Storytelling with art: Pieces can pack an emotional punch

“Prison Free” was purchased on the street in downtown Chicago from a local artist.
Lei Tung/Special to the Town Crier


"Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand - as if it were necessary to understand - when it is simply necessary to love."

- Claude Monet


In interior design, art is often treated as an afterthought. Long after the paint has dried and all of the furniture has been arranged, we start thinking about the art.

But art does matter. It is so much more than simple decoration. To me, art has emotional power. It personalizes a home. Often, a piece of art is a great place to start when decorating a room.

I met my dear friend Lei Tung several years ago when he was a client. Lei works in high-tech but loves art, philosophy and travel and writes an art blog.

Lei has taught me so much about the many forms of art and framing over the years. Every time I walk into his home, I lose myself in the stories he shares about the artwork he has acquired.

On my last visit, one piece stood out. The piece was the figure of a man with his mouth agape and his hands up in the air, showing possibly either elation or the expectation of arrest - and the enigmatic words "Prison Free" above it. I asked Lei for the backstory.

He met an artist in downtown Chicago who had approximately a dozen paintings leaning against the railing of a subway entrance.  One of the paintings, titled "Prison Free," compelled Lei to stop and talk with him.

None of the paintings showed the polish of a trained artist, and there was no clear subject or style connecting them.

However, as the two talked about growing up in a tough neighborhood and how to work toward a better life when you have few role models to illuminate the path, Lei came to see how the man’s paintings were the expression of ideas, influences and inspirations he had collected over time.

"To me, it is the real-life story and quest of the artist - even the little amount that can be gleaned in 20 minutes of a heartfelt conversation on a busy street in downtown Chicago - that gives this piece purpose," Lei said.

When clients of my interior design business are looking for pieces to place on their walls, we pull from their personal photos and objects, an amalgamation of their travels, their lives.

We have found beautiful photos to enlarge and frame in a series that clients might have passed over. We have framed a napkin or menu from a restaurant with special meaning, a key to a lock left on a Paris bridge during a couple’s first romantic trip, and coins given as a gift to a doctor for his exceptional care.

These treasured objects summon memories or feelings, and tell such a beautiful story in their homes. Art doesn’t have to be expensive or even classically beautiful, it just has to speak to you. Surround yourself with pieces that tell a story.

Celeste Randolph is an interior designer based in Los Altos. For more information, visit

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