Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali

Start watching
Fine Cut

Fine Cut

Start watching
SoCal Update

SoCal Update

Start watching
a large damn with graffiti of a woman with a hammer on it, mountains in the background

Earth Focus Presents

Start watching
Southland Sessions

Southland Sessions

Start watching
Professor T

Professor T (Belgium)

Start watching
Artbound

Artbound

Start watching
Emma

Emma

Start watching
Guilt

Guilt

Start watching
Line of Separation Key Art.

Line of Separation

Start watching
Us

Us

Start watching
The Latino Experience

The Latino Experience

Start watching
Key Art of "Summer of Rockets" featuring Keeley Hawes and Toby Stephens.

Summer of Rockets

Start watching
Death in Paradise Series 10

Death in Paradise

Start watching
millionaire still

KCET Must See Movies

Start watching
Independent Lens

Independent Lens

Start watching
MJ250sC-show-poster2x3-Bflky7i.png

Tending Nature

Start watching
Earth Focus

Earth Focus

Start watching
City Rising

City Rising

Start watching
Lost LA

Lost LA

Start watching
Member
Your donation supports our high-quality, inspiring and commercial-free programming.
Support Icon
Learn about the many ways to support KCET.
Support Icon
Contact our Leadership, Advancement, Membership and Special Events teams.

Serpentine 2013: L.A. Artists Celebrate the Year of the Snake

Support Provided By

Asian Accents: This article is part of an ongoing series that explores the diverse range of artistic influences from Asia in the arts and culture of Southern California.

Snakes get a bad rap in the West. In Christianity, the snake symbolizes temptation and the fall from grace, and in Greek mythology, the most famous snakes are the ones growing from the evil gorgon Medusa's head. Widely viewed in the West as slippery, sneaky and deadly creatures, they are denigrated rather than celebrated. In Asia, they enjoy much more respect. In India, because they shed their skin as they grow, snakes -- or naga -- represent rebirth and are worshipped by Hindus as divine beings. In the Buddhist tradition, a snake king is believed to have protected the Buddha from a rainstorm, and this multi-headed cobra has been commemorated in many Buddha images from Thailand and Cambodia. In China and other rice-growing cultures, since snakes kill the mice that eat the rice crops, they are regarded as protectors of the food supply and symbols of prosperity. As such, the serpent has the honor of being the sixth of the twelve animals in the Chinese Lunar Calendar. 2013 is the Chinese Year of the Snake, and a number of local artists are celebrating this much maligned creature in their work.

LEFT: Linoleum Block Carved with Two Snakes for New Year's Card by Patricia Wakida, 2012, RIGHT: Patricia Wakida carving Woodblocks, 2012.
LEFT: Linoleum Block Carved with Two Snakes for New Year's Card by Patricia Wakida, 2012, RIGHT: Patricia Wakida carving Woodblocks, 2012.

Patricia Wakida, a fourth generation Japanese American writer and artist (recently transplanted here from the Bay Area) has long been fascinated by snakes and has for years kept pet corn snakes. "Ironically," she laments, in "2011 we were a two snake household, and now we're done to none." Losing her beloved serpentine pets did not stop her from carving several linoleum prints of snakes in celebration of this year. In her nengajo, or traditional Japanese New Year's card, two snakes intertwine and stare cheekily at each other, as if planning all sorts of mischief for the year. For the cover of her 2013 calendar, a printed homage to the seasons of both California and Japan, a single, slender corn snake winds through jaggedly patterned grass reminiscent of Japanese kimono fabric.

LEFT: Cover Image of a Snake for her 2013 Calendar, by Patricia Wakida,  linoleum print on Fabriano cotton rag paper, 2012, RIGHT: Persimmon for October, 2013 Calendar, by Patricia Wakids, linoleum print on Fabriano cotton rag paper, 2012.
LEFT: Cover Image of a Snake for her 2013 Calendar, by Patricia Wakida, linoleum print on Fabriano cotton rag paper, 2012, RIGHT: Persimmon for October, 2013 Calendar, by Patricia Wakids, linoleum print on Fabriano cotton rag paper, 2012.

