Design is the ‘How’ Of Life: Architecture and the Human Spirit in the Time of COVID
Hang & Eat: Mr. and Mrs. Creamery’s Unexpected Business Pivot
Agnes A list art

Agnes Lew Interviews Los Angeles Art Icon Betye Saar on Her 94th Birthday

By Agnes Lew
July 30, 2020

“Viewing art is a sort of meditative experience, especially during these uncertain times,” says Agnes Lew, East West Bank’s senior vice president and head of private banking, and resident art aficionado. “Art is very therapeutic for someone like me who has trouble slowing down and always has a long to-do list.”

Lew is interviewing artists in a collaboration with the Gallery Association Los Angeles to bring more awareness to the local art community during the pandemic. Eighty-one galleries have come together to build an online space during the shut-down to encourage more art viewing and engagement for local and international audiences. This online space, called Gallery Platform LA, showcases 10 gallery “viewing rooms” and a curated project on a rotating basis every eight weeks. East West Bank is a proud sponsor of Gallery Platform LA.

In the latest edition of her artist series, she features Betye Saar, Los Angeles’ own contemporary art legend and one of the most respected artists of her generation. An African American artist who just turned 94, Saar grew up in Los Angeles and is well-known for her assemblage and collage pieces. Her most recent exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, titled “The Legends of Black Girl’s Window,” showcases an array of her printmaking works that follows themes of family, history and mysticism. Gifted in storytelling and having participated in the Black Arts Movement during the 1970s, Saar often engaged in politics and challenged traditional narratives around race and femininity.

An exhibition featuring her work, “Betye Saar: Call and Response,” was recently on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The exhibition will travel to The Morgan Library and Museum in New York later this fall.

“I had read a lot about her work, but my first close encounter with Betye was at the Institute of Contemporary Art luncheon when she was honored,” says Lew. “Her eloquent speech helped me understand her oeuvre better, and I thought she was the best dressed and coolest person in the room!”

Saar shares her journey as an artist, sources of inspiration, advice to budding artists and her color palette for gardening.

 Agnes Lew, East West Bank’s senior vice president and director of private banking

About Agnes Lew

Agnes Lew, East West Bank's senior vice president and director of private banking, leads a team of financial advisors that provide financial and investment advice, ranging from retirement to estate planning. Lew is often referred to as a cultural concierge by her customers.

More about Agnes
Betye Saar

Q: I have said hello to you the few times I met you but never had the courage to ask you this. In addition to being an amazing artist, you have a great sense of style. I love how you always have the perfect head band/wrap matching your outfit. Do you make any of your own clothes?

My mother was a dressmaker, and I learned to sew at an early age. I developed a sense of what colors and patterns matched. I used this sensibility in making art. I used to make my own clothes, but now I just make hems.
Betye Saar in her Laurel Canyon studio, 1970. Courtesy of the Artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, CA; © Betye Saar. (Photo credit): Robert Nakamura

Q: Growing up in Pasadena, California, where did you go to look at art?

As a child, the only public facilities for looking at art were the Southwest Museum, and the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science, and Art, which became Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA.) There was really no art museum available to me as a child.
“Woke Up This Morning, Blues in My Bed”, 2019. Courtesy of the Artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, CA; © Betye Saar. (Photo credit): Robert Wedemeyer

Q: What is your advice to fellow artists who are not exactly spring chickens?

I’ve always been an artist. I majored in design and concentrated on interior and graphic design. In the late 1960s, I became more interested in collage, sculpture and assemblage art.
Betye Saar in her Laurel Canyon studio, 2019. Courtesy of the Artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, CA; © Betye Saar. (Photo credit): David Sprague
It’s never too late to make art. You have to search for your medium of expression, whether it’s good or bad, and just keep doing it. Practice makes perfect.

Q: Do you collect other artists’ works?

Yes. Growing up, I was influenced by the Watts Towers and attracted to self-taught and outsider art. That is what I collect.
Betye Saar at Watts Towers, 1965. Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, CA; © Betye Saar. (Photo credit): Richard Saar

Q: What is your most prized possession from your foraging?

My house is filled with my favorite objects I’ve collected. It would be difficult to narrow it down to just one.

Q: Has COVID-19 or Black Lives Matter in any way influenced or impacted your recent work/creativity?

Not really. I just make art as I feel inspired. I am currently exploring watercolor media with mystical images I have used in other works. Palmistry symbols with hands and hearts, things like that.
(Left): “Liberation of Aunt Jemima,” 1972. Collection of Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, California. Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, CA; © Betye Saar. (Photo credit): Benjamin Blackwell. (Right): “Aix-en-Provence/ Los Angeles,” 2004, Betye Saar, Collection of Betye Saar. Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, CA, © Betye Saar. (Photo credit): © Museum Associates/LACMA

Q: It seems like everyone is gardening while staying at home these days. What do you have growing in your garden? Can you show us a picture or a sketch?

I’ve lived in Laurel Canyon for over 60 years on a hillside lot. I have a series of gardens on my porches and patios. I try to garden by color. The front porch is red plants. The outside patio is blue plants. My back hillside is whatever will grow.
Betye Saar in her Laurel Canyon garden, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, CA; © Betye Saar. (Photo credit): Tierney Gearon

Q: Mysticism is a big part of your work. What are the best and worst traits of a Leo like yourself?

Leo’s planet is the sun. I love sunshine and sunny days. I am industrious with things that I am interested in. I’m very energetic and loyal. A Leo’s worst trait is stubbornness. I’m slow to anger, but when I’m angry, I’m vicious.
“Mystic Window for Leo,” 1966. Courtesy of the Artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, CA; © Betye Saar. (Photo credit): Robert Wedemeyer

About
Reach.Further


Reach Further by East West Bank is our business news magazine connecting you to emerging opportunities in the United States and Greater China, helping you gain the edge to succeed.

Discover stories from the frontlines of entrepreneurial life, financial tips for small and midsize businesses, and in-depth insights on US-China business, trade, tech, innovation, entertainment, lifestyle and more.

2018 Best Digital Publication

Finalist in the prestigious

Content Marketing Awards.

Stay Connected!

We’ll keep you in the know about the latest US-China business news and trends.

Follow us:

Questions? Email us:

reachfurther@eastwestbank.com