By Laurie Maemura
Tsungwei Moo is always using her power to change the world.The professional painter along with four other winning artists entered and won the Muni Art Project, a contest in collaboration with San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), The Poetry Society of America, and San Francisco Beautiful.
The contest is a long-running legacy of local artists showcasing their art on public transit which aims to support a commuters’ experience with poetry and art.
According to the official Muni Art press release the program is geared at “providing [artists] with an exhilarating occasion to reflect upon the relationship between the two.”
Each local artist will creatively interpret five local poets’ poems along with three additional panels to draw from the theme of “The Art of Poetry in San Francisco.”
“In my heart, I wanted to be an artist. I don’t want to regret my life,” said Tsungwei.
A travel lover of San Francisco, Jamaica, and Yosemite National Park, the professional painter believes San Francisco is a diversely cultural home and wants to document peoples’ lives, beyond the generic way.
“Most of my inspiration is from the cultural shock, travel, different people. The passion about family, peoples relationship and love,” Tsungwei said. She is inspired by well known painters such as Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
Last year she entered the contest but was not picked and she decided to try again.
Being chosen as one of five finalists to be showcased on the Muni bus next year is a huge achievement for any artist.
However Moo’s victory was marred by tragedy.
A mere two days after winning the contest, the Taiwan native learned her late boyfriend Ricardo Distin, a hard working farmer and construction worker who took care of his community and “gave away extra food to someone’s needs,” passed away.
He was murdered.
A clip held back her colorful magenta hair as she dabbed her paint brush across the colorful palette, adding depth to the almost finished painting of her Jamaican boyfriend. In the background of “Home Sweet Home,” the background of the painting was the house that he had built for them to share.
As she prepared her works for the Muni contest, she was touched by one of the poems “about moving forward” called “Thich Nhat Hanh, I Step With You” written by Juan Felipe Herrera. She decided to make “art to remember him.”
“I can do something to make the world better. In the future, less violence, less guns,” she said.
“I want to bring him to SF. I want to show him the city I live in. He will be on Muni rides around the city for four months and when I take the bus, he will be there with me. I told his mom and she said she hasn’t smiled since his death,” she said.
“Art can help people, it can have a lot of meaning and it can change people’s lives. Art is powerful,” she said
In 2003, before moving to San Francisco and taking her first English and Fine Arts class at CCSF two years later, she had originally studied Mass Communications in Taiwan.
Moo, a CCSF student since 2005 and firm believer in public education, said she “learned everything at CCSF – it’s the best.”
When she lived in Taiwan, she worked in the advertising industry, creating commercial products but she realized every promotion received, which drove her further her away from her true passion and she decided to pursue a full-time career as an artist.
In the diverse culture of San Francisco Moo acknowledged “everyone accepts you. Just be who you are…People don’t judge you.”
In her paintings for the Muni Art Contest, Moo hopes to document the “relationship of people on the bus with emotions, or their kissing, or people on the streets. The special things you don’t see in other places. I want to create something that no one has ever done before,” she said.”
Moo didn’t her want her art to be just generic, decoration. She really wanted it to be impactful.
“If I put my art on the bus, it’s not going to be what people want to see. It’s important and meaningful for everyone. It can have some benefit, brighten people’s day or give people something to think about or beware of the situation or stop the violence,” she said.
In her latest work, portraits of late boyfriend, Tsungwei uses laser engraving on a challenging medium, which involves incorporating recycled wood she finds at lumber yards.
“I’m addicted to making art so I do all different kinds of art. I try to learn more things,” she said. She even cuts and sands them down too, and believes that if trees were alive once, she wants to save them because they can be reused.
Currently, she has been an artist in residency teaching pastel drawing volunteer-based to “give back to society” at Yosemite Conservancy every summer for six years.
Classmate Diana Brito, a third semester advanced painting student and classmate of Moo, recalled the exciting day.
“We celebrate each other because we are a community. I remember when she got it. Oh, it was wonderful news!” Brito said.
Moo has a deep appreciation for the artistic aesthetic of the Fort Mason Campus. She feels that the older and rustic campus, that is City College of San Francisco’s flagship campus for the arts, provides “large space [and] natural sunlight.”
Moo’s painting professor Emanuela Harris-Sintamarian, who teaches at the Fort Mason campus, explained her view on the power of art as a teacher and a painter.
“Art is a system of thinking, of seeing, of understanding, and how you try to translate it and how you bring your own sensitivity. Each person has a different approach,” Harris said.
Fine arts classes at Fort Mason Campus welcomes all levels of expressive abilities and the campus is a major part of the San Francisco artistic community.
“A big family creates an environment where you can feel vulnerable some days, feel okay if you don’t do something good or you don’t feel good or you don’t understand,” Harris said.
Moo insisted that the Fort Mason Campus, which was in danger of closing earlier this year, was a place where she could “speak out to someone who might have the same dream as [her].”
Brito, Moo’s classmate, seconded that opinion saying that the Fort Mason location and CCSF’s fine arts education had “good training with extraordinary teachers.”
As Moo prepared for the deadline, she will continue to look for any opportunity to show her work. The introspective tone of her works and her role as a creative artist is her main priority.
“I have a goal and I want to achieve it,” Moo said. “I was born to be [an artist]. I need to be. It’s in my blood and bones. I want to use my art power to help more people in the world. I think that’s really important,” she said.
To see more works by Tsungwei Moo, go to City Art Gallery 828 Valencia St.