Shyama Golden’s vibrant depictions of cats, Sri Lankan dancers on horseback, and women of color are shaped with a surrealistic eye. “I’ve always been curious about the world and think storytelling is one of our oldest instincts,” says Golden, this year’s featured artist at DTLA’s Hotel Figueroa.
Golden works in oil and acrylic, with some elements, like hand-drawn looping animations, digitally rendered with the help of an iPad — she taught herself to write HTML code, and first dabbled in the digital arts with an illustration of the Spice Girls created in MS Paint. Exploring themes of growth, healing and identity, her show at Hotel Figueroa, entitled “The Portal,” aims to transport viewers into Golden’s universe. It’s a world filled with real and imagined people, and animals acting out complex, and unmistakably human, social dynamics, as in the almost life-sized “Catsquatch” oil painting (sadly not for sale, although signed prints are). “Inspired by how my art will interact with the space, the theme was something I thought of specifically for Hotel Figueroa,” she says. “It has these beautiful arched ceilings, so it feels like you’re seeing this light at the end of the tunnel, which I felt was kind of poetic with everything that’s going on right now.”
Golden spent her formative years in New Zealand and in her parent’s homeland of Sri Lanka; she moved back to the States when her dad got a job at NASA. “They would take me to the stables at Texas A&M, and one of my happiest memories from childhood is feeding the horses there all this hay,” she says, laughing. Drawing horses — and later, photographing neighborhood cats— became a passion. Golden entered her work in rodeo art shows, which led to a graphic design degree from Texas Tech University and a decade spent working on commissions for The New York Times and Penguin Random House, among other big-name clients. She pursued art full-time following a series of “small breaks,” like when Lupita Nyongo shared Golden’s work on Instagram. Having lived in Austin, San Francisco and New York (where she held a solo show near the Brooklyn Navy Yard), Golden says that relocating to Los Angeles felt like the natural next step in her career.
“I’ve been here a year and a half now, but that time feels condensed because of COVID,” she says. “I love the artist community and felt welcomed from the beginning. The mix of cultures is great. There’s a lot of diversity and depth that extends to the kind of art you’ll find, too — nothing like the stereotypes I had of LA growing up.”
Below, Golden shares some of her favorite places around DTLA and mellow Mount Washington.
Hauser and Wirth: Everyone in LA already knows about this space in the Arts District, but it’s one of the spots I would always go when heading downtown. The last show I saw was Nicholas Party in February 2020. He turned the gallery into this amazing world of color and detail; it was super inspiring.” (Golden also advocates for drinks and dinner with friends on the patio at onsite restaurant Manuela.) 901 E 3rd St.
In Sheep’s Clothing on the edge of the Arts District and Little Tokyo is another place I’d recommend. It’s this hidden hi-fi bar and cocktail/whiskey lounge inside Lupetti Pizzeria. I’ve only been there once, but it’s a very unique and interesting concept that I hope to go back to soon. 710 E 4th Place.
Mount Washington: My husband Paul and I love the views, hilly landscape, 1960s architecture, and massive old trees in this neighborhood. There’s a lot of wildlife around, and it’s green, quiet and peaceful, but we’re only 15 minutes from downtown. We’ve also got great neighbors, including many other fellow artists. Revival Furniture (3436 N Figueroa St.) is a cool vintage store here with furniture for really reasonable prices. I’ve picked up a couple of things, including a coffee table and a cart for my art supplies, but wish I could have gotten more. It’s small, so only a few people can be in there at a time.”
Shyama Golden’s year-long residency at Hotel Figueroa (look for the exhibition inside the Artist Alley) features 15 of her original works. 939 S Figueroa St. (213) 627-8971
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