What can you learn about a person from a picture? We asked this question at The Fabulous Life of Lisa Nguyen, a tribute art show that took place at California State Long Beach's Werby Gallery on Sunday, February 6.
We didn't personally know Lisa, a Long Beach graphic designer who died in January, but we had a number of mutual friends. It was one of our mutual friends, our LA Weekly colleague Dianne Garcia, one of the participating artists in The Fabulous Life of Lisa Nguyen, who asked us to attend the opening. The early evening show was one of three events, which also included a concert and a gathering at Akbar, held in her honor. All proceeds are going to help launch an arts scholarship in Lisa's name.
In a few short weeks, Lisa's friends and family members produced roughly 110 pieces of the show. These ranged from large paintings to small, wearable pieces like pins.
Lisa's personal style seemed to be a focal point of much of the work on display and certain fashionable staples popped up in piece after piece– furry collars, big sunglasses, short-shorts, red lipstick, jewel tones (particularly emerald green), leopard print and great haircuts. I couldn't help but think that she seemed to have stepped out of the pages of an Ai Yazawa manga, where fashion is used not to appear trendy, but as an extension of a character's personality. In particular, she reminded me of Nana Osaki, Yazawa's fierce and glamorous rock star from the series Nana. Perhaps not so coincidentally, a copy of Nana was part of the memorial display. I learned from Dianne that Lisa had previously sold handmade accessories based on what's worn in the manga in the artist alley at Anime Expo.
But the similarities between the pieces went beyond apparel. Consistently, we saw Lisa depicted in active and confident poses. There was Lisa dancing, Lisa standing with her elbow jutted out and her weight shifted towards one side. There was Lisa grinning, always a huge, red lipstick smile and Lisa with her mouth open and her eyes caught mid-roll. Then there were the words, works with titles like “Fabs!” and “I'll Show You!” There were a lot of exclamation marks. On every canvas, there was a huge personality.
What struck us most was the amount of contributions and the number of people who turned up to the event. It wasn't just that Lisa knew a lot of people, it's that she touched so many that, after her death, she continued to inspire them to create, encouraged them to make something positive out of an unbearably tragic situation.
If you're interested in contributing to the Lisa Nguyen Scholarship for the Arts, you can do so through GoFundMe.