Despite steady rain, there was steady attendance throughout Juneau’s First Friday for the month of August.
Out of the nine different First Friday events planned for the evening, all but one went off without a hitch; Sketch Studio at 122 Front St. had to reschedule their presentation of MK MacNaughton & ReccaShay Crafts, but people can catch Rebecca Hsieh at Kindred Post during September’s First Friday for an interactive croche photobooth.
One of the main attractions on Friday took place at the Juneau Artists Gallery at 175 S. Franklin St. where new Juneau resident and artist Keke Tian Ke was having her work showcased as the artist of the month for the studio. Ke moved to Juneau from Hong Kong in 2017 and though she may be new to town, she’s not new to art.
Having completed art school in China during the late ‘90s, Ke specializes in oils, acrylics, soft pastel, pencil and charcoal. While much of her work has focused on people and portraits, her newest showcase finds her taking on more exploration of the natural wonders she observes, a change that Ke solely attributes to her time spent within Juneau.
“Juneau is a totally different experience for me,” Ke said. “I’m from Beijing, China, so basically they have 20 million people and Hong Kong is like 7 million people in a really small space, and Juneau is like the opposite of where I’ve lived before. So, I started to appreciate the beauty of nature, the people, and the culture.”
Ke recently joined the Juneau Artist Gallery, with August only being her second month as a member. She’s been working in graphic design for the last twenty years, but Ke said that since she’s moved to Juneau and discovered a new vitalized interest in her artistic aspirations, she’s turning to nature and wildlife for inspiration more than she ever has before.
“I used to draw people a lot but now I’m getting more into landscapes, the mountains, woods, and all the local animals,” said Ke. “Now I’m more surrounded by nature than before because I was in a big city and I never really went hiking or camping before, but here in Juneau I hike more and I can appreciate nature more. It’s such a beautiful place.”
Though much of her work is now directed towards nature, she still makes time for the occasional portrait and is often commissioned for her work by people from around town. For instance, missing Juneau woman Tracy Day’s family commissioned Ke to do a drawing of Tracy from a photograph as a way of remembering their missing daughter, Ke said. A copy of the portrait is currently hanging with her display at the gallery.
“I always really love to draw people because I would say I’m obsessed with people. I like to try to understand what they’re thinking, like what their thoughts are beyond their expressions.”
Ke has more work coming out soon around local galleries that focus specifically on landscapes within Juneau. Ke said she’s honored to be the artist of the month and feels he has a lot to learn from the other artist’s featured at the gallery.
“This is the first gallery I’ve ever joined, and I feel honored to be among these local artists,” Ke said. “Everyone here has such amazing art; all of the artists have their own perspective on how they’re observing things around them or where they draw inspiration from. I’m just honored to be among them, I have a lot to learn from them, too.”
Ke wasn’t the only artist to be featuring new work for a First Friday gallery, as Julay Estrella also showcased her collage art at Black Moon Koven located at 224 Seward St.
Much like Ke, Estrella is also new to Juneau, having moved from Florida in 2020 after high school. Estrella said she takes imagery and text from print media and turns them into layered, dynamic compositions that, also like Ke, primarily reflect her observations and experiences during her time in Alaska.
“These pieces are just sort of reminders of all the different things I’ve done since I’ve been here, whether it’s going down the flume in my kayak or playing euchre every night or trying to go skiing and failing, camping in cabins, just a little bit of everything,” Estrella said.
Estrella got her work featured at Black Moon Koven mostly through simply frequenting the shop on a regular basis to the point that she felt her work and the space shared a similar aura, she said. This was the first show Estrella’s collage art has ever appeared in, but said she looks forward to having many more pieces showcased in the near future.