Skip to Content

Interview with Shizu Saldamando

Shizu Saldamando is visual artist from the city of Los Angeles. Her work has been featured at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. and the Venice Biennale in Italy. This coming Saturday November 21st is the opening of group show The Thrill of Victory The Agony of Defeat, curated by Patrick Martinez at New Image Art in West Hollywood, which will include some of Shizu's latest work. Get to know more about this talented artist and her distinct outlook on art...

WhenYouSleep_SSaldamando (1 of 9)

Introduce yourself to our L.A. TACO readers. Who are you and what you do?
Hi my name is Shizu Saldamando and I’m a visual artist who lives in LA.

What mediums do you create your art in?
I use oil paint on wood panels; colored pencils on paper, ballpoint pen on bed sheets, glitter on anything, video installation, sculpture, newsprint, washi paper, and whatever else the project calls for.

Do you have a favorite right now?
I try to match the theme with the medium. Usually the medium directly informs the work and message, so when artists try to communicate or send a message through art it is important to consider the historical references and connotations that each medium and object carry. For instance if you create an oil painting, then automatically that work is placed within a larger art historical context of past oil painters and all the politics and history involved with that. It gets even more specific when you think about subject matter within that painting. I know a lot of artists who reject painting because of this history and prefer to do ready-made sculpture or only use spray paint on walls, or just do video because there is a less problematic history associated with it. I think I gravitate towards portraiture through painting as a means to reclaim agency and representation in that through out art history or at least the western European version of it, people of color have very little representation and when the have been represented it has been through a colonial gaze. I try to represent my friends and family in a way that is familiar and relatable and not sensationalized or steeped in extreme stereotypes or criticisms. When I do video projects or sculpture the same themes come up but the read changes slightly within the different contexts.

WhenYouSleep_SSaldamando (5 of 9)

The last piece I completed was a commission for the Smithsonian’s Asian/Latino initiative. They wanted to show how artists represent different historical asian/latino intersections so I chose to do a tribute piece to Yuri Kochiyama. She was a Japanese American who had been incarcerated at the Japanese American internment camps like my own family had been during WWII. Besides being a friend and supporter of Malcolm X, She had also been a member of the Young Lords, a predominantly Puerto Rican activist group. She took part in the take over of the Statue of Liberty in the 1970s in order to call attention to the Puerto Rican Political Prisoners that the US had incarcerated and they succeeded in freeing some of them because of that action. For that piece I knew I wanted to use ballpoint pen on Paño as the medium because so much of her work was calling attention to the political prisoners that were unjustly imprisoned. Her life’s work directly addressed and was in opposition to the institutionalized racism that allowed the Military/Prison industrial complex to incarcerate so many people of color. So using the reference of prison Paño arte seemed like a good solution to what medium I should use for her portrait. So I titled the Piece “Free All Political Prisoners” as another nod to that context.

WhenYouSleep_SSaldamando (3 of 9)

What is your favorite thing about Los Angeles? What do you not enjoy about it?
I like the diversity of LA and not just in an ethnic sense but more of a diversity of culture, of scenes, of underground music, diy movements and how the city being so large has created these pockets of communities and subcultures that are constantly reinventing and creating themselves. I also appreciate the diversity of scenes within the Chicano community here that you don’t find anywhere else in the U.S. There is always a strong Chicano/Latino presence in most of the underground punk/metal or hardcore shows and I really appreciate that. I really don’t like the traffic, the lack of quality public transportation and the preoccupation with celebrity that exists here.

Do you have a particular late night taco spot that you regularly visit?
I try not to eat red meat or chicken but I am addicted to mariscos. I really like the pulpo tostadas at that blue truck on Figueroa at Sycamore Grove Park in Highland Park/Cypress Park. The Cocteles at the Mariscos truck at Saybrook park on Olympic in East LA/Montebello are my favorite. Also, if I am in a fancy mood and want the whole artisanal cocktail, boujie taco experience my friend Jesse has opened up a string of amazing restaurants that all have incredible tacos. He started with his family’s restaurant in Highland Park, El Arco Iris and now has Yxta downtown, Mercado in Santa Monica amongst others.

