#BĀS TALK with Lauren Hana Chai & Ashley Ryan Wells
On March 4th 2022, we invited Lauren Hana Chai and Ashley Ryan Wells to talk about their inspirations, process, and how the two artists came to work on a joint project 함께 - Hamkkeh together.
함께 - Hamkkeh means ‘Together’ in Korean. Korean-American painter Lauren Hana Chai and ceramic sculptor Ashley Ryan Wells have come together in an unconventional way bringing their unique individual styles and collaboration pieces which were kept raw via omitting communication on the process and rather focusing on creating intuitively. With a challenge so unique, these sculptures showcase the different perspectives and stories they have when looking at the same piece.
함께 - Hamkkeh will be on view until March 26th at BāS Bookshop.
Ashley: Hi, I’m Ash, I’m a ceramist. My journey is sort of sporadic. I was first introduced to ceramics in high school as an elective. I grew up in a Korean-American household where it was difficult to express myself and so pursuing the arts wasn’t necessarily encouraged and I didn’t even consider it at first. When I first got to college, I studied political science and law. Throughout that time I was still doing art on the side and realized I felt more passionate doing that. I felt more like myself. In that, I decided to drop out and pursue the arts.
I still had the mind set that art was a hobby, so initially I didn’t take it seriously. There was definitely a long experimental phase. I didn’t have a specific medium at first. I did illustrations. I even got a certificate in CGI character animation. It was really enjoyable, but as an artist I didn’t quite feel fulfilled. It felt like I was a part of an assembly line. I was helping make someone else’s story, it didn’t feel like mine in the end. As I was finishing up this animation cert, I picked ceramics back up and I taught myself a lot and felt more connected to that medium.
How do you approach your design? What inspires your work?
A: With my sculpture designs, especially decorative sculptures, I wanted something that went hand and hand with the everyday form. I wanted to design pieces that were easily digestible and not overwhelming with an overall very subtle design to them. I wanted the pieces to interact with the spaces they were inhabiting.
My biggest inspiration for this series and all my work come from nature, stones, and rocks. Without being too technical: clay is essentially earth. That’s my favorite part of ceramics, it’s an earthy medium. It can create things like bowls and pots, and you would’ve never known it came from the ground. With my pieces, I wanted to maintain the integrity of clay. I wanted to emphasize where it came from.
Lauren: Hi everyone, my name is Lauren Chai. Art has always been something I gravitated towards ever since I first held a pencil. For me it had a lot to do with escapism. In my family it was harder for me to speak my truth or say how I was feeling, so all my truth came out through my artwork.
How did your career as an artist begin?
I went to study at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. In my senior year, I started to explore what happened to my mom. She went missing when I was eleven years old, and “missing” is sort of a weird word to use. One day all of her contacts stopped working: phone numbers, addresses… even people on her side of the family didn’t know where she was. At this point in my life, my mom and dad had divorced from the time I was seven, but my senior year is when I actually started to think about what was happening in this situation.
I had all this memorabilia of her [mother]: old wedding photos, VHS tapes with me when I was a baby with her holding. We look very similar. I sort of obsessively started painting her face over and over to try to connect with her. In these photos of her, I was around the same age as she was when I was painting her. It was precious to me. It was all I really had with my mom, trying to recreate these memories with her.
It developed into this painting series titled Last Known Locations, consisting of the last six places where she was seen. In the order I painted them in, it goes from a gray and muted environment to much brighter. It wasn’t something I did consciously. From there, I started exploring Korean culture and history. I learned about the concept of “Han”. It is an overwhelming sense of depression, anger, and helplessness that is informed by the over-colonization of Korea. I resonated with it, and learned it can be passed down through generations. Then learning about intergenerational trauma, I tied the two together. I feel like this is a universal concept that everyone can understand.
How did this collaborative project Hamkkeh start and what was the process like?
A: So our collaboration Hamkkeh means “together”. I was in my studio during the pandemic just looking at my sculpting thinking, “it’d be sick if someone else could work on these pieces.” Without hesitating, I thought about Lauren. Her work is immediately transportive to me. I wanted to see her work on a sculpture. Thankfully she was on board with it.
L: When I got the pieces from Ash, I laid them in my studio for a while and laid them down and sat with them. We did not pre-plan anything beforehand. I saw something in these really whimsical shapes. They were so different from what I was used to. It was challenging trying to figure out what to do but the process was so much fun. I learned a lot, glaze is a different medium for me, because you have no idea what you were going to get. This second piece especially. I saw it one way because I thought it was going to come out chalky, but it did not end up that way. It ended up being my favorite piece. It came out very child-like.
A: The reason we didn’t communicate was because we didn’t want each other to cater our processes to each other. That said, I wanted to create something and then once I handed it off, it was out of my control. It was fun in that aspect. We were collaborating but also not working together. It felt the most organic in that way.
L: It was good that we kept it this way. In the past when I tried working with other artists, it felt like pulling teeth. I don’t like people telling me what to do. Ash doesn’t enjoy it either. It was fun and we gave each other a lot of freedom.
Will you guys do more projects together in the future?
A: I would love to keep doing these free forms.
L: I guess we can mention it a bit. It’s a little early but we have another idea of working with another Korean artist to do a giant installation.
Text/ Shanda Delos Reyes
Photo/ Brandyn Liu