Interview with Mobile Food Pantry Artist Stevie Shao

We got a chance to speak with Stevie Shao, the amazing local artist who painted our Mobile Food Pantry, about growing up in Seattle, her growing interest in public art, and more! Read the full interview below:

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background growing up in Seattle?

Growing up in Seattle contributes a lot to how I appreciate industry, labor and the changing environment of the city. Seattle is in such a direct natural environment on Puget Sound that the native plant and animal life is woven deeply into what it means to live and work here. Something I value about being an artist from the area is how I can celebrate this background and hopefully inspire others to find beauty in the natural and industrial history here.

How long have you been making art? Am I remembering correctly that you only started painting murals when the pandemic started? Have you always had an interest in public art and is it something you’d like to continue doing?

I’ve been making art my whole life! I started painting murals when businesses first closed down and got boarded up in 2020 and have been lucky to pick up enough work, largely due to the exposure those kinds of projects brought me during lockdown. I’ve always been interested in how public art activates space. Before murals I designed two utility box wraps in Ballard in 2019 as a part of a neighborhood beautification project with another local artist Sarah Simon.

Left: Mural painted by Stevie Shao depicting local PNW wildlife and phrases like "What's Good" and "Take Care"; Right: Stevie Shao posing atop a utility box she painted in Ballard.

Left: Mural painted by Stevie Shao depicting local PNW wildlife and phrases like “What’s Good” and “Take Care”; Right: Stevie Shao posing atop a decorated utility box she designed with Sarah Simon in Ballard.

The visual impact of these and the feedback we both received from this project was really special. What’s cool about public art is the way it brings a community together and contributes to the spirit of the neighborhood. I definitely see myself continuing to work on large scale works and projects that benefit community.

Your vibrant imagery and bright colors really caught our eye when we were researching artists for our Mobile Food Pantry. I was really interested by a quote from your UpliftAPA interview about art as a means for communication. Can you speak to that idea, especially as it relates to your own politics and ideas or themes you’re trying to communicate with your work?

Art and especially art out in the community is a constantly evolving landscape, a living network that draws from the past as well as ideas for the future. Visual art is a conversation that is capable of influencing people to get involved with local causes, all of which are related through intersectionality.

Why were you drawn to the Mobile Food Pantry project and how did you connect with our mission?

I was really excited to work on a project with an organization that aligns with my values, working hard to provide fresh food for those in our community experiencing food insecurity. The array of programs FamilyWorks provides to fulfill its mission is impressive and necessary for a rapidly populated city like Seattle.

I would imagine that painting a truck is at least a little different than painting a mural on a wall. What was that experience like for you and how did your approach compare to your previous work?

I had a lot of help on this project I’m grateful for, that made it easier to be using mediums I don’t normally use. Designing the truck was special because of the 3D aspect of the job — figuring out how to tie the sides together and make it cohesive was a new challenge I enjoyed. It was great to have the style of the design fully embraced by FamilyWorks — that’s what really matters and truly what makes it worth it.

It seems like the public has really fallen in love with your style, and I read that you recently worked with fashion designer Anna Sui on her SS21 collection! Can you tell us what working on that project was like?

Anna reached out to me after finding some of my graphic work on Instagram, right around when large scale protests after the murder of George Floyd began here in Seattle. She pulled a few different craftspeople and artists to create aspects of the SS21 collection ‘Heartland’ that underlined her thoughts about home as a response to Covid-19 lockdown. This included recycled materials, crochet, no fuss garment silhouettes, even decorated pies. Anna expressed she was drawn to the community care, creativity and color of the work I was putting out at this time, which made the project a great fit.

Are there any exciting new projects you’re working on now, or things you’re looking forward to doing this year?

I have a few things moving around right now as we’re in the thick of ‘mural season,’ when the weather is nice and everyone sort of gets the art bug. I’m looking forward in particular to a cool building I’ll be collaborating with two other artists on in Portland. Other things I’m excited about right now are days on the lake and being able to travel to visit friends again.

Where can folks purchase your art or support you and your work?

I have a webstore (Shao Gals) I share with my sister, Tori Shao.

Instagram is a great way to follow along and support, @stepfrae.

Any final words or message for the readers/FamilyWorks community?

I hope people are really reflecting on the intimacy of our time here — we all depend on one another and need others to survive, we are stronger together.