Back in October of 1993, Tom was living in the Sunset District, her work then was expressing the whimsical side of surrealism. She also did ceramics and pottery. Yet, as she explained to The San Francisco Chronicle last year, her work took a decisive turn upon the advice of a mentor.
As Tom was featured in a Chronicle article about Open Studios,
She mentioned how her work changed through the help of a fellow artist named JoeSam. He become her mentor as he saw something more to her work. "JoeSam
told me that I would never be at my best if I didn't explore my identity with my work; and he, of course, was right."
JoeSam remembered those days as he said, "yes, Cynthia's work then was whimsical." "I told her to be more cognisant of who she is and not to be afraid to go back into the history of her family."
Since that time in the early 1990's Tom has delved into the complex and murky aspects of Asian history and culture. "To be cognisant is not easy; it is hard, said JoeSam, especially when looking at family."
He encouraged her to look deeper into past and be courageous, even if what she uncovered was unpleasant. And, since that time when Tom had her very first Open Studios showing, she has ventured into subjects and themes very different from where she began.
From 1998 to 2000 she collaborated with other artists and historians to put together an exhibit at Angel Island.
Today, the large Island, in the bay which is not far from Alcatraz is a tourist attraction. Yet, from 1910 to 1940 the island served as the main immigration station for the West Coast. A direct result of the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, the U.S. Immigration Station at Angel Island, notes Dee Wagner, detained immigrants an average of two weeks while they endured interrogations, medical exams, and more for no reason sometimes other than their national origin. Wagner serves as general manager at the island's visitor's center, providing tours and information about the island, which only until very recently provided very little access to its immigration station.
From working on that art exhibit, Tom put together an exhibit of her own entitled "Anomaly in the Veil."
This exhibit included paintings of her own grandmother and great-grandmother, based upon the actual photographs and documents of the time at the immigration station. The stay there was not pleasant and it is a part of American history that is little-known.
"Going back into history and uncovering things like that is very disruptive and no doubt her family was uneasy with Cynthia's pursuit of the past," said JoeSam. Yet, as JoeSam reiterated, "it is not easy, and to do that is incredible. Cynthia manages the complexity and the difficulty of it magnificently," he said.
JoeSam is amazed at how much she has accomplished and is looking forward to the other artistic endeavors she has in store. Tom has since moved to the Mission, where she has participated in many art and cultural events. One most notably, especially for this time of year is the Day of The Dead celebrations. In the Mission she has been able to continue to share in that cultural mix and freedom of expression that is at the heart of every artist, especially for a surrealist.
As San Francisco has changed dramatically in the past 20 years, with costs rising and the gentrification of many of the City's traditionally working class neighborhoods, Tom has been able to survive and continue to live and do her art work in the City.
"I think Cynthia's work will continue to grow more and more," he said. "Cynthia will continue to go beyond what people have come to expect from her, especially as an Asian woman." JoeSam, who described himself as a conceptual artist, said he understands how difficult it is to try to create imagery from abstract thoughts and complex feelings. "To step back and look at all these complex things an artist has to study and be honest with what is uncovered, about the subject whether it has to do with internment, abusive situations, cultural issues," etc. he noted.
"And, Cynthia is not alone," he added. Look at all the work she has done with the Asian American Women Artists Association,"
he said. "Cynthia is in the company of some very serious, dedicated and established women artists." And, like her they look deeply at the issues and concerns facing Asian women."
Cynthia Tom's studio at 1890 Bryant Street, Studio-suite#302 will be open from Thursday to Sunday. In addition to her paintings and other art works, Cynthia will be selling her collection of fun clothing, shoes and home items. Visit Cynthia Tom's web site
for more details.
To learn more about the entire Open Studio's city-wide event visit the ArtSpan web site.