By Aaron Zhang
Chloe Chow (she/they) loves Bob Ross. “Two years ago for Halloween, I dressed up as him,” they said. They were dating someone with curly hair and a beard at the time. Their significant other asked, “‘Shouldn’t I get to be Bob Ross if we’re going to do a collaborative thing?’” Chow said, “and I was like, ‘No, I love Bob. I’ll make the painting.’” This moment exemplifies both their passion for art... and the healing power of Bob Ross.
Chow started painting about a year and a half ago, during recovery from a knee surgery. Following Bob Ross tutorials, they learned wet-on-wet and oil paint techniques. In fact, when they dressed up as Ross for Halloween, they used the very first Bob Ross painting they made as part of their costume.
In addition to painting, Chow also learned to knit and embroider while they were on bed rest. They are also a photographer, poet, and dancer (of 10 years!), and enjoy merging those disciplines when creating artwork. For example, Chow worked on photo montages where they collaborate with the people they take photos of, asking subjects for “poetry and words that resonate with them and [incorporating] text in that way.” Similarly, when choreographing dances, Chow takes inspiration from painting. And when creating visual art, they noted that their inspirations often come from language. They write poems based on an idea and then translate the words into a “a physical, colorful thing.”
During our call, they held up a few abstract paintings to the camera: one of a friend, another about the month of April, both of which showcase how they see people and experiences. “This one is about the feeling of when you jump in a lake,” they said, holding up a blue and pink painting. “You can feel all the sensations coming at once, and you just want to do it again and again.”
In their abstract work, Chow appreciates the perspective that informs the interpretation of the final piece: “Something that I create—once it’s released, in a way almost no longer belongs to me,” they said. “What other people will see in it is up to them. And I really, really like that.”
Another role model for Chow, along with Bob Ross, is architect and sculptor Maya Lin. “For a really long time, I wanted to be an architect, and seeing her work as a POC woman in the world, [I was] really inspired by her,” they said. They resonated with Lin’s Asian heritage and artistic career, something they have had to reconcile: “Growing up, there definitely was a lot of pressure about money and about bringing in money.” To that end, they felt that they had to pick a conventionally stable career. When they applied to arts school, they didn’t tell many of their relatives; after being accepted to Parsons School of Design with a scholarship, they finally chose to share their decision with others. Luckily, their family has been very supportive: “It’s been a very pleasant surprise to me.”
As a person with mixed heritage, Chow has also faced significant biases in the arts. “I’ve definitely felt tokenized in spaces, or I’ve definitely experienced the cross-race identification bias, where you get mixed up with the only other Asian kid in class,” they said. In art studios and dance classes, “I had to work harder and wasn’t receiving the same attention or rewards as my peers.” In their work in the midst of predominantly white arts spaces, they’ve found that connections with other people of color have been healing.
As a person of color, Chow has also found that their experience helps them create art from a different perspective. “I can often see things that my white peers don’t,” they said, and they appreciate making and sharing art from their viewpoint. “I think it’s really important for all POC to be able to do that and for white people to listen.” In doing so, people of color can communicate personal ideas and experiences that specifically impact their communities, hopefully prompting change.
In that way, Chow feels that art is fundamental for society. As an artist, they want to use their work to make a pathway for people who look or feel as they do: “if I can create that path and be the change that I want to see in the world, then it’s worth it.” Chow pushes themselves to work in challenging and predominantly white spaces because that is where they see people with opposing ideas come together. At first, they said, “I had to really, really be working and shouting to get my voice heard, but that’s again what I like about art... it gave me a voice in the first place.”
Thus, Chow doesn’t believe that “a career in the arts is a white thing.” They point out that in many museums, works have been stolen from other places. “There needs to be more recognition and credit within that,” they said. “For perspectives to be heard, for people to be seen, for systemic change to be made, it starts with POC voices being uplifted in the arts.”
To that end, Chow is working with the Seattle Change Coalition (SCC) to unite against systemic oppression. They recall a community art project they arranged at a Black Lives Matter protest where they wrote “dream of a world without beliefs,” and left materials for others to work with. In addition to community art builds, they are also making graphic designs for the SCC and painting works for the Black Lives Matter movement.
For young artists of color who aim to combat systemic racism, Chow said, “show up and be there.” Perform, do the work, make art, shout and say, “‘I’m here, and I’m going to stay here,” they said, in order to “take up a lot of space in those places.” And artistically, they said, “Find your ‘why’ and start.”