Several years ago, I was fascinated by the line in an Ingrid Michaelson song that said, “I’m a gallery of broken hearts.” So I drew a bunch of hearts that were all unique but broken or damaged somehow. That picture I drew came to mind last fall, but the idea was reversed. Instead of all being broken, what if it was a gallery of healed and whole hearts? So I decided to start a new collection of paintings that would be of hearts–some abstract, some more representational, but all unique. And they would grow plants and bursts of color. And then the word “Wholehearted” flashed through my mind. That became the title of my show this past February.

The idea did change and morph, and I didn’t fill a whole gallery with hearts. But it was still about healing and vulnerability. Almost all pieces were tied to moments that helped to heal me, or helped me see how far I’ve come with healing.

“Accordion Love Songs” was my most personal piece (and a crowd favorite!). It was inspired by a weird moment I had in LA when I visited friends. We decided to go to a red carpet event. It probably goes without saying, but LA is a city obsessed with image. Now, I’m secure in how I look, with my flaws and not being “conventionally” attractive. But it’s been a long, hard journey to get to that point. And as I rolled up to the event with my two female friends, the red carpet crowd sized me up and quickly put me in my place.

There was a guy with an accordion going around making up songs for the ladies. He came to my two friends and his songs for them flowed sweetly and poetically. When he came to me, he stopped dead for the longest, most painfully awkward 5 seconds ever. He stumbled over a song about my glasses and quickly moved on.

There was a time when that would’ve destroyed me, but in that moment, it struck me just how much I’ve healed. And Accordion Man gave me something to create from. Where he was blind to beauty beyond what’s culturally prescribed to us as beauty, I fixed his song. In the red painting, I deconstructed his accordion to help others see beauty more deeply.

These are some of the pieces from both the February and August shows.

I don’t remember how the inspiration struck for my show in August, but an idea took root: I wanted to put the spotlight on my maternal grandmother, Marcy. I knew that she had at least 9 kids, and my grandfather drank too much. I wondered why the only things I ever heard about her were that she was “nice” and “never complained.” I thought that was a weird way to remember someone. So I decided to poke the bear and see what other puzzle pieces I could dig up.

I always knew my grandfather was unfaithful to her, but I learned that it was constant and shameless. He was always described as having a strong, charismatic personality, but I wondered why people downplayed his darker side. I wondered what Marcy’s hopes and dreams were, or what they would’ve been if she felt like she could have them. In the life she did have, she was tenacious with an iron determination. She was resourceful and industrious. And she had the kind of faith that held out hope for the impossible.

She was from a more prominent family in La Union, in the Philippines. They owned several properties, including farms that grew mangoes. Selling mangoes was one of the many jobs that helped her get through the hard times.

In a nutshell, this show was about letting people know she existed. That she was a buried treasure worth knowing and seeing. Grandpa doesn’t need to be talked about anymore. It’s at least 50 years too late, but it’s time Grandma had her day.

Really, the collection is about women. It’s about me. It’s about those of us who’ve been too afraid of being seen. It’s a statement that we’re worth being seen, known and valued for who we are.

Interested in the artwork? Shop on Etsy.

Also be sure to read the article about this show on The Mustard Seed Conspiracy!