1. Please tell us where you are from and how you got to where you are today?
I was born in Wuhan, