I was seduced by Sylvia Ji’s paintings in San Francisco, in the Summer of 2006. That summer felt like it could have been called “The Summer of Love,” at least for me anyway. It was a time for travel, making connections and being inspired, without commitments or strict methodology. I was in the city specifically for the “Lady Like” show at Shooting Gallery. I walked next door into White Walls, where they were hosting their “Well Hung” opening the same night. I hadn’t the notion that I would discover someone new to admire; Someone whose paintings were so erotic, so feminine and so sexually ripe that it made me question the fact if I had lived the life of a woman before that moment. That “someone” was Sylvia Ji.
Five years later, the same painter who turned me on back then, is turning more heads and gaining the attention of collectors and admirers worldwide. She has since relocated to Los Angeles, and her hard work has put her in high demand. I’m honored to have had the opportunity to interview Sylvia on her inspiration and process. Her latest show, “Gilded Roses” recently opened at Corey Helford Gallery, and is a testament that Sylvia Ji is definitely a force of nature.
Q: What is the inspiration behind your latest series, “Gilded Roses?” How does it differ from or relate to your “Shapeshifter” series that you showed at Corey Helford Gallery last year?
Sylvia Ji: Before I knew how to paint, I would spend countless hours copying Victorian fashion plates in my sketchbook. I’ve had a lifelong love affair with historical fashion, and now this passion has expanded into contemporary couture. My last show “Shapeshifter” was primarily focused on the beauty of Native American folk legends and design. For this show I wanted to focus on my love affair with fashion, to paint what’s always been very close to my heart.
Q: You are known for painting beautiful women in traditional “Calavera” make up, a la Dia de Los Muertos. What is the significance of this Old Mexican tradition in your work, and how did the fascination begin?
SJ: As a child I spent a lot of time in the Mission District in San Francisco. The colors, smells, flavors, and culture has always stuck with me. The image of Jose Posada’s “La Catrina” and especially colorful sugar skulls was something I had never seen, this celebration of the macabre. I began sketching women with sugar skull style makeup and thought a translation to paintings would be a great transition.
Q: Similarly, there seems to be a strong “naturalistic” and “animalistic” current running through your work. How important is nature to you?
SJ: The organic feel of working on wood affects my approach to painting. To me it’s a process that is entirely “naturalistic”, it is such a raw beautiful medium to work with. It ties me to nature, which is tremendously important to me.
Q: Do you have a “Spirit Animal?”
SJ: My spirit animal would definitely be feline. Whether it be a house cat, a tiger or a lion. They are beautiful, seductive and mysterious creatures.