Photo by Laura Marie Rivera: Queen Anne artist Moses Sun works on a piece of his art in his studio. Sun 's work is currently on display in a solo show at J. Rinehart Gallery, where there will be a meet and greet from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
Photo by Laura Marie Rivera: Queen Anne artist Moses Sun works on a piece of his art in his studio. Sun 's work is currently on display in a solo show at J. Rinehart Gallery, where there will be a meet and greet from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Sometimes it takes a lifetime to find one’s place as an artist. Moses Sun is a Black interdisciplinary artist, who lives in Queen Anne, fuses the ethos of hip-hop, jazz, Afro-futurism and his Southern childhood to create his work.

Sun grew up in North Carolina and has lived in Queen Anne for more than a decade. He studied art at University of North Carolina School of the Arts and the Art Institute of Chicago but spent the first part of his career doing corporate creative work.

In 2020, after a long hiatus from the corporate world, he emerged as a full-time working artist with a lot to say. Sun is currently showing his artwork in a solo show through this month at J. Rinehart Gallery.

Roots in activism

From a young age, Sun was politically active in all kinds of marches, including ERA, Vietnam protests, a woman’s right to choose and more. He participated in all Democratic politics from age 13-18. In college, he even had the opportunity to be a runner at the Democratic convention in Atlanta. Unfortunately, it conflicted with his arts studies, and he was forced to make a choice.

“I chose art because that’s what my heart told me,” he said.

Following graduation, Sun started showing his work at galleries in New York, Los Angeles and Canada but paid the bills doing corporate creative work with large companies. He said even though they seemed welcoming, he felt rejected because they were unable to create the diversity and inclusion that would make it possible for “me to be me and be sustained at an organization for a long time.” Ultimately, he realized that his corporate career, and making art on the side was not the way he wanted to live.

“I needed to do the opposite to make a happy life,” Sun said.

At that point, he took a break from the corporate life and focused on himself, diligently using the time to make art every day.

After spending so much time on his own, he felt compelled to do something in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd. As the nationwide protests grew, Seattle activists declared a two-block area as the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone on June 8, 2020. And just three days later, a group of artists came together as the Vivid Matter Collective and created an enduring street mural. Sun was instrumental in the artist response and was asked to be a part of the BLACK LIVES MATTER mural that occupied Pine Street. Being selected to design the “M” was significant because he felt like it was a fitting tribute to his father, who, “supported me unconditionally,” he said.

 

Fulltime artist

Sun has been making, showing and curating art ever since.

Lele Barnett, an art adviser who focuses on contemporary art including the digital realm, reached out to Sun after she saw his work on the BLACK LIVES MATTER mural.

She said she was “shocked that she had never seen his work before” and knew that he would be perfect for a commission for Facebook Open Arts, now known as Meta Open Arts. After working with him a few times, she says she’s even more impressed with him in every way.

“Digital, analog, experimental, improvisational: He’s a brilliant artist, and brilliant curator as well,” Barnett said.

 

Sharing a message

Sun’s particular style, which blends different processes and inspirations, lends itself to many collaborations and large-scale projects. Tan Nguyen, a Seattle artist who was born in Vietnam, met Sun when a mutual friend introduced them. Nguyen said he was drawn to Sun because he found him to be creative and hard-working. They were commissioned to do a mural for the Pylon Market, an upscale market in the International District that combines a restaurant, clothing store and gallery.

“We started as collaborators and we became friends,” Nguyen said.

Sun said the two very different artists soon bonded over their shared experience as non-white artists in Seattle. Nguyen said they chose the theme “chopsticks in a bundle are unbreakable” during their partnership because they believe that human beings, when separate, are easy to break, but when they unite together, “we are almost unbreakable.”

“That’s the message Moses Sun and I wanted to share,” Nguyen said.

When Sun first moved to the Pacific Northwest almost 20 years ago, he found it to be a good community overall but was surprised at how few people of color lived in the neighborhood. He said that strangers were welcome, but not necessarily invited to the party. Sun said that people in the Pacific Northwest are not as aware of their lack of diversity and inclusion.

“When was the last time you were with the other [different races and ethnicities],” he asked.

Still, he’s encouraged by the multiple languages and accents he hears while shopping at Trader Joe’s.

“I’m very grateful to be able to practice as an artist in Seattle where we are continually learning and meeting more new and interesting people — definitely moving Seattle in an exciting direction,” Sun said.

 

Current work

Judith Rinehart, Queen Anne resident and owner of J. Rinehart Gallery, began planning Sun’s solo show, 21 Chambers: A New Beginning, at her gallery over a year ago.

Rinehart said she’s proud of the work that Sun does because “he’s not afraid to put it out there and he creates work that really resonates with the community.”

The show, which opened Sept. 1, will be up until Sept. 28. Sun will be at an artist meet and greet from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the gallery, 319 Third Ave. S., Seattle.