Artist Spotlight

Artist Spotlight: Rya Wu

In the Artist Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights an artist in the community. We’ll get a chance to learn more about them and their work. 

In this post we are featuring Rya Wu (she/her). Before we delve into the art, a little more about Rya in her own words:

“Hiya! I’m Rya. Thank you for taking the time to check out my art. Whatever you’re experiencing in response right now – any feelings, sensations, memories, questions – it’s all welcome here. In fact, that’s what lies at the heart of my work – those innermost happenings. Something about largely invisible experiences made visible and tangible has the power to at times shift something deep within – and to me, that’s magic. So that’s what I’m after, really, is listening to my guides and playing with colors, textures, rhythms, and forms to give those internal experiences a visual voice. Through my art, I hope to bring solace and celebration to those who are searching.”

Rya did a Q&A with The Layered Onion, talking about her art:

How would you describe your artistic style?

I’m very much an intuitive creator. With a background in psychology, I think a lot about healing and self reclamation. For me, art is a safe place to process trauma, offering it up as a bridge to my experience. It is hard to talk about with people and strangers. When it is art, it feels more approachable. I want viewers to experience something spiritual in the work, experience something for themselves. Perhaps emotional.

Rya Wu, 夢 Mèng (dream). Charcoal, graphite, acrylic, spray paint, ink, and oil. 2022.

What draws you to art?

Self-expression is so important in my personal journey. I love watching other people do the same and share their truths – hell yeah. Community engagement is a big part of it as well – I want my work to be engaging. Art is so powerful – it can save lives and battle with anxiety and depression. Artists spend a lot of time with themselves. It is hard not to do self-work and reflection in the process.

When I was younger, I knew I wanted to be an artist. At 13 I had a vision of opening a community center focused on developing skills. I could see graffiti, painting on the walls, alternative classes that we don’t learn in school. An environment that fosters creativity.

I came from a family of Asian American immigrants and it didn’t feel like I had the opportunity to pursue and study art. Right now I’m just finding my way back to art. I just got here and I don’t plan on leaving. 

What kind of art and mediums do you work with?

I will always paint but I don’t really identify as a painter. Paintings are like studies for sculpture to me. Third rendition of life from form.

I work with mixed media painting – charcoal, pastels, house paint, acrylic, graphite, spray paint, and more. 

I have training as a silversmith and with sculpture. For my sculpture, I use found materials, fabric, and textiles. I upcycle materials and scour thrift stores. I’m fond of hardware materials like chicken wire, garden netting, and screen mesh. I also use glass elements that I make myself at a local glass shop using torch work. Gestation has some glass chains that I made (see photo below). 

I am really enjoying working with glass & sculpture – I want to expand to a really large size and scale. Public art. I want to do more with interactive and installation art – to keep pushing towards the edge and go bigger.

What’s your current favorite medium to work with and why?

I don’t want to be restricted to one medium as I get bored easily. Right now, I like wire as a “less-friendly” material. It’s not solid, sort of woven – and I can play with translucency. That play with the light is also why I’m drawn towards using glass.

Does your inspiration vary between different mediums?

Not necessarily between mediums.

I’m very inspired by urban life. I love the industrial areas of cities. Peeling paint, rusted parts. I’m obsessed with construction sites. Their repetition and materials. I like to introduce juxtaposition in my work of softer materials like tulle and also lighter colors like pinks and beiges with construction-type materials. 

I’m also inspired by relationships, personal growth, and community – stories of overcoming a situation or odds. I’m a child of immigrant experiences which also has influenced my work.

Left: Rya Wu, Dreaming Together. Woven wire, flagging tape, and permanent ink. 2022.
Right: Rya Wu, Gestation. Woven wire, upcycled fabric, cotton rope, found materials, wire mesh, screen mesh, borosilicate glass, nylon cord, ink, and spray paint.  2022.

You recently had your first sculptural gallery show. Tell us about the show. What was your favorite part?

The fact that it happened is amazing! I can’t pick one favorite thing. That I made it happen – with lots of help – but made it happen.

The title of the show was Birthing a Dream. My name, Rya, means dream. It was a process of birthing my true self. I came from a family where it felt like my life was written out for me and this was a chance to reclaim my identity. A chance to dare to take up space, after coming from a culture where we are told to be small in every way – physically, etc.

