When I met Yijun Ge, who goes by Sookie, an homage to “True Blood”’s Sookie Stackhouse, she wasn’t painting a 90-by-55-inch canvas set to showcase at Midway Gallery. She was sitting down on Mission Street near 24th, giving people free stress tests and selling books from the church of Scientology while wearing black-and-white checkered pants and a red Van Cleef and Arpels Alhambra pendant.
Ge joined the church part-time after completing a stress test herself to learn more about Dianetics. She comes to the Mission every so often with other believers.
“I’m actually an artist,” she said to me with a soft smile. “You can ask me questions after I ask you some first.”
After I finished maxing out the stress meter, Ge opened up about her journey as a painter in San Francisco.
Since she was nine, Ge has been an artist; first a sculptor, and then a painter. Born in Xiangyang, in the northern Hubei province of China, she attended a private art studio program at 10 and has not stopped painting since.
“It’s a part of my heart and soul,” she said while showing me a screenshot of a portrait she painted. Ge paints portraits of models using different styles she learned during her Master’s program at the Academy of Art University. She cites Picasso and Rembrandt as major inspirations.
“They are my absolute favorites. Picasso for his cubism and Rembrandt for his lighting,” she said.
Ge moved to San Francisco four years ago for school. It was her first time in the United States. “I like how free you can be here; you can do whatever you want,” said Ge. “If you want to draw on a wall or building, you can do that.”
Ge’s paintings include everything from portraits to surrealist imaginings.
She also teaches a weekly Paint and Sip class in her studio, hoping people will “transcend” from reality to an imaginative world and become rejuvenated from their painting experience. She also teaches at the International Art Museum of America at 1023 Market St.
“I want people to understand me from my paintings,” she said. “And I want to provide that same opportunity for others.”