
I decided to buy all my frames from a well known Swedish shop. They look great, and it kept costs down. At this point I wasn’t sure if I would make any pieces available for sale, but I knew I wanted all the work in frames. Either way, frames can add a considerable amount of cost to an art purchase, and I was sensitive to that balance. To maintain that balance, I deconstructed all the purchased frames, then T-hinge mounted the art myself between high quality acid-free paper using acid-free linen tape. It was so satisfying to do all this. I want to learn how to make my own frames now. Things I wish I had learned from my dad. If anyone wants to teach me and has the woodworking tools, I’ll be your student.
It took some time to sort the collection and then make sure it would fit to the gallery wall specs. Our apartment looked like this most of April, in varying arrangements. Final count was 30 pieces: 21 original onions, 2 limited edition Risograph prints, 3 leaf pieces, and 4 ceramics.
The Space & Set Up
Lei Gallery is a lovely space, tucked at the end of an alley in a hip part of town. It doesn’t get a lot of foot traffic, so I put effort into promoting my show. The owner is very hands-off (in a great way, not “I don’t care way”) and let me do what I wanted with the space.
I arrived at the gallery knowing exactly what peice would go where and spent 4 hours hanging everything. Math became my best friend and to my surprise I entered a state of flow doing this. Deep respect to gallery curators.
Makers & Shakers
The art helpers, lovers and supporters…
This is Jon Renzella, the Lei Gallery owner, also woodcut and tattoo artist. He’s lived in Taichung since 2010. Next to him is Praneeta. She lives and works on the floor 2 as an artist in residence. Both lovely, helpful, easy going supporters of the arts – they made this possible for me. I can’t thank them enough.
Lei Gallery is a non-profit community art space, with the goal of fostering the arts and building connections between the foreign and local communities in central Taiwan.
We need more Jons in the world. I was deeply inspired by what he’s created and would love to replicate this concept and pay it forward.
My other huge thanks goes to my #1 fan, Hottie Scottie! He was also my IT guru (operated a time-lapse video of the night, posted on my instagram account), house photographer (all gallery pics by him), and gallery cash register (because I didn’t have pockets). Hands off ladies, he’s taken.
And this guy! Steve Witmer, my friend since my 20s when he was director/owner of the Central Market Art Gallery in PA. We spent many weekends sitting in his gallery drinking coffee and shooting the breeze. He now operates Lancaster Art Collectors. He helped guide me through “to sell or not” and how to price. He nudged me to sell. I split my uncertainty and made 1/2 of the originals for sale, 10 pieces total. Then pricing… this is not easy for any artist, but I think his advice is smart. “This is your first show. You will be able to judge your pricing by your sales. Few/no sales prices too high. All pieces sell in first 10 minutes prices maybe a little low. You can adjust your prices for next show.” I think I hit the sweet spot because 7 of 10 sold during opening night.
Steve illuminated me to this too: “Most galleries in the US take 40-60%.” (which covers gallery time/costs/overhead). Because Lei Gallery takes no money from the artist I was able to keep my art reasonably priced at this show.
And … “Have red dots to stick on sold ones.” 🙂
Opening Night – Show time!
I was completely humbled and surprised by all the friends that came out to support me and the arts. THANK YOU! I know this is a lot of photos and you can TL;DR me, but I want to remember all these lovely supportive humans. Every single person in these photos has become a meaningful friend in the past 5.5 years and made my life SO much richer. They’re from all circles: mahjong, running (hash) club, Nike community, foodies/artists in the industry we support, pottery studios, and the serendipitous meetups out in the world, like hiking and grocery store aisles.
Two things happened that I didn’t expect. #1: Friends gifted me things… beautiful bouquets, yummy treats like special good luck rice, insanely delicious local grapes, bubbly wines, matcha green tea dessert cakes, and creative good luck onion art. #2: People danced and wanted to strike a pose with the art pieces that resonated with them (especially the ones they purchased). I love this interaction and connection. It’s what makes art, ART. For an artist, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Thanks to everyone who came out and shared their love of art and supported me with their amazing positive energy! I will remember it forever.
My First Interview
The day after the show, Jon invited me back for an interview which includes a virtual tour of the gallery walls. I was nervous as we didn’t do any dry runs, but I immediately felt comfortable because he’s quite a natural and was well-prepared. Credit to Praneeta for the setup, filming, tech and editing. I hope you enjoy. This is also on my website.
I was inspired to launch a website for my art because so many of you couldn’t be here so I will keep coming to you, via pixels. xoxo
My website: sarahheckles.com
My Instagram account: instagram.com/sarah.heckles
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