Callan Porter-Romero is a mixed media artist and muralist, a flavor chemist, and an aspiring marathoner. She tells the stories of her multicultural community through her artwork, particularly her paintings of hands.
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“The way that I’ve approached art is about giving room for those stories and making people acknowledge that they exist.”
Callan is of Black, Japanese, and Mexican heritage, which she shares at the very top of her website. That multicultural background isn’t unusual in her hometown of Oakland, CA, but the area is changing, which in some ways has been detrimental to the community. As she explains, the “exchange of cultures is really critical and crucial to the community of Oakland. And so I put that out there as a way of reminding that people like me still exist in this community.”
Oakland has evolved because of the cultural exchanges there, and her artwork is about giving a voice to the voiceless by reflecting their narratives and making sure that their contributions are recognized.
“My philosophy is that there should be art everywhere.”
Callan has always been interested in art, but, she says, “my city has a history of gutting the arts programs. And so my experience with art, my relationship with artists, has been really limited. And so I’m really passionate about accessibility to art.”
She had time away from the chemistry lab during the first part of the pandemic, which allowed her to really think about what was important to her. She realized that she wanted to create public art, so she reached out to a non-profit, Three Thirty Three Arts, that coordinates with artists in the Bay area who paint murals for free.
“It’s a good reminder that the community is there and hungry for connection.”
Although municipalities often raise barriers to installing public art, the reaction from individuals is overwhelmingly positive. When Callan is painting her murals, people will come up and tell her, “We need this; we’ve always wanted a mural here.” Being a part of 333 has enabled her “to fulfill that dream and be more ingrained and a part of the community which is really, really important, particularly during the pandemic when everyone has been so far apart.”
“I think there’s a lot of stories you can tell from someone’s hands.”
Besides public art, Callan’s other current focus is on painting hands. “There’s a lot of hidden labor in people’s hands and you know what they’ve gone through in life, what they’ve been exposed to or how they feel in a situation,” she explains. “The reason why I think hands are beautiful is because you can show age through them. You can show frustration. You can show personality.”
“What’s important to me is that the hand is getting its say.”
She doesn’t try to make her hands realistic; it’s the story they tell that’s important. That story is often of untold labor.
The recycled materials that she uses are “a commentary on the fact that a lot of people who are doing these hidden labor jobs are being used as a replaceable product, where the humanity is stripped from people who are in those positions. And I use these types of materials to comment on that. And in a way, to show that despite the way that society views people like me or people who are in those circumstances, they’re still going about their lives.”
By using recycled materials, she also helps in a small way to cut down on waste. “I’m trying to use those materials that would go to landfill and incorporate them into my art,” she says, so she uses cardboard, packaging materials, and fabric from discarded clothing in her pieces.
“It allowed me to, in my head, go on an adventure and really feel like I could do whatever, I could be whoever.”
Callan played soccer competitively in high school and college, so she ran as part of that, but didn’t really start running for its own sake until she moved to Santa Cruz after graduating. She remembers that “running through the neighborhood felt like I had more control of my situation and I didn’t feel alone and it also allowed me to explore.” When she ran her first 10k, it was the first time that she’d run that far and she won first place in her age group! Now she’s working towards her next goal, completing a marathon.
“Don’t have any zero days.”
As runners, we can use running as an analogy for just about anything. Callan can compare it to creating art. If she tries something and isn’t satisfied, she can always paint over it. She believes that “doing it is what matters; it’s like, at least I tried something.” For her running, “it’s remembering that I might not do the distance that I had wanted to do that day, but at least I did something.”
She got that perspective from her brother, who told her, “Don’t have any zero days.” That doesn’t mean going out and doing something crazy; “it just means at least you tried something that day and you feel proud of yourself for at least doing one thing.”
“Don’t put pressure on yourself to feel like you need to be something or you need to be acting a certain way. As long as you’re thinking actively about wanting to connect, I think that’s a good first step.”
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“Thank you” to Callan. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the show.