WhenYouSleep_SSaldamando (8 of 9)

Personally I really enjoy your ballpoint pen on cotton napkins. They are very unique. Does going back to style of work invigorate or help push your creativity?
Again, talking about the Paño art, I recognize it as a nod to prison art and my some of my first artistic influences Teen Angel Magazine. Growing up in the Mission district in the Early 90s, I saw a lot of violence and also the art that was associated with the times. My friends and I would do really extensive ballpoint pen drawing and we’d try to copy a Paño piece some one had in their binder that a cousin or uncle had sent from prison or trace out the art that was in Lowrider Arte or Teen Angel. My dad had the first year issues of Lowrider and those were amazing to see. So for me the Paño arte was like this cannon of Chicano art that I tried to copy to see if I had what it takes to be a true Chicano artist. It wasn’t until college and art school I started to think about contexts and history and consciously how to create messages and recontenxtualize images that we all take for granted. I began to see it’s use as a way to reference the prison industrial complex, institutionalized racism and at the same time its power to reference subculture and the ability to turn something so horrific as incarceration, death, violence into something inspiring, beautiful and liberating.

WhenYouSleep_SSaldamando (9 of 9)

How long have you been tattooing, and how has that experience been?
I started apprenticing to tattoo about 3 or 4 years ago after a friend had asked if I could help her find an artist to do a portrait of her mother who had died suddenly of a heart attack. I really wished I could of tattooed that portrait for her but we found a really amazing artist that charged her a tremendous amount of money and rightfully so because it came out beautiful. After that I asked my friend Vyal (the graffiti artist) if he knew if any of his tattooist friends were looking for an apprentice. It happened that I ended up at Old No. 13 in East LA, where I have been ever since. I’ve heard stories how crazy the shop used to be and it was a bit intimidating at first. There have been some bad energy with people who have worked their and left but currently I have really grown to appreciate the family that I have their now and the fundamental respect and support we all have for each other as artists. Its been really amazing to meet so many interesting clients, hear their stories and basically make a collaborative art piece with them. Of course actually tattooing with a machine on a living body is 1000x more difficult to use than a regular pencil or pen. Every body’s skin is different. Every body part acts different with the machine. There are so many factors that you have to consider with tattooing that I will forever be learning. There is so much equipment you need to have as well. It is a never-ending learning process.

All photos by Erwin Recinos from the opening of When You Sleep: A Survey of Shizu Saldamando at Vincent Price Art Museum from 2013.

WhenYouSleep_SSaldamando (6 of 9)
WhenYouSleep_SSaldamando (2 of 9)

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from L.A. TACO

‘This is Los Angeles:’ Family Behind El Burro at Placita Olvera Fight to Save 57 Years of Tradition and Culture

"It’s a huge part of L.A.'s identity," said Eugenia Nicole Macias. "We’re not going anywhere. Our grandmother raised us to make noise."

May 24, 2024

What To Eat This Weekend In L.A.: Sonoran-Style Chicharrón, Tikka Masala Fried Chicken, Japanese Curry Arancini, and ‘Flintstones Burgers’

Plus a breezy new restaurant in the South Bay, Guam-style barbecue at the races, smoked birria, and cassava tortillas. Here's where to eat this weekend from Cudahy to West Adams to Arcadia!

May 24, 2024

LAPD Officer Released on $30,000 Bond Following Arrest For Assault With a Deadly Weapon

A day after the incident the LAPD said in a statement that they were prompted to respond to the 8600 block of Belford Avenue after “a community member generated a radio call of an Assault with a Deadly Weapon.” Police later identified the suspect as “off-duty Officer Richard Podkowski.”

May 23, 2024

Downtown’s Aguascalientes-Style ‘Flying Gorditas’ Sell Out On The Street In Three Hours

The family behind this stand also owns a Mexican chile and spice import company , so their guisados taste remarkably fresh. Their gorditas have been so popular that they are opening a brick and mortar restaurant in East L.A. this Saturday.

May 23, 2024

This Peruvian Street-Style Fried Chicken Inside a 30-Year-Old Taquería Is the Valley’s Best-Kept Secret

“I'm very proud of bringing our food, Peruvian food, and the acceptance from our Mexican brothers,” says chef Omar Zavala, who is from Peru and took over Taqueria Juanito's with his wife, Carmen, five years ago.

May 22, 2024
See all posts