Arts Fest preview: Emerging Artist Wil Wong Yee

Jim Fischer

Perhaps Wil Wong Yee could be called a reemerging artist, but the Columbus Arts Festival doesn't have a program for that.

Yee is one of 12 local artists accepted into the festival's Emerging Artist program for 2016. The program was launched in 2011 to promote and mentor artists with limited experience exhibiting at national festivals. Artists are selected by the festival's jury panel.

In addition to receiving a reduced booth fee for the festival, Emerging Artists attend two training sessions on issues like best practices for presenting their work in public, booth layout and decoration, and pricing and selling techniques.

Yee's recent work captures images of Columbus from an on-the-street perspective. It started as a way to cope during a challenging time in his life.

"I started when I was going through a divorce, just going out and painting the city on location," Yee said. "It was a way to get out of the house. When I first started, I would go out, find a piece of cardboard or scrap wood and just paint and walk away."

An open invitation at a festival presentation by an organization called Cloud House that allowed any artist to set up and paint was a small step to the formalization of Yee's streetscape work.

"I was … trying to just go out and paint from the heart, inspired by just being out and about," Yee said. "I've definitely tried to become a little more organized, a little more rational maybe in my approach."

The CCAD graduate still prefers working on-site, painting the city he sees using spray paint, Sharpies and finger paint. He has had his work exhibited recently at the Hilton Columbus Downtown and in a CCAD alumni art show.

He admitted cityscapes are not the images he anticipated making while studying product and industrial design at CCAD. He kept busy doing freelance art while working as a chef until happening upon his new medium out of emotional and mental necessity.

"It was a transition point in my life," he said. "I was emotionally drained. I've spent the last year trying to get to where I can spend more time with my son and spend more time doing art."

Still, Yee said, he enjoys capturing scenes from around the city.

"The cityscapes are great. I understand why people like them and want to have them. They capture moments and places that people have been to or that mean something to them.

"What I want to start doing is, instead of documenting the city, is to refine the process a little more, to have each piece stylized either in the way it feels at the moment or to define how a person feels about the place" in the case of a commissioned piece.

Having the opportunity to bring his work to the Arts Festival is not something Yee takes lightly. Despite the recent passing of his father, which temporarily slowed his process, Yee will still bring 30 to 40 paintings to make available during the fest.

Other area artists in the 2016 Emerging Artist program are Adrianne George (ceramics), Brittany Harris (painting), Rick Buchanan (photography), Lucie Shearer (painting), Bruce Brekke (wood), Kelli Hughes and Drew Romig (painting/woodworking), Rebecca Allen (photography), Nancy Nearing (ceramics), Peter Brown (leather), Nicholas Schukay (drawing) and Megs LeVesseur (ceramics).

In 2012, mixed-media artist Kate Morgan was among the artists included in the festival's Emerging Artist program. She had taken her work to festivals before, but none the scope of the Columbus Arts Festival. ("I'm terrified," she said in a 2012Alive story about participating in the festival for the first time.)

"It was a tremendous experience," she said. "It allowed me to be a part of one of the top festivals, not just in attendance, but also in quality. It helped set the bar."

In 2016, Morgan is a full-time artist. She took her work (her collage pieces are figurative, mostly nudes, and include painting and drawing among the layers, which she both adds and removes to create a final piece) to 29 shows last year. She said she is preparing to sign on as a represented artist with Marcia Evans Gallery in the Short North.

"I still had a full-time job when I was in the Emerging Artist program," Morgan said. "Now I'm doing what I love [and] traveling as far as my lower back will allow in a car. I'm still learning about the business side of art, but when I go to those festivals, I get to talk to so many people who may never have been in a gallery, and tell them about art. I'm feeding our future.

"It's rewarding on so many levels. I'm extremely fortunate."

And she's constantly creating. While preparing to work at a festival in Minnesota, Morgan was also working on pieces she'll have available for her return trip to the city.

"I want to show my newest and best work in Columbus," she said.