Another favorite moment was seeing people that look like me in the space and watching them looking at and relating to my art. A community between people. There is something beautiful in the interaction. 

One of my pieces has the Chinese character for “dream.” I like that there is another layer there to engage with for people who understand Chinese. There is a lot in that piece that people are drawn to – it reflects the Asian American experience.

I got a lot of young BIPOC (Black, indigenous, and people of color) artists coming to me to ask questions. They brought curiosity and hope. It was a beautiful part of the experience – being an example of giving yourself permission to choose this path and giving others the opportunity or hope to do the same. Asian women and artists are underrepresented and I want to see more of us out there.

Overall, the show was a fantastic experience. I loved the chance to have suspended pieces with movement. It was definitely a large undertaking and I learned a lot from curating it. I would like to do more of it!

You can see more of Rya’s work on her website and Instagram @rya.wu. Go check it out!

Artwork Spotlight

Artwork Spotlight: Ashley Showalter’s And Yet We Rise

In the Artwork Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights a specific work by an artist in the community. These works could range from short stories to visual art to music and more!

Today, Ashley Showalter (she/her) will be sharing her mural “And Yet We Rise.” 

Ashley is an self-taught artist and peer mental health advocate with lived experience with mental illness. She began creating artwork as a survival tool for her own mental health and now uses her creative abilities to start conversations about the topic of mental health. Ashley is currently living in Oklahoma City. She hopes by sharing her work, someone might find hope and confidence in their path, feeling less isolated while managing or processing mental health struggles.

In February Ashley participated in the Recovery Mural Project community art program in coordination with the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. The goal is to spread the message of recovery through the visual impact of art. The murals promote recovery, reduce stigma and bring awareness to mental health and substance abuse services within reach. And who doesn’t love outdoor art?!

Ashley Showalter, “And Yet We Rise.” Posca paint pens on board, February 2022.

Ashley Showalter is the first local artist to contribute to the project. Her mural, “And Yet We Rise,” was installed Thursday, Feb. 24, at HOPE Community Services, Inc., 6100 S. Walker Ave., in Oklahoma City.

“I wanted this mural to be a realistic depiction of having hope in recovery,” said Showalter.

“Throughout my healing journey, I have had many difficult seasons where emotions were not fun to feel that were followed by periods of joy. I think we can all relate to having different experiences of feeling in life.”

“Recovery isn’t linear,” she added. “My goal is for this mural to serve as a reminder that hope is always there, even when we don’t think it’s possible in the present moment.”

The excerpt above comes from the full press release here.

Ashley also took the time to participate in a Q+A with The Layered Onion:

What influenced your choice of color for the piece? I find it bright and inspiring. The face is so expressive of the struggle but also positivity and hope.

I usually don’t draw smiling faces but they wanted the piece to be positive and represent Hope in recovery. The face reminds of a smile where you are faking it til you make it – which seems fitting as sometimes you have to work through difficult times in recovery and fake your smile. My art style is always bright colors with bold black lines so of course I went for a bright look for the mural as well! 

What medium did you use?

I drew the original painting with posca paint pens on a board. Then, it was photographed, turned into a large vector that was printed on vinyl and installed onto a surface called “Alupanel” that was screwed into the wall. 

How did you decide to break up space in the piece?

I drew the sun first since it was the center piece of the mural then the other sections behind. I wanted to break the background into different patterns representing different aspects of mental health recovery. The rain represents “stormy” or difficult times which lead to the flowers for “growth” or times of posting change. The black and white stripes represent the challenge of black and white thinking in recovery and the clouds represent how our judgement can be clouded sometimes. 

Any other info you would like to share about how the project came about?

I was sitting on a mental health recovery coalition when a state mental health department representative mentioned the idea of starting a recovery mural project. I’m known for my art and doodling during meetings and trainings. I reached out and got an interview for the mural. The partner organization loved my art and recovery story and I was hired for the project! 

As a neat addition, you can watch a short video of Ashley creating “And Yet We Rise” here which gives you unique insight into the process.

You can check out more of Ashley’s work on her website and her Instagram – @ur.fav.trash.

Thanks, Ashley, for sharing this inspiring mural! No matter where we are at, we have the power within us to rise.