Giant Robot Store and GR2 News


Martin Hsu is friendly with an effervescent positive energy. It’s easy to just write something like that, but when you first meet him and see his eyes get genuinely wide, you’ll know it’s all true. Originally from Taiwan, Hsu lived in Southern California and went to school in Orange County. He’s nearly a 100% LA native, but his recent move to San Francisco provides a new energy into his art work. A slight hike from the Mission District, he lives in the Castro area in a Victorian home.

An impromptu visit yielded a charming house, great artwork everywhere (no, not all by him), and many “cool things”. He made me some tea and showed me his studio area where I got to see his works in progress for Undercurrents, which is beginning at Giant Robot 2 in just under two weeks.


GR: How did you get started in art?

MH: As far as I can recall, I started in art on drawing on the back of torn out calendar pages at my grandparents’ house in Taiwan in elementary school. They took care of my cousins and I when our parents were at work. Those are still the most treasured times of my life.

After graduating from CSUF with a degree in animation, I worked professionally as a character designer for a number of years before diving into the world of putting paint on wood. It’s an incredible feeling turning personal ideas into original pieces people enjoy, and I couldn’t do it without the support from my amazing friends and family.

GR: What’s your day time life like? Can you mix that with your art work?

MH: This year I’ve decided to take a break from my professional work and focus on personal art for a bit. For the first time in my life, I’m on my own working for myself and I feel extremely blessed being able to do so. My days nowadays are consisted of lots of walking around in San Francisco. When I’m not sketching or painting, I enjoy lying down on the grass at Dolores Park in between coffee shops watching and listening to people around me. It’s something quite special and I hope to do it for a while.

Some pieces from his upcoming exhibition Undercurrents


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“People at Art openings are pretentious and weird.” I hear variations of this comment all the time.

Either of these scenarios sound familiar? Standing next to a person by the bathroom for 10 minutes and not even saying a polite hello—much less making an introduction? Or even more awkward; standing next to someone whom you know is your Facebook friend, but neither of you are acknowledging this fact or each other? I rarely have this interaction with the same person when we meet in a restaurant, nightclub or even at Trader Joe’s—so what gives? Uncomfortable moments like these have got me thinking. Is it the other person? Is it me? Or could it possibly be something to do with the art venue?

The weird thing is, I go to museums often and I really do love art. I have become somewhat obsessed with artists such as, Brancusi, Dali, Hokusai, Freud, and Murakami to name a few. Yes, these are Masters, I know, I know, and yes, their works are mainstream and accessible, so it is not a surprise really that I like them.

Yet nothing has been more nerve wracking at times for me, than going to an art show. You know, one of those great gatherings, with great up and coming artists, like the ones that you get invited to on Facebook?  Something like those. So I’ll get an invite to one of these shows; and having the predisposition of a hermit crab–but knowing that I could use a little of that stuff called “culture”—I’ll throw my Repettos on and venture out from under my rock.

Here’s a dirty little secret…

Sometimes, I don’t even know who the artist is, or even the art medium that I am about to show up for. Quelle Horreur!! I know, I know, but off I’ll go. Then, it will happen that I get there and I have the awkward experience of either showing up way too early; or, being stood up by certain friends of mine (who will remain nameless ahem, but know who they are.)

As soon as those neon, dark-under-eye-circle-magnifying lights hit me—so do the butterflies. This calls for activities such as; typing a faux text on my blackberry; pretending to have to use the bathroom–and then often—just walking out. It’s kind of involuntary. Halfway down the street, after pulling out of my ‘karma good’ parking spot, I will have a little “what is my problem?” moment. If I do end up staying, I am tense, awkward and hyper-aware of every movement of my body. I’m not really enjoying the art because my brain is slowly melting as I try to adjust to being in the space correctly.

New people. Art. Florescent lights. People. Noises. Music. Nowhere to sit. Nowhere to hide. Nowhere to sit. How am I standing? Ahh.

