We had the good fortune of connecting with MaiYap (please write it as one word) and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi MaiYap, can you tell us more about your background and the role it’s played in shaping who you are today?
While living in the United States most of my adult life, studying, raising a family, and launching my art career, part of my heart has remained in Panama. This connection defines who I am and has had a profound influence in my work. I was born in Panama to Chinese parents and spent the first 8 years of my life in the little town of Aguadulce. This was an old, quaint sleepy Spanish town on the Pacific side of the country, some 3 hours away from Panama City. My parents had the largest general store in town. The ground floor was my father’s domain: hardware, bicycles, washing machines and even a tiny supermarket. On the second floor to the right was my mother’s part of the store where she sold clothing, shoes, and all home related items. On the left side of the second floor was our home. My four siblings and I were permitted to roam free through the whole town with little supervision. It was utter bliss! Perfect setting to spark my imagination. I also remember the aroma of mother’s Chinese food whiffling through our home combined with the town’s colorful Panamanian dishes. While I was raised Catholic, my mother prayed to Chinese deities, bowing, and lighting incense. The contrasting sounds of my parents speaking in Cantonese and everyone else Spanish created a true environmental dichotomy. These unique ancestral influences of Chinese and Panamanian culture have impacted all my work as seen in its delicate strokes and vibrant tropical colors. When I was 9, my siblings and my grandparents moved to Panama’s capital, some three hours away. I missed them terribly. Because of the separation, my father would take me to visit them frequently. I can remember approaching our visit with great enthusiasm and happiness but then, dreading with ultimate sadness when we had to separate at the end. Driving back and forth, weekend after weekend, I watched with fascination the birds passing, nature dancing, and the wind blowing. To capture these feelings of wonder has been at the center of all my art pursuits from the beginning.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Remembering way back then when I first started showing my close -up flower collection, a renown local curator said to me “you must have been reincarnated from a good artist to paint like this without a formal art education”. Only by harnessing my determination, investigation, and the desire to persevere has my artwork set me apart. When my only daughter, a biologist, was a teenager she used to come home every day with a doom and gloom statement about how we were destroying our environment. This sensitive young lady was so distressed, she would say things like, “do you know that in 50 years there won’t be any coral reefs left?”, I started to investigate and what I found was quite disturbing. This knowledge changed my whole artistic perspective. How could I continue painting pretty flowers and landscapes when so much was at stake? Looking for a way to express my deep emotions in a genuine, truthful way has led me to abstract art. The first quarry was to determine which medium and technique to use. While reading and searching through endless Art Basel shows, I discovered that there was a lack of paintings done exclusively with the palette knife. Since there were no classes being taught nor books available, I embarked on the exhilarating process of developing a technique on my own. This pursuit took about 5 years and 135 paintings to fully master the palette knives. It was the pure challenge that kept me going and has never wavered even to the present day. Today, my paintings are synonymous with Palette Knife Art. Rich textures, vibrant colors and unique patterns have become my signature. Along the way I discovered that there is no substitute for hard work and discipline. One must set priorities and stay the course. Making sure no one is going to really “copy” your art, you are free to help and encourage others while being true to yourself. Deep inside, I am still that little kid from Panama, looking out the window trying to do her part in the world.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
To me the best of South Florida can be experienced is a combination of City/Art, Nature and Cultural Food tours. For people who love art, Miami offers a fantastic array of galleries, museums and outdoor venues filled with exciting shows and exhibitions year around. We not only have the best of American art but also Latin American, as well. The whole Wynwood area with its famous graffiti wall masterpieces is a destination in itself! If you are lucky to be here in December, there is art galore all over with Art Basel and its many satellite shows. For nature lovers, we are lucky to have down south the famous Everglades National Park whose ecosystem is unique in the whole world. Also, our proximity to water, makes a trip to Biscayne National Park particularly attractive. One other area to enjoy is the Florida Keys with its 1700 islands! A trip from Key Largo to Key West is well worth your time. For the foodie, Miami offers a great opportunity to enjoy foods from around the world especially from Latin America. Cuba, Peru, Colombia, Nicaragua, Brazil and many others are represented in our city. For the Cuban Sandwich, try Enriqueta’s Sandwich Shop. For Peruvian food head over to Jaguar Ceviche Spoon Bar in Coconut Grove. El Pueblito Viejo offers a unique Colombian food experience in the Bird Road area. And of course, no trip would be complete without savoring our famous Stone Crabs at Joe’s on Miami Beach.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
We live in a world that is socially integrated. No matter where you are, we are all dependent on the cooperation and help of others, especially when it comes to the arts. In my case. It has taken a “village” by my side every step of the way. Among them, I wish to thank Leah Sherman, owner of Collector’s Gallery in Venice, Florida whose influence was pivotal in getting me a job as an art instructor at Fairchild Tropical Gardens. For Milagros Bello, owner and director of Curator’s Voice Art Project who encouraged me to pursue my passion for abstract art and Ana Carolina Moreno, owner of MiArt Space Gallery in Wynwood, for always having my back. Last but not least, for all the students that have passed through my classroom with their belief in me and their constant support and love. Finally, to Palette Knife Artists of Miami, whose members have followed me through thick and thin in my determination to save our planet through art for future generations.
Other: https://www.facebook.com/Palette-Knife-Artists-of-Miami-398268086954966 https://www.nlapw-coralgables.org/