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Arts & Culture

'Ways Of Seeing': How Artists View Their Worlds

"Switching Melodies," by San Diego artist T.Jay Santa Ana, will be on view at Thumbprint Gallery June 12-July 3, 2021.
Courtesy of the artist
"Switching Melodies," by San Diego artist T.Jay Santa Ana, will be on view at Thumbprint Gallery June 12-July 3, 2021.

A new group show in La Jolla brings artists and visitors together to consider perspectives. This weekend marks Thumbprint Gallery's first opening reception since the pandemic began.

Paul Ecdao and Johnny Tran opened La Jolla's Thumbprint Gallery in its first location in North Park in 2009. Since then, they've held regular exhibitions on-site and in satellite venues like businesses or restaurants that use Thumbprint to curate pop-up shows — like Bar Basic downtown or Subterranean Coffee Boutique in North Park — and eventually moved to La Jolla.

During the pandemic, Thumbprint shifted their art online, holding exhibitions and offering up pieces for sale. Ecdao said they hope to continue offering online components as the community reemerges from restrictions, particularly with the emergence of NFT, or non-fungible token based digital art.

"Part of it is why we opened in the very first place, to keep opportunities flowing," said Ecdao.


Thumbprint exhibits plenty of pop art, surrealist, graffiti-inspired works by indie, emerging artists, and the gallery can feel surprising nestled between boutiques in the village of La Jolla. But Ecdao and Tran wanted to be closer to potential collectors, be part of a community of galleries in the area and to broaden the reach of their artists.

For San Diego-based artist T.Jay Santa Ana, it's not really something he thinks about — much.

"Whenever I think of Thumbprint, I'd sort of just think of the style of the artists that they have, that they show, that they feature, and the vibe, and it only ever occurs to me that I'm showing something in La Jolla at Thumbprint Gallery when I have to drive to La Jolla from IB," Santa Ana said, laughing.

"Ways of Seeing" at Thumbprint Gallery, June 12-July 3

Opening reception: Saturday, June 12 from 5-10 p.m.

Gallery hours: Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. and by appointment.

Thumbprint reopened in September for in-person gallery hours following regional COVID precautions. They'll spend the second half of 2021 with monthly solo shows beginning in July — including exhibitions by Ivonne Garcia, Mary Jhun and Ellis Luu.

But first, "Ways of Seeing" will be Thumbprint's final group show of the year, and their first opening reception since the pandemic took hold.


It's not exactly a themed show, but what Ecdao wanted was to hone in on the reality of sharing art.

Thumbprint Gallery's Paul Ecdao is pictured in an undated photo.
Kat Caudle
Thumbprint Gallery's Paul Ecdao is pictured in an undated photo.

"[The show] speaks to how I describe the duty of an artist to some people, as far as like the role of an artist and offering new perspectives, new ways of looking at things," said Ecdao. "When we do these shows it's like a cross-section of the artists that we work with and just offering diversity. And so the title, 'Ways of Seeing' is just that. It's each artist giving a glimpse into their world and seeing how they view things."

The Visual Language Of T. Jay Santa Ana

The exhibition's title hit home for Santa Ana. "Because of the quarantine and pandemic, I've been able to delve more deeply into me, into my mind and how I interpret things through art, just how I use visual language to read reality," he said.

He said his work has become more cerebral lately, informed by his study of asemic writing — a form of abstract scripting with no words or semantic content — and also his study of Baybayin, which is a Tagalog script.

"I see things that maybe were repressed as a kid sort of coming out now, like different expressions of masculinity in the faces," Santa Ana said of his recent work. "This conversation of subconscious meanderings and memories that I was reaching for, and it's tied in with asemic writing — and in that asemic writing pops up symbols from Filipino languages."

Santa Ana also said that he sees nods to asemic writing in graffiti and hip hop street art, as well as ancient cultures. "It's an homage to even, like, my ancestors who were doing it on different surfaces way back in the day, too," said Santa Ana, who is Filipino.

The work in this exhibition is inspired also by a recent roadtrip in California. Botanicals and abstract faces are graced by swirling lines, a hint of Santa Ana's forays into asemic writing.

He used colored pencil layered with watercolor, and said that the work is a form of a souvenir to him, because it started in a sketchbook on the trip.

Melissa Walter Gets More Visceral

For San Diego Art Prize winner Melissa Walter, the work she'll show in the Thumbprint exhibition marks a detour from her usual drawings and paper-cut works. Early on in the pandemic, Walter said she turned to a new medium.

"When the quarantine started for the pandemic, I was already going through a lot of stuff in my life, and that exacerbated things. So I wound up doing this pretty big series of paintings. I don't normally paint, it's not really my medium of choice," Walter said.

Walter still found inspiration from her usual muses, outer space and astrophysics — the piece is called "Event Horizon," after all — but it's a moodier and darker piece for her. "My work was shifting anyway to be a little less meticulous and more visceral, but this is sort of like an extreme visceral."

She said isn't sure how many more of these early pandemic paintings will see the light of day. Walter is set to launch a solo exhibition at Oceanside Museum of Art on July 17, which will be a collection of what she refers to as "flat works," framed drawings or flat paper pieces that are inspired by her study of DNA.

The Joy And Whimsy Of Bree Manahan

For San Diego artist Bree Manahan her optimism and sunny disposition is reflected in her work.

"Aphelion" by artist Bree Manahan will be on view at Thumbprint Gallery June 12-July 3, 2021.
Bree Manahan
"Aphelion" by artist Bree Manahan will be on view at Thumbprint Gallery June 12-July 3, 2021.

"I guess I've always seen things through a little bit of a filter," Manahan said. Her parents raised her on sci-fi and fantasy, and her love of comics and animation inspires her art too.

"Just a little bit whimsical, a little bit optimistic. Sort of cutting out harsh reality. So my art is usually very happy. I want to bring people enjoyment and joy through my art," she said.

Manahan made a new work, "Aphelion," specifically for the exhibition, pencil on wood panel. The work features a blend of mysticism and fantasy — an entire solar system of planets hangs from strings tied around antlers, and the backdrop is somewhere between swirling locks of hair, lush, tendrilling grasses, or wisps and twists of an angry wind or sea.

"Ways of Seeing" also features work by Evgola, Brandon Dristy, Micah Mariah, Andrew Jones, Jacki Geary, Romali Licudan, Rhashad Monroe, Ethos One, Ivan Vallena, Paul Naylor and Madeline Hanlon.