Rodney Toy’s vibrant response to anti-Asian racism
The Chinese New Year and the arrival of the Year of the Tiger are fast approaching. The festivities begin on January 25, 2022. They last until February 7, 2022, with food, fireworks and giveaways.
Rodney Toy, 53, a Chinese-American artist, plans to celebrate with his family. Toy has plenty to be grateful for: surviving the pandemic and the opening of his art exhibit in San Francisco, about an hour north of his home in San Jose, where he worked for Apple, Palm and Forescout Technologies. Toy doesn’t know much about his family history, but he does know that when his grandparents arrived in California, their last name was changed from Choy to Toy. My mother’s last name was Kvitkow in Russia. He was replaced by Quitkin when my grandparents, Aaron and Ida, came to Ellis Island over 100 years ago. Like Toy, I am a descendant of immigrants. Like him, I am an artist and like him, I have been the target of hatred; in my case against the Jews.
Two years ago, in the wake of the pandemic, which often kept him confined to his studio – and amid the rising tide of “Asian hatred” – Toy no longer decided Mr. Nice Guy. Gone is the “Model Minority”, a stereotype he denounces in several of his works which are in the Canessa Gallery on Montgomery Street in the Financial District, not far from Chinatown, where he was born and where he spent a lot of time. in his childhood.
“Rising Son” is the name of the exhibition which brings together 31 individual pieces, many of which are collages of mixed media, with puns, some with overt messages, and others abstract and inspired by artists such as Jackson Pollock.
“In 2020, the escalation of anti-Asian rhetoric has forced me to look at myself critically and know how I should react,” Toy told me on a Sunday when Canessa was packed with friends and members of his family who paid thousands of dollars to acquire his work. . Toy added, “I decided to use my art as a megaphone.”
The work in the exhibition is playful, provocative and colorful and with a mixture of the two cultures, Chinese and American, to which it belongs. “Son” is the title’s keyword and an intentional play on the phrase “Rising Sun”, often associated with Asia. Toy calls the play “an ode” to his parents.
‘Choy’, a 30′ x 40′ canvas done in both acrylic and spray paint, is inspired by traditional Chinese calligraphy. “Perfect Pitch” features a photo of his mother, once a talented performance pianist, with Stevie Wonder’s hands on a keyboard. His father, who was a school principal, was, he says, his first real hero. He died over 35 years ago but left a lasting impression on his son.
‘Caution: Not Working’ features a strip of yellow tape with the word ‘CAUTION’ in all caps used to block off a section of seating at the SAP Center, often referred to as the ‘Shark Tank’, where he often watched ice hockey, no away from his home in San Jose.
“FTP-Z” incorporates photos of his sons, Cameron and Brendan, and was inspired, says Toy, by “modern streetwear, surf and skateboard graphics.” “Season Pass” includes an image of the artist’s Audi R8 convertible and another of the Golden Gate Bridge as seen from Marin.
In the spirit of Beat Generation writers and artists, Toy allows for spontaneity and improvisation. To create the “Pink, Pink Used Ink” piece, he turned off the bright lights in his studio and turned it into a dark room where he could use light-sensitive emulsion. The resulting color palette – pink, yellow and orange – is psychedelic.
The piece that attracts the most attention and also retains it, is called “Immigration Sensation”. There is a mirror in the center of a wood panel and text that says “This Is What American Looks like” with the letter “A” in the word “What” upside down and the letter R in the word ” American” also backwards.
Another eye-catching piece features white letters on a black background with the word “Believe” broken in half so that it reads “Beli” on one line and “eve” on another. “I made this piece with stereotypes in mind,” says Toy. “I also seek to break down my own biases which typically lead me to avoid sensitive and politically charged topics that might upset others and push me to speak freely regardless of what others might think.”
For art lovers who don’t want messages, Toy has a lot to offer, especially in a series called “Geode” and a 48″ x 60″ piece called “Re-Entry” that he made in adding paint to a regular dustpan and pouring the mixture onto the canvas.
“I’ve always been optimistic,” Toy tells me. He is also a sentimentalist who would like to return to his childhood when the whole family gathered every Sunday at his grandmother’s house in Oakland and ate real Chinese food.
Happy New Year of the Tiger, Rodney.