May 14 – June 30, 2021

Roll Up Project is pleased to present paintings by Rulin Ma. Ma’s paintings reflect on emotions, written language, and the intricacies of mark-making.

Cavity (2020) and Shifting Anatomy (2020) are displayed in the window on Harrison Street. These paintings are interpretations of emotions Ma felt during the pandemic, including uneasiness, stress, and emptiness. The abstract shapes in her compositions push up against each other, like organs nestled in the body, connected by lines that permeate the hard borders.

Ma says, “It is interesting to me that, on the one hand, interwoven threads can be so ordered, connected, strong and resilient; on the other hand, the twisted, tangled lines without a clue are unsettling and uncomfortable.” For example, the twisting pink and black lines in Cavity represent anxious feelings, like knots in the stomach. The soft golden glow of the right half of the canvas contrasts with the muted blues and blacks on the left, drawing a clear distinction between two worlds. And yet, the lines are able to permeate every part of the composition.

Elements of handwriting and calligraphy are also incorporated into Ma’s painting practice. Ma writes, “when writing Chinese characters, some strokes require rigidity and hard edge, and some require tenderness and fluidity.” These nuances appear in Shifting Anatomy as short and crisp blue lines in the upper right, and as a fluid and ribbonlike red marks in the lower half of the canvas.

Hollow (2020) is installed in the windows on Third Street. The painting features vibrant orange and yellow fields punctuated with gestural shapes in white, black, brown, and blue. Ma’s compositions are sometimes based on figurative elements, such as elements from a photograph, but the resulting paintings reflect more abstract qualities, such as emotional states and inner worlds. Ma’s intuitive gestures reveal the complexities of contemporary life and the overlapping layers of the human experience.

About the Artist

Rulin Ma is a painter living and working in Oakland. Born in Shanghai, Ma’s experience as a first-generation American immigrant inspires her artmaking. She presents the tensions, contradictions, confusion and reflection of rebuilding a life in a new country. Recent exhibitions include The Contemporary: The Globalization of Contemporary Art (online), Ordinary Things (CCA, 2019), Borders and Migration (CCA, 2020), and The Virgin Forest (CCA, 2020). She is a recipient of the 2020 Ralls Painting Scholarship and the 2020 Anderson Ranch Art Center Summer Workshop Scholarship. Ma received a BFA in painting and drawing from California College of the Arts.

See more of Rulin Ma’s work on her website and on Instagram.


Shifting Anatomy, 2020
acrylic, oil pastel on canvas
48 x 36 inches
photo courtesy of artist
Hollow, 2020
acrylic on canvas
48 x 36 inches
photo courtesy of artist


Cavity, 2020
acrylic, oil pastel, and rice paper on canvas
52 x 36 inches
photo courtesy of artist