The Triton Museum celebrated on Friday, Nov. 18th the opening of three exhibitions – “Symbiotic Ecologies: The Eclectic Visual Collection of Katherine Levin Lau,” “Imagery Art for Wine Collection: An art and wine partnership” and Stephanie Lam’s “Thespians.” While the many reception guests seemed most excited about the wine selections that complemented the Wine Collection exhibition, the artist Stephanie Lam was excited about a truly special event – her first solo show.
For Lam, a lifelong Bay Area resident and Santa Clara University graduate, the chance to have the exhibition at this museum is particularly touching – she won the opportunity thanks to her grand prize piece in the 2014 Triton Statewide 2D Competition. But Lam’s career as an artist began much earlier; even as a young child, she was always drawing, crafting and taking photos. “My neighbor was an artist. My friend and I would go over to her house to paint every few days and I took classes from her for years,” Lam explained. While Lam took a break from art for several years, the fine arts requirement at SCU inspired her to take up painting again. Even now, she continues her art education – taking workshops from her fellow artists, including through the Santa Clara Valley Watercolor Society.
Her exhibition, “Thespians,” however, reflects more than just her passion for painting. Lam’s artist statement details the inspiration for this exhibition — her love of the song “On My Own” from the Broadway musical Les Miserables, a show she saw in person at the Imperial Theatre at age thirteen. While she recognizes that thousands of other teenage girls also identified with the powerful song by Eponine, Lam elaborates, “The actress playing her had given me a gift through her performance: the experience of feeling more fully known.”
Originally, the exhibition was going to be inspired solely by animals since Lam is a certified dog trainer, teaches classes at an animal shelter and has written a book about pitbulls. For Lam, “animals create metaphors for me. They are relatable, disarming – [painting them] is an easy way to access my own feelings.” It’s understandable, then, that “The Martyr” – featuring one of Lam’s Frenchies with an apple on his head – was the first painting for the exhibition and still one of her favorites.
Her piece, “The Godfather,” however, holds a deep significance for her. The work depicts a Frenchie sitting on a closed toilet with several toys below him. While Lam always has at least three or four dogs around her, this Frenchie had been with her for ten years and was, as she recalled, “her shadow in and out of my studio.” Lam’s dog had been battling cancer but she felt he would love to see the show. The Triton agreed to allow her to hang her work a few days early and so her dog was at her side in a carrier (he was too weak to walk), watching as his piece got added to the museum. He passed away that evening.
While all of the animal and human paintings in the “Thespians” exhibit are friends or family members of the artist, Lam hopes that they resonate with her audience as well. For example, the final piece finished just recently for the collection, “The Masochist” features a python wrapped around the face of a doll. “I knew I wanted a snake in the show since I used to own large pythons,” Lam said. “I originally wanted to focus just on the snake — how when we love something so much, we might choke it by making it too much the center of our world in ways that aren’t healthy. But then, I realized [with the title] that we have to think about the roles we inhabit and how we play a part. Is the doll a victim or is it a masochist?” For Lam, these questions are particularly crucial to Silicon Valley audiences as some people overwork themselves to get ahead in the fast-paced tech world.
So, as she circulated around the room on Friday, it was clearly gratifying for Lam to hear responses to her work. After all, as Lam explained, “[For me,] art is trying to find ways to express my challenges, struggles, and emotions in a visual way, but it is also my way of connecting and sharing with the world.”
Viewers can see her work on display until Feb. 5 at the Triton Museum of Art 1505 Warburton Ave.