Then, after settling into the place, I will often find myself taking on another behavior, even more bizarre. I will float around, avoiding eye contact, ignoring certain individuals and having light, safe conversations, mostly avoiding the topic of the event that I showed up for in the first place; the Art.

“I saw you but didn’t get a chance to talk to you.”

Huh? We are in a space about the size of a matchbox and are having a hard time connecting?

What a peculiar condition.

Well, having the propensity towards a hypochondriacal nature, I do sometimes self-diagnose. After much self-examination, I have come up with a little theory. What clinically might be known as a form of social anxiety might possibly have a more accurate diagnosis. I have taken the liberty of naming this condition:

Art Show Syndrome—or—with all due respect, A.S.S. I see A.S.S as a benign condition that affects a person’s attitude, posture, and vernacular in various degrees while participating in the Art Scene. A couple of weeks ago, I started an unqualified behavioral study of myself and other art goers surrounding me. Though I have not done enough research to argue what the causes or cures are for everyone, I think I have found a few simple facts that are at the root of my own A.S.S behavior. I will share.

Maybe some of you can relate…

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You have two days to see this exhibition by Jake Lee. Who is this man? There’s a book about him and his works are amazing. Most of us are obsessed with young artists, but what about the ones that came before. Jake Lee may have passed away in 1991, but his watercolors are amazing. He’s grouped as a “California painter”. Who’d do that to the younger artists of today who are born or bred in California? Barry McGee, California Painter? It doesn’t work right. The works in this show are from a SF Bay Chinese restaurant. Sounds like some sleuthing went on to find these pieces. (CHSA – Jake Lee)   Here’s a couple of examples of Jake Lee’s work. Here’s a site to see more. (Californiawatercolor – Jake Lee)
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  Sean Chao is an Art Center graduate, who lives and works in Los Angeles but is originally from Taiwan. When I first saw his works, I was captivated by the exciting and energetic sculptures which sparked everyone’s imagination. What’s going on in there? Who are these tiny people? The pieces are microcosms of his world, yet at the same time, they’re mini installations. Each piece takes you inside much like a terrarium, except you get to dream up a story with his “tiny people”. You’ll get lost in his sometimes-fairytale and oftentimes-idyllic pieces. His works are exciting and pure, and along with Inés Estrada, we’re excited to have him in Blithe Spirits at Giant Robot 2. Sean Chao; Preview Images from Blithe Spirits.   GR: Can you talk a little about the world you create? Where is it coming from and why does it have it’s forms? SC: The world and the characters I created are base on my imagination, and they are inspired and influenced by interesting things and fun experiences that happen around me. The mischievous characters were sort of created accidentally, It all started from a random drawing I did on a photograph. Eventually I developed the character from the drawing and I made a sculpture out of it. GR: Is there  general narrative? SC: There is always a narrative idea behind each piece of my works. I usually tell a story of daily experiences and show snapshots of regular interactions. These situations may be looked at as simple everyday occurrences, but I expand on those and add more to make it an interesting narrative Sometimes the story can get a little bizarre and psychedelic, but most of the works are simple ideas that people can relate to.   GR: There seems to be a color palate for them. Why those colors? SC: The colors just came natural to me. Most of my works are involved with humor and warm feelings, so the color choices I make are directly related to those emotions.   GR: Did your instructors at Art Center have an opinion on what you were making? SC: When I was in the school my instructors encouraged me to create works with my own sense of style. I believe their teaching completely changed my attitude and respect to art. Without the education, I will most likely still be working in an art related field, but I might not be creating art of my own. GR: How did you get into sculpting? SC: I was always very fascinated with sculpting since I was very young. We used to have a sandbox at my elementary school, and I would stay after classes and play in the sand until sunset every day. I remember once I was building a small city in the sand box. I went next to the pond to scoop water for the river in my sand city, and all of a sudden I fell right into the pond. I also tripped over the roots of a banyan tree. I was soaked, but it didn’t stop me...
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