• Asela Lee Kemper

Meet The Artist: Interview With Cynthia Cao

From taking portrait photos to painting with watercolor to printmaking, Cynthia Cao brings life through her work. Cao uses her work in painting and printmaking to reflect on passage of time. Her work has led her to exhibit designing as well as creating the project Taste Of Home.


Cao chatted with Chopsticks Alley about how she got into art, Taste Of Home, and becoming a Creative Ambassador in the City of San Jose.



Tell me a little bit about yourself. How did you get into watercolor painting, printmaking, and exhibit designing?


I’m an artist based in the South Bay. I earned my BFA in Pictorial Arts from San Jose State University where I studied painting and printmaking. I also attended the CSU Summer Arts program for painting and drawing in Florence, Italy. As an undergraduate student, I worked as an assistant in the Department’s Art Gallery office where I helped artists with their cumulative projects and learned about gallery administrative work. Then I started working as an art preparator for local art institutions after graduation, and enjoyed the process of working with artists and curators to put an exhibition together. I’m back at SJSU as the Art Gallery Technician, and have a freelance business doing art consulting and fine art installation.


You mention that you originally started as a photographer. How did you decide to shift from photography to the works that you do now?


I worked as a portrait photographer for several years before deciding to pursue an arts degree. I took a few drawing classes at community college and became interested in the process. Once I discovered printmaking, it quickly became my favorite medium. I’m interested in the passage of time and memory of objects, and the medium allows me to reflect on these ideas through repetitive processes with a variety of results.


Can you share about Taste Of Home? When will the project begin?


My creative project Taste of Home includes art kits and workshops to engage the public to share their food cultures and stories. It will take place over a series of events during 2021. The art project will consist of a simple printmaking project that is suitable for all ages. Participants will be asked to create multiple prints of an ingredient or meal that is meaningful to them. It is specifically aimed at diversifying the food available at food pantries to include staples inclusive of San Jose’s multiple ethnic communities.


You were one of five local artists to be named Creative Ambassador for the City Of San José Office of Cultural Affairs. What does this title mean to you as an artist?


I’m delighted to have been selected as a Creative Ambassador! As the title suggests, I am a facilitator for creativity for the City of San Jose, and it draws on my experience as an artist and arts educator. My project is intended to inspire others to make art even if they don’t think they’re a creative person. The process itself is also meant as a conduit to share stories, loosen up, and have fun. I hope the project culminates with an exhibition that showcases the diversity of San Jose, and that we can support the community with a food drive.


Who were your role models/inspirations?


I admire the work of art historian and curator Jo Farb Hernández and curator Anuradha Vikram because of their work ethic, ambition, and generosity as educators. One of my biggest influences is Robert Chiarito, who not only taught me how to draw and paint, but prepared me for life (as an artist) beyond academia. They have all encouraged and challenged me as an artist in their own ways.


What advice do you have for folx who are interested in being visual artists?


Get involved with local art institutions! Look for seminars, lectures, and workshops to attend. They are often low-cost (sometimes free!) and a great way to educate yourself. Participate in the arts community by volunteering with organizations that are doing interesting projects, and find the roles that you can fulfill. Network with others at art openings and events. Reach out to artists that you like and see if they are looking for a studio assistant. And most importantly, make a dedicated space and set aside the time to focus on your art practice.


What is next for you?


I’ve recently moved into a new space at Citadel Art Studios. Aside from my community projects, I hope to invite a few guest artists to edition some prints with me when the shelter-in-place ordinance has been relaxed.


Where can readers find and support you?


People can find me on my website: www.cynthiacao.com and email tasteofhomeproject@gmail.com to get involved with the Creative Ambassador project!





If you like stories like this, subscribe to Chopsticks Alley.


Asela L. Kemper

Chopsticks Alley Pinoy Co-Editor

Asela holds a BFA in Creative Writing with a minor in Emerging Media & Digital Arts from Southern Oregon University. She holds many positions including poetry reader for Timberline Review, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Marías at Sampaguitas, Silk Club: QUIET!, Reclamation Mag and No Tender Fences. Asela uses her passion for creative writing to open conversations on diversity and identity in literature, engage and uplift underrepresented Asian American artists. She resides in Oregon, USA with her family.