"Flourish Together," a blue mural with yellow, white, orange, and green flourishes by Moses Sun adorns the exterior of the Columbia City Theater building

The Art of Moses Sun Reflects Seattle’s Diaspora, Cultures, and Jazz

by Mark Van Streefkerk

It’s been almost three months since Moses Sun finished his mural “Flourish Together” on the south-facing exterior wall of The Columbia City Theater. The ground-to-roof-sized mural is made up of floral designs in gold, green, and light blue, set against an indigo background, with two abstract hands clasped together in the middle. It wasn’t easy working on an outside mural during the rainy months. The process officially started on Dec. 16, with Sun and his team patiently on call, showing up to paint as the weather permitted. Finished in early January, “Flourish Together” pays homage to a space where cross-cultural connections thrive. Since then, Sun has been hard at work, completing another mural for Starbucks in January and sharing dynamic artworks fused with jazz and hip hop on Instagram, and he’ll be part of a Vivid Matter Collective show debuting this week at Vermillion Art Gallery & Bar. Though his next projects are under wraps, expect to see much more from Sun in the coming months. 

A notable theme of Sun’s work is the expression of the people and environment the art lives in. For “Flourish Together,” the rich indigo foundation was chosen as a color that honors and celebrates the different diasporas and cultures of Columbia City. “Pacific Northwest florals, the electric flower, floral imagery bring together nature and music into dance and colors,” Sun explained. “There’s abstract hands that come together at the center of the piece that features them coming together in a clasp, embrace, a sort of acceptance, a fluid representation of community.” 

Last summer, Sun was one of three artists to be selected by Amazon Care to paint a mural in Seattle. He chose Columbia City because it represented an intersection of different cultures and the theater itself because of its history and inspiring silhouette. “I just wanted something that would really activate the building and at the same time pay homage to it and be respectful to the brick and the facade.” 

The Columbia City Theater was built in 1920, originally as a movie theater. Over the last century, the Rainier Valley venue has been home to live music, comedy shows, burlesque, and other performances. Read more about the historic venue, including rumors of its many uses, here

Last June, Sun was one of the 16 BIPOC artists, known as the Vivid Matter Collective, who designed and painted the Black Lives Matter Mural at CHOP.The mural came together “within a 24–36 hour period,” Sun remembers. Getting a DM from Takiyah Ward offering a letter in the mural, Sun quickly said yes, choosing the letter M. “That was really symbolic for paying homage to my dad because his first name is Moses. He was an activist and so was my grandfather. There’s a tradition of activism in my family that I knew was there, but even more was uncovered after I worked on the Black Lives Matter mural with everyone,” Sun said. 

Moses Sun paints his mural “Flourish Together” on the exterior of the Columbia City Theater
Moses Sun has created several other public murals this year, including the M in Capitol Hill’s Black Lives Matter mural, “We Stand With Black Lives Matter” for the Wing Luke Museum, and “Chopsticks In A Bundle Are Unbreakable” for the Pylon Market. (Photo: Mark Van Streefkerk)

In August, Sun painted the “We Stand With Black Lives Matter” mural on the Wing Luke Museum, a work that highlights the solidarity between Black and Asian American justice movements. Sun collaborated with artist Tân Nguyễn in September to paint “Chopsticks In A Bundle Are Unbreakable” on the Pylon Market in Chinatown. The mural was another ode to diaspora, to Black and Asian American solidarity, and a nod to Sun’s dad, who served in the Vietnam war as a medic. 

After “Flourish Together,” Sun jumped right into a piece commissioned by the Starbucks Art Program for the company’s Capitol Hill location on East Olive Way. “I sat down with the partners of the store and talked to them about what it meant to work there, their feelings about the neighborhood and their customers,” Sun said. “We talked for an hour or so. I talked to the whole team. I took notes.” 

For “Confluence of Cultures,” he worked in a corner of the cafe for about a week, immersed in the sounds and activity of the bustling, and socially distanced, neighborhood hub. After it was finished, the work was installed on the exterior of the building. The viewer’s eye is drawn into the green, purple, red, blue, and white flourishes, the shapes and lines dancing together. 

Sun’s Instagram has been a trove of the artist’s new explorations, drawing on his family history as well as current events, fused with music from jazz and hip hop greats like Miles Davis, Max Roach, and Eric B. & Rakim. Using programs like Procreate and Splice, Sun creates art that moves dynamically with the music, adding shape and color to sound. “It’s my way of collaborating with the masters of jazz and different musicians I’d like to collaborate with,” he said. 

Although music licensing means the art will only exist on Instagram, Sun is eager to pursue collaborations with musicians in real time. “What I am interested in is working with jazz musicians, working with live musicians to create some work. That would be really awesome.” 

Catch Sun’s work along with art from other members of the Vivid Matter Collective in “A King’s Path,” curated by Kimisha Turner, debuting at Vermillion on April 1.

Head over to Sun’s website for prints, original artwork, and more.

Mark Van Streefkerk is a South Seattle-based journalist, freelance writer, and the Emerald’s Arts, Culture, & Community editor. He often writes about restaurants, LGBTQ+ topics, and more. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter at @VanStreefkerk.

Featured Image: Moses Sun’s “Flourish Together” is a tribute to Columbia City’s cultural interconnectedness, activating a space central to the arts and history of the neighborhood. (Photo: Moses Sun)

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