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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Visual artist Jiemei Lin plants, waters ‘Seeds’ through painting, community engagement

By Azaria Podplesky The Spokesman-Review

Visual artist Jiemei Lin may be based in Pullman, but she’s left her mark – literally – on Spokane. As you admire the Black Lives Matter mural, you’ll see Lin’s vibrant orange, red, yellow and blue flowers in the first ‘T’ in “Matter.”

If you take a peek between Howard and Wall streets, you’ll see Lin’s depiction of a young girl and boy each swimming in their own pool of icy blue water in celebration of similarities across cultures, even though we might physically be worlds apart.

And if you walk by the Warren Apartments on the corner of Riverside Avenue and Browne Street, you’ll see a young woman having tea with her grandmother, a young couple looking into each other’s eyes, a mother with her child, a woman cleaning a rug hanging on a clothesline and a large rabbit to boot. The mural is filled in with brightly colored flowers and rich green and blue leaves.

Lin’s corner of Spokane grew a little bigger, albeit temporarily, when she opened her solo show “Seeds” on Friday at the Terrain Gallery. The show runs through June 1.

Lin was born and raised in Hangzhou, China, where she grew up an only child under the one-child policy. She played with the children in her neighborhood, also only children, but also spent a lot of time alone drawing. For the shy Lin, it was a perfect hobby. Though they weren’t artistic, her surgeon father and finance professor mother were supportive of Lin’s artistic interests.

Growing up in Hangzhou, Lin said the humid climate provided her with endless natural inspiration, which still finds its way into her art in the form of technicolor florals and larger-than-life shrubs, leaves and trees.

There’s a deeper meaning behind the natural elements, and the title of her solo show, though. Lin said she has dealt with mental health issues most of her life, and the plants she paints recall self-discovery and healing.

“I feel like plants are something that always inspires me to look over my journey because plants, sometimes, are very unpredictable,” Lin said. “You don’t know what result you’ll get during the process and the veins, the leaves will grow by their own. You really don’t have that much control over it.

“But also I think sometimes if this plant is randomly carried by a bird or by wind, it will land anywhere, so I really feel that it’s a really meaningful way to look at my journey as a person, a lot of self-growth.”

Lin also links seeds to community engagement, a big part of her artwork. When we interact with each other, Lin said, we are planting seeds in each other’s minds and lives. Those murals in downtown Spokane, for example, help Lin get out into the community and engage with those who pass by.

“I hope I can plant seeds to different flower pots and at the same time, all the interaction and collaboration I’ve had with people will water my seeds,” she said.

In a final comparison, Lin also feels like a seed could be a moment of negative emotion or a traumatic experience. In the process of tending to that seed, one can begin to heal and forgive.

Lin created the pieces in this show during the first year of her tenure track at Washington State University, where she is an assistant professor in the art department. Lin said it was a meaningful time because it was her first experience creating in a big studio with all the resources the WSU art department has to offer. She is especially grateful for the help provided by engineering tech JJ Harty and ceramics tech Kassie Smith, two of her art department colleagues.

Later this month, Lin, who was recently named a recipient of an Artist Trust Fellowship Award, will turn her focus to the book she illustrated, Kao Kalia Yang’s “The Rock in My Throat.”

As part of the Asians for Collective Liberation in Spokane’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month celebration, Lin and Yang will host a storytelling workshop at Spark Central on May 18. That evening, the pair will speak at the Spokane Public Library’s Central branch. On May 19, Lin and Yang will host a storytime at Wishing Tree Books and a book reading and signing at Auntie’s Bookstore.

In the fall, Lin will release her own children’s book, “Goodnight, Zodiac Animals,” through Candlewick Press. Though Lin has always wanted to create illustrations for children’s books, it wasn’t until she was recovering from postpartum depression after the birth of her son, now 5 years old, that she decided to give it a shot.

“During the recovery, I thought, ‘I just went through something really hard. Why don’t I do something I really want to do?’ ” she said. “Then I pretty much abandoned all the art projects I was doing at that time and started making very different artwork.”

Lin said she grew up reading books from Candlewick Press, including Sam McBratney’s “Guess How Much I Love You” and Lucy Cousins’s “Maisy” books, and is thrilled to be publishing “Goodnight, Zodiac Animals” with them.

Whether creating work for a book, a canvas or a mural, Lin is wholly engaged in the process. The physical act of painting, she said, is a special feeling. It’s also, she said, the reason she isn’t worried about AI taking over the art world.

“I don’t really worry about that because I think a lot of times art is not about the artwork, it’s about that physical experience you had during creating that piece of art,” she said. “A lot of times my arms are sore, but I’m happy.”