ART IS... Xee Reiter

Xee Reiter began her infatuation with art in grade school and it has since remained an intrinsic part of her creative life. Her eclectic style ranges from lettering and calligraphy to line illustrations and painting, using various mediums. As a first generation Hmong American, her cultural roots can be found in some of her work.

AIRED: May 07, 2019 | 0:05:49

(cheerful, upbeat music)

- When I first moved here,

I didn't have a sense of community

because I didn't have family here

and when I discovered Hmongtown,

I was there three or four times a week

because the food felt like home to me.

I love just looking at all their things,

all, like their collection of fabric,

just like the intricate way

that they would make the traditional clothes

that you wouldn't even start to fathom.

Two years ago, I started a little journalism,

like an illustrated journalism project

where I would go and just sit there

and illustrate like a Hmong chef or a seamstress

or someone who's cooking at a food vendor.

Just started compiling these things

and you know, eventually have conversations

with them to kind of get their story on

hey, you know, do you love what you do

and why do you do what you do?

My name is Xee Reiter.

I am a visual artist.

I am Hmong American, first generation.

I work with watercolor,

pen and ink, acrylic, oil,

I've done polymer clay, embroidery,

all over the board, I do a little of everything.

So this is just kind of a random sketchbook that I have.

I always like to default to faces

and this is influenced by Hmong traditional clothing

which is the sash instead of like the whole outfit.

The earliest memory of drawing

was when I was in kindergarten.

My favorite subject to illustrate

would always be people 'cause I was always so curious,

I was always that introverted kid in the corner

while everyone's off playing.

This is of Hmong women, you can tell.

(Xee giggling)

Just by her facial features.

Six or seven years ago, I decided

to focus entirely on just Asian women faces

and, you know, what it means to be Asian American,

what does it mean to go back to your roots

and incorporate some of those things into your work?

You know, once I stopped thinking

about who my audience is gonna be,

I started drawing and creating more visceral work

that is actually meaningful to me as an artist.

And sometimes when I read books,

I like to sketch out what I think

the characters look like 'cause I love reading too.

And a lot of these images are just from my mind,

versus using a reference.

I like to capture expressions, facial,

especially when I'm doing portraits.

I was heavily influenced by MAD Magazine

(Xee laughing) as a kid, and I still am.

I just love all the different styles

and you know, I feel like

when I navigate through the landscape of art,

I'm a nomad, I don't stay in one place for too long.

I don't wanna become complacent.

So one day, I'll be drawing cartoons and caricatures.

The next day, I'm drawing fashion renderings

and focusing in on textiles and design.

I'm kind of all over the board,

we really don't know what Hmong art is, you know?

I mean, some people would define it by the embroidery,

some would say oh, if it doesn't have anything to do

with Hmong traditionally, then it's not Hmong.

And so I try to define that a little bit

by saying hey, you know what, I am Hmong

and the kind of art I make is Hmong

because that's who I am.

I dream a lot and I try to create.

What if I can just pretend like I can make my own cookbook?

And so this one I dedicated to Hmong cooking

but I entitled it, Noj Qab Nyob Zoo

which is the way that we greet each other

and it translates to, eat good, live well.

I mean, you draw what you know

and it becomes who you are too,

and so, you know, it goes along

with the chicken and the egg, like which came first?

Am I creating my art based on what I love

or is it because I love it and that I'm illustrating it?

I even put a discretion here.

It says, warning: explicit content

because it involves how to process the chicken.

We have chickens, we garden.

Just recently I started researching herbs

and, you know, the Hmong herbs

that I would get from Hmongtown

that I would plant in my garden

and I grew up with these herbs

but I've never known the proper name.

This one is called gandia

and it turns your broth pinkish

but that's why you don't wanna throw too many in.

But I do illustrate a lot of food,

you know, just whatever I feel like.

(Xee laughing) But I would say,

it is heavily influenced

on the things that are familiar to me.

(cheery, upbeat music)

The biggest project I've ever worked on

was a collaborative mural located

on Fourth and Jackson in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The subjects that we painted were based on Hmong influences

and we picked a symbol that was meaningful to us.

And so I picked the bee and I picked opium flowers.

There's a gift of being able to

illustrate your thoughts and your feelings.

I'd like to think that people can,

you know, look at my art and try to understand

the person that I am or accept that

that's just me, that's a part of me

and there's really no explaining.

(Xee laughing) You know?

(upbeat, inspirational music)


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