Beauty in the darkness

Artist Lin Fei Fei Photo by Ryan Angel Meza

By Steph Rodriguez

As an artist, she paints as a way to understand humanity and the complexities that haunt us all as individuals across cultures. Through shades of dark charcoals and strokes of soft whites, the shapes of contorted faces and human skulls slowly pop from more than 100 canvases dedicated to the visual concept behind Lin Fei Fei’s last exhibit, “The Distance Between Black and White.”

There’s beauty in the darkness for Fei, and if you look closely enough, you may find yourself swept up in one of her paintings, tapping into the fluidity between light and dark and what binds us all as humans: our emotions.

“At first, I was just curious about what we’re made of as humans, as far as personalities and humanities. I just want to find out what the truth is,” Fei says. “Skulls for so many different cultures represent death. But for scientists, skulls are studied because it’s our foundation. It’s a place where we can put our thoughts and brain. This is who we are, what we’re built of. I’m not necessarily using the subject as a representation of death or darkness. I hope people recognize it as a foundation of who we are.”

“Introspection Chapter 5,” Guadalajara, Jalisco Photo courtesy of Lin Fei Fei

Born in China, Fei recalls touching her nose and studying the shapes of eyes as a little girl before drawing them on paper. At just 7 years old, she knew she wanted to be a professional artist.

Fei graduated from the prestigious Luxun Academy of Fine Arts in Northeast China. As a student, she traveled the world and learned centuries-old tempera painting techniques in Italy using stone powder, egg whites and tree oil. Through her studies, she developed a respect for art history, mixing her rugged elegance with classical approaches.

“For me, oil painting is a very graceful, elegant material,” Fei says. “Acrylics are cool, and other materials are cool, too, but oil can maintain history.”

With a wanderer’s heart, Fei turned down an opportunity to teach at Luxun Academy and moved to the United States in 2015. Besides her partner at the time, Fei says she didn’t know anyone so she began selling art on the street before linking up with Blue Line Arts Gallery in Roseville and eventually branching out into Sacramento’s tight-knit art community.

“I usually try to work with galleries and museums, but when I moved to America, nobody knew who I was,” she says. “For me, it’s all a fun adventure. I feel very accomplished by starting from nothing and becoming something. I just always want to keep humble and keep doing what I’m doing because life teaches me how to maintain who I am. I always remember where I came from.”

In 2018, Fei was tapped to participate in the Wide Open Walls mural festival, an annual event in which local and traveling artists from all over the world paint fresh murals on businesses throughout Sacramento. Fei was assigned Holy Diver, an independent music venue on 21st Street in midtown.

In China, Fei says, graffiti and street art don’t sit well with the government or police. She was thrilled at the opportunity to cover an entire building in her unique aesthetic. It was her first public art piece in the United States.

“I hadn’t done a mural before in public, so I didn’t know what to expect. It turns out, people really liked it,” Fei says. “I enjoy interacting with people on the street because there are no boundaries. When you’re out in public, your work is given to everybody. I love how people stop by and talk to you, from different ages to different cultural backgrounds. Everything’s a surprise.” …

Read Beauty in the Darkness in its entirety here. This article published in Sacramento Magazine’s June Issue.

Slide Into Their DMs: Sacramento Bakers, Chefs Build Successful Pop-Ups Through Social Media

Claryssa Ozuna, owner of Hella Good 916, makes tacos for pickup at Esther’s Park in Sacramento on Saturday, April 24, 2021. All photos by Andrew Nixon

By Steph Rodriguez

People connect through food. Whether that’s breaking bread across cultures or sharing the warmth of a family recipe, food connects people to memories worth savoring.

During a pandemic, the way in which people use food to connect changes.

In Sacramento, everyone from professional chefs to home cooks and cottage bakers rely on social media as a means to introduce people to their food. It’s a simple way to post weekly pop-up menus filled with photogenic bites that are quickly devoured by die-hard followers.

“It’s like a treasure hunt. People like this speakeasy culture where you have to know about it,” says Claryssa Ozuna, owner of Hella Good 916, a weekly pop-up that specializes in quesabirria tacos and homemade tres leches cakes — all of which sell out just as quickly as they’re made.

“You have to know what day, you have to know what time, and then it’s a matter of getting your order in before they sell out. So it’s this exclusive experience and this unique content that you can share with other people.”

Ozuna shares Hella Good’s menu with more than 2,000 Instagram followers who pick-up orders on Friday afternoons. As a licensed caterer with over a decade of experience working in various kitchens — including fine dining to bars and cafes — Ozuna says she easily makes at least 300 tacos on pick-up days.

On those days, she sets up shop in South Sacramento, crisping rows of corn tortillas on the grill before covering each with mounds of shredded cheese and generous portions of savory, slow-stewed beef. It’s a crispy, melty, umami mouthfeel that’s enriched by dipping each bite in Ozuna’s flavorful consumé, a deep red, unctuous beef broth that smacks with warm spices.

“It gets pretty crazy sometimes, but I really love doing it,” she says. “I’m like the kind of person that loves to go, go, go. So, when the orders are flowing and we got a bunch of things going on, we’re thriving.”

This social media-influenced, pre-order business model is relatively new and has opened a path for many with big food dreams to cut overhead costs and break into the local industry on their terms. For these chefs and bakers, selling delicious fare was not only a way to make ends meet during the pandemic, but also a way to reach new people and offer a taste of who they are through their unique menus. …

Read Slide Into Their DMs in its entirety here. This story originally published April 29, 2021 with Capital Public Radio.