“Afterquake,” 2023, 16×20, acrylic on canvas paper • Courtesy

Already well-known as a photojournalist, creating a hybrid of fashion and visuals, pieces from C.C. Aramaki’s first painting showcase, The Nite Gardener, are now on display at Georgetown’s HOUSEWRIGHT Gallery. 

As she puts it, one must pay one’s dues in the photography industry, doing red carpet fashion, before one can do stories. But Aramaki prefers to photograph real people over models, catching them in natural poses. Having worked with a fashion photographer, she spent her early career traveling the globe, discovering her own vocabulary by wandering the streets in her free time. 

The result is a body of compelling personal photographs. Her paintings, on the other hand, are equally compelling yet entirely different. 

Originally from Seattle, C.C. Aramaki attended New York University, with encouragement from her parents, where she earned a degree in multimedia studies. In 2005, she moved to Southern California to freelance for publications including the Los Angeles Times. She also earned a master’s degree in light and color theory from The Brooks Institute. 

Aramaki works on her paintings entirely at night with a head lantern. Initially, this method helped her insomnia. She uses found household materials to apply the paint: cardboard, spatula, razor blades, pine branches, brooms, sponges, and credit cards. Never paint brushes. 

Working on either wood panel or canvas, she purposefully does not think too far ahead. Instead, she is immersed in simply painting. Paintings are a conversation, she explained, either from a dream, with her family, with her friends, or with herself. 

Her first painting was an accident. She spilled some white paint on a board in the middle of the night, and started pushing it around, then added black with a broom. The result is startling. An abstract painting that stands on its own as a coherent statement. There is no reference to other artists or techniques. But the painting works.

What is most surprising about Aramaki is that she has many different “styles,” if they can be called that. She works with blocky shapes painted with credit cards, fuzzy shapes made using pine branches, along with spattered shapes, spidery lines, and geometric shapes. Shadows that create bold geometric shapes, or even road intersections remembered from a childhood game her father played with her and her siblings as children en route to visit an elder, serve as inspiration for work displayed in The Night Gardener. 

“The Nite Gardener,” 2017, 48 x 96, housepaint on panel • Courtesy

Her grandparents were farmers in Bellevue, incarcerated during World War II, while her uncles were born at camp. She spoke to me of the disconnect between successive generations who were told to behave perfectly, so there would be no reason to be forced back to camp. 

“Suffering in the silence of perfection,” she called it. Any Japanese influence is unconscious, but somehow still comes out, she said.  

Often her paintings include red and orange as a major component. One painting was created after an argument with a friend, represented by the stark competition of black and orange, but in the end, the colors join and blend. She shared that she hides references to her siblings in every painting in some way, large or small. 

Even as we, the viewer, experience her work as abstract, we can somehow sense that there are powerful emotions, underlying stories, and conversations found in each piece. 

“They represent the conversations in my mind that keep me up at night,” she said. “They represent my heartaches and my hope for the people I love.”

Though C.C. Aramaki is known as a remarkable photojournalist who tells stories through her powerful images, she does not seek to be a famous artist or to compete in the traditions of the art world, such as developing a single trademark style. 

Painting is simply a midnight outlet. That she pulls off such compelling work is a testament to her intensity and her innate aesthetic sensibilities. 

Although her formal exhibition, curated by Rita Brogham, is no longer on view, many of her paintings remain on display at HOUSEWRIGHT, a gallery and furniture showroom which integrates furniture with striking sculpture and paintings.

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