Wakida's prints of snakes, birds, flowers and fruit may have a distinct Japanese flavor, but its derivation is more convoluted than one would expect. She was strongly influenced by the work of renowned Bay-Area printmaker Henry Evans (1918-1990), whose botanical prints, with their flat color planes and absence of backgrounds, were themselves inspired by Japanese design. Evans used linoleum as a printing surface and an 1852 Washington Hand Press to make his botanical prints. Wakida's prints have the appearance of traditional Japanese woodblock prints, but she printed her calendar on a Challenge proof press, made available to her while on a writing residency in Minnesota last summer. For her colors, however, the Japanese influence is direct, learned from printmaker Yoshiko Yamamoto of Arts and Crafts Press in Washington State. "I mix a little gray into my pigments, which gives the colors a Japanese tone." A result of cross-cultural artistic breeding, Wakida's sleek serpent, printed with a thick black outline and soft green, is more sinuous than sinister, more elegant than evil.

In celebration of the Chinese New Year, snakes of all imaginable characters have been assembled by Giant Robot until February 20th. Over 40 artists were invited to contribute their snakes to the "Year of the Snake" group exhibition on view at the GR2 gallery on Sawtelle until February 20. The works include the complex and dynamic work of New York-based Shawn Cheng, indie comicker and founder of the Partyka comics/art collective in Brookyln. His snake appears to be embroiled in a fierce battle with other mythical Asian creatures, perhaps all part of a bad dream that is being consumed by an elephantine Baku, a fantastic beast believed to devour nightmares. At the other end of the spectrum are the super-cute snakes of San Diego-based illustrator Susie Ghahremani, who are portrayed in different comic guises, and the sweet fantasy imagery of art-duo APAK (Aaron and Ayumi Piland) from Portland, Oregon. In their painting, two of the curious little beings who typically inhabit their utopian realms ride through the night sky on the back of the most benign flying snake.

Not all the artists in the exhibition have Asian roots. Gosha Levochkin was born in Russia and now works from his studio in Silver Lake, Los Angeles. His thought-provoking drawings and watercolors often depict the complex and chaotic nature of the urban environment, and his snake also appears to be a product of this chaos. The exquisitely rendered creature is no longer fully a living beast, but a patchwork being pieced together out of metal, tile and many of the other synthetic materials out of which we build our living structures.

"We have assembled an amazing collection of artists to celebrate Year of the Snake," says Eric Nakamura, Founder and Director of Giant Robot. "This is our 5th Lunar New Year show in a row now. It's been one of the most popular exhibitions we do annually. The Snake is a cunning and wise animal, and this Snake show features some of our regular artists as well as lots of special guests. I do think it's because of the New Year theme that some of the 'well known' artists participated, and for that, I'm thankful."

Serpents all over our state may be thankful this year too. Such a rich array of artistic renderings of snakes may charm many Southern Californians into reconsider their feelings towards the "narrow fellow in the grass."

Patricia Wakida's work can be found on her website. Prints from her 2013 calendar will be on view throughout 2013 at the USC Medical School. She is also managing the Los Angeles Atlas Project, featured in the KCET story, Maps to Dreamers' Homes: Los Angeles Geography and Image.

More information about Giant Robot and GR2's Year of the Snake exhibition is available here.

Dig this story? Sign up for our newsletter to get unique arts & culture stories and videos from across Southern California in your inbox. Also, follow Artbound on Facebook and Twitter.

Support Provided By
Read More
A mural showing Frederick Douglass in the middle, flanked by an African American man holding an African American child on one side and a Black soldiers and slaves on the other side.

12 SoCal Public Art Projects That Explore Race and Marginalized Histories

In an era where many old monuments are being torn down and history is being rewritten, learn how public art rooted in inclusivity can help right the wrongs of history.
A band, composed of (from left to right) a guitarist, a bassist, a singer, a trumpet player and a saxophone player, performs on a stage. They're all wearing suit jackets and playing their respective instruments. The singer in the middle is pointing out to a crowd. Behind them are neon pink and yellow lights that provide a hazy glow in the backdrop.

Southern California's Role in Soul Music's Major Revival

Though the artists at Brooklyn-based record label Daptone Records shaped and led the soul music revival through the turn of the century, a handful of artists in Southern California were also hard at work placing their own stamp in the growing scene.
Different types of piñatas are on display in white vitrines or hung on the ceiling and walls.

New Piñata Exhibit Is the First of Its Kind in L.A.

There has never been a piñata exhibit in L.A. until now. A new exhibit at Craft in America celebrates the art of this beloved Latinx cultural icon.