Modern Makers: Kim Sandara

Interview with Kim Sandara, a queer Laotian/Vietnamese artist based in Northern Virginia. Join us tomorrow night from 6–8 p.m. for Being: An Evening with Kim Sandara. Participate in a collaborative drawing with the artist and check out recent paintings. Music and Lao food provided.

Photo of artist Kim Sandara standing in front of a gallery wall of her painted works.

Kim Sandara; Photo by Mariah Miranda

Can you tell us a little bit about your artwork?

I create paintings that translate music and sound into visuals. I’m also working on an autobiographical “coming out” graphic novel, Origins of Kin & Kang. On the side, I participate in art markets and make zines, earrings, trinkets, and stickers.

Where does your inspiration come from?

A lot of my painting practice draws from childhood nostalgia and moments where I watched my mom play around with her handwriting. I’m also inspired by playful doodling, calligraphy, and the idea of how we identify ourselves by our handwriting. I started creating this type of work when I came out, so that is also another inspiration. I like to explore the idea of suppression versus expression and being able to dip into a subconscious realm where not everything has to have a reason or coherent thought—it just exists within you.

When did you incorporate music into your artwork?

I discovered abstract painting in college. One day, my teacher asked the class to draw music for six hours. By the end of that class I was so taken by the practice of zoning into a subconscious state that I finished a 50-foot roll of paper. The drawing was very action-oriented and spontaneous, as if the sound was leading me and taking over. After that, I decided to explore working with music more.

Kim Sandara's "Sometimes I Dream in Lao," an abstract drawing containing whimsical brushstrokes that resemble lily pads, birds, and water in some parts. The color scheme is teal, light blue, specked with maroon accents.

Kim Sandara, Sometimes I Dream in Lao (2018); Gouache, colored pencil, and markers on paper

What music do you listen to when you paint?

I listen to everything. I also make it a point to never reveal what I’m listening to because I don’t like the idea of a painting being seen in a certain way. I like to make paintings that interact with my own subconscious but that also question a viewer’s interpretation, what they might be hearing or seeing. The viewer’s interpretation is just as important as the artist’s intention.

What women artists inspire you?

I admire Ruth Asawa and Yayoi Kusama. I also look to Charline Von Heyl for compositional help. Linn Meyers is someone I looked up to from the moment I went to the Hirshhorn and saw her drawings. It was so inspirational to see something that was continuous and flowing.