Hovering 20 feet high atop a hydraulic lift in downtown Spokane last week, muralist Jiemei Lin paused her paintbrush to gaze down at a passerby yelling up to her from the sidewalk.
“Thank you! Thank you! It’s so beautiful!” shouted the pedestrian, pulling down her mask as she hurried past on Howard Street between Main and Riverside avenues. “I love the colors!”
Lin’s paints, covering 32-by-16 feet of brick building, are mostly variations of blue. Bright teals, bluish greens, charcoal blues – as deep and varied as water itself, with the same soothing effect.
“Using color this way comes from my graphic design background, I think,” said Lin, who works as an illustrator in digital and traditional media. “It’s just very natural for me.”
Lin frequently turns her keen eye for design and color toward themes of individual and cultural identity. Her mission is to represent and communicate with young audiences from underrepresented groups in her visual language.
Lately, she has been transferring her illustrations into public art and has designed and painted large outdoor murals for two elementary schools in Pullman, where she lives.
The nonprofit organization Spokane Arts commissioned Lin to produce her most recent mural in the alley next to Soulful Soups & Spirits and across the street from Wild Dawgs as part of the Alleyways Mural project.
The artist was selected following an open call this spring by a selection panel consisting of arts commissioners and community and project representatives.
The mural features two panels, each with a child swimming in a pool. A Chinese girl and an American boy are enjoying the same favorite summer activity at the same time – but on opposite sides of the world.
Any differences in geography, culture and language are washed away by the human connection these two children share.
“We all like to swim. We all like music. We all dance. In our own ways,” Lin said.
“Yes, we grow up speaking different languages, celebrating different holidays, we have different religious beliefs growing up, but that doesn’t make us any different as human beings.”
The story behind Lin’s mural of two kids swimming on different sides of the globe comes from a children’s book the artist is creating titled “Daniel and Ding.” It’s also based on the real-life romantic beginnings of the love story between Lin and her American husband, Joe Hedges.
Before immigrating to the U.S. 10 years ago to attend art school, Lin, 31, grew up in Hangzhou, China.
About the same time Lin was being raised as a little girl in a cosmopolitan city known for high-tech innovations and arts and culture, a little boy named Joe Hedges was growing up among the cornfields and cows of small-town Ohio.
Despite their disparate upbringings, both children became artists. From the moment the two met while pursuing MFAs at the University of Cincinnati in 2011, the pair developed a friendship rooted in critical creative exploration and cultural exchange.
Their relationship blossomed into marriage and spurred several curatorial and fine art exhibitions and performances at art venues along the way, including at the Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati and 798 District in Beijing.
They ran their own art gallery before moving to Pullman five years ago to work at Washington State University.
Hedges is assistant professor of painting/intermedia, and Lin is a designer for WSU’s College of Education.
Their latest co-production was their baby son, Linus, born 14 months ago. Their cat is named Lucy, like the Peanuts character. The mural of two children swimming in pools in different countries stems from Lin’s childhood memories.
“When I was young, I always went swimming very late at night. Chinese people are afraid of sunburn, and being tan is not cool. Also, both my parents worked during the day,” Lin said.
“If you have ever been in the water in the dark night, then you know how fantastic it is to see the lights through the water.”
Far from China, in the Midwest, Lin’s husband would get up early for swim training and meets.
“One day, I just realized that there must have been many, many days and moments that while I was in the water, while I was diving into the pool, he was there, as well,” Lin said. “He was on the other side of the world, in another pool, but we were both in the water.
“Daniel and Ding, and this mural, is about two kids who meet each other eventually, but the time before they meet, they both are passionate about art and about enjoying life, including the pool in the summer.
“People always ask me and my husband stuff like, ‘Oh, is that hard to live with someone from another side of the world who has a totally different culture from you and is so different?’
“But the fact is, it is hard for us to find someone who is very similar to ourselves, and so I hope that is why we found each other.
“I don’t know how many children will see my work, but I just want to let them know that not only virus is spread from person to person, but lots of other things that are good things – love and passion, curiosity and kindness.
“When you pass your kindness to someone else, someone who looks different from you, who is living in another culture or class, that carries you a long way.”
Lin has been busy painting from another high perch in downtown Spokane this month. She was one of 16 artists of color chosen by Terrain to create the massive Black Lives Matter mural on the building at 244 W. Main occupied by sister ad agencies Seven2 and 14Four.
On Wednesday, Lin learned the mural was defaced, red, white and blue paint spattered across the newly minted message meant to inspire and heal. The “T” that Lin had designed and painted with colorful flowers deriving from Africa was not harmed. The word “Black” was targeted.
“I am deeply bothered by the fact vandals used the paint colors of the American flag, as if being racist, hurting people and hating are very ‘American’ actions,” Lin said. “I know so many proud Americans who are the most caring, loving, decent, kind, thoughtful and inspiring human beings. They are under every color of skin. They are true Americans. Hate does not represent the U.S.”
“The action of haters splashing paints all over will never be as meaningful or powerful as gathering 16 Black, Indigenous and people of color artists to collaborate on a painting that everyone shares in the city,” Lin said. “Nothing is more American than having 16 people from different genders, backgrounds, cultures and religious groups making art together.”
Lin has been sharing appeals for funding on social media to repair the mural and pay for a special protective coating to shield the entire piece from future defacement.
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