A few weeks ago, I saw cellist Jeffrey Zeigler perform a program titled The Sound of Science. For each of the eight pieces, each composer worked with or was inspired by a particular scientist. It was an extraordinary evening, an excursion into the concepts of exploration and discovery in science as well as music.

Science is an abiding interest of mine. Anatomy, of course, is an integral part of dealing with the figure, one of my main artistic concerns. This fascination also accounts for the employment of x-rays and other medical imaging, allowing me a broader figurative palette from which to draw.

Going outward instead of inward, space exploration has captivated me since I was very young. I’ve read literally dozens of books on the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo missions, plus many astronaut biographies and autobiographies. Although I have referenced the space race in a straightforward manner, as in the mixed media construction Giant, a tribute to Neil Armstrong, its affect on my work is generally more oblique. The photos of the moon taken by the Apollo astronauts are haunting and beautiful, and I have often tried to capture that feeling.

My vocabulary doesn’t come only from art. Ideas from other disciplines contribute to my overall perspective, strengthening or expanding those views already in place. The endeavor to see previously overlooked connections is something shared by artists and scientists.

“Feed your head.” – Grace Slick

A painting by Corey Okada and Laureen Landau
Corey Okada and Laureen Landau: Examination of a Dream (2013). Mixed media on paper, 27″ x 37″. SOLD.

My piece, Examination of a Dream, recently sold at the 38th Annual KVIE Art Auction. Actually, the piece isn’t entirely mine; part of it was done by the late Laureen Landau, a friend and local (art) hero.

I am not, by nature, a collaboratively-minded artist; however, I couldn’t pass on the opportunity when, for a show titled The Last Collaboration of Laureen Landau, I was given two abstract/non-objective grounds – unfinished work from Laureen’s studio – to employ in any manner I wished. For this piece, I re-worked the ground and added the lamp; the basic layout, including the color grid, is Laureen’s.

Although this isn’t a true collaboration, in that we never actually worked together, I believe I created a cohesive painting in which both our hands, both our sensibilities, are evident.

Laureen was a thoughtful and elegant conversationalist, and we often talked about art. I never sat in on any of her classes, but judging from those interactions, I am sure she was an exceptional teacher. I miss those times we shared, as I miss all those paintings she never had the chance to complete. I hope I did her proud.

Corey Okada visits the Warhol exhibit at SFMOMA
At Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again, SFMOMA (2019).

This past summer, I twice saw Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again at the SFMOMA. Despite the negative and sometimes downright nasty press Warhol still sometimes receives, the repercussions from his work continue to run rampant through contemporary art, over 30 years after his death in 1987.

Roy Lichtenstein once said that, upon seeing Warhol’s silkscreen paintings in the early 1960s, he felt very old-fashioned. This from a guy whose work was so aggressively avant that Life Magazine once asked “Is He the Worst Artist in the U.S.?” Even now, Warhol’s oeuvre makes still-wet paintings by Young Turks seem old-fashioned. 

Warhol has been a favorite of mine since I was a teenager, and although it may not be readily apparent, he and other Pop artists have had a big impact on how I approach my own work. I admire his sharp eye and conceptually-minded bent. He also remained artistically adventurous until the end, when he produced a series of self-portraits which I consider to be among the most powerful ever made. We haven’t seen the last of his wide-reaching influence – not only on art, but on culture in general.

“The mystery was gone but the amazement was just starting.” – Andy Warhol