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Monday, February 13, 2012

Meet Our Masterminds: Dohee Lee and Michelle Tholen

Posted By on Mon, Feb 13, 2012 at 8:30 AM


The economy sucks, but we don't care -- the Bay Area is home to artists so talented they deserve to take over the world. That's why the Masterminds grants are given to three local and emerging artists who need that little push to become even more awesome.

SF Weekly has narrowed down the potential winners to 10 finalists, with the three winners being chosen Feb. 16. at Public Works during Artopia. Until then we're going to fall in love with their creative work all over again by featuring the profiles (written by our arts critic Jonathan Curiel) of two finalists each day right up until the event. Today, meet Dohee Lee and Michelle Tholen:

Dohee Lee: The Evocative Dancer

Dohee Lee in GaNADa
  • Dohee Lee in GaNADa

A hat made of suitcases that open up. A giant mask of a woman's face with cheeks that bulge out like balloons. Dance moves that stampede across the stage but also decelerates to a pace that seems like slow motion. When Dohee Lee performs these dances inspired by Korean and Western traditions, it's impossible to take your eyes off her. Even people who know nothing about Korea's music and dance traditions are taken in by the unique visual touches, music, and movement that Lee creates. Her dance is cinematic. It's also shamanic -- an homage to spirits and past lives that come alive in her hand gestures, costumes, and leaps from one spot to the next. This blend of modern and ancient, of West and East, inspires much of the Oakland resident's work, including her series called "Mago," named for a mother-goddess of Korean mythology but steeped in Lee's personal story.

Born on Jeju Island in South Korea, where shamanic tradition is popular, Lee has danced professionally since 1996. She has a master's in Korean traditional music and dance from Korea's Yong-in University. "It's about interconnectedness," Lee says of "Mago." "It's about birth, self-discovery, confrontation, action, and re-birth." At Lee's performances, the music that she composes -- full of beautifully dissonant notes (think Kronos Quartet and Philip Glass) -- is enough to draw in audiences. In fact, Lee has sung with the Kronos Quartet. She has also presented her work at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and Carnegie Hall in New York, and has received grants from such organizations as the National Endowment for the Arts. "I always think I'm emerging as an artist," she says. "I'm always developing work that I can do much better."

Michelle Tholen: The Landscape Painter

Light River #26 - MICHELLE THOLEN
  • Michelle Tholen
  • Light River #26

In Walden, Henry David Thoreau waxes eloquent about the lure of nature, including the inspiration he got from light, writing of a moment when the woods "were bathed in so pure and bright a light as would have waked the dead, if they had been slumbering in their graves, as some suppose. There needs no stronger proof of immortality. All things must live in such a light." It's that sort of natural light that Michelle Tholen captures in her paintings, a light that inspires even as it is presented without sentiment. In the wrong artistic hands, sunsets and waning moments of daylight can become cliché and mawkish. (See the work of Thomas Kinkade. Or try not to.) Tholen's landscapes are timeless riffs that almost abstract the horizon -- a mix between reflection and refraction.

Curving River #5 - MICHELLE THOLEN
  • Michelle Tholen
  • Curving River #5

Her work speaks to the deep connection between sky and physical earth, as in Smooth River, where a winding waterway is bathed in the falling sun that peeks from above. The division of sky and ground give Tholen's landscape paintings an ethereal feeling and a balanced symmetry. Surprisingly, Tholen is self-taught. A San Francisco resident, she graduated with a degree in accounting in 1997 and worked as an accountant for three years before embracing painting. She found a niche in landscapes one day in 2002, after she finished a climb at Samuel P. Taylor Park in West Marin, peered at the sky, and was taken by the sheen it made on nearby water. Before that day, Tholen said she was feeling "lost" in her life. Her first landscape painting was a chance to recreate "a moment I fell in love with." The subsequent paintings seem to capture that same momentous feeling.

For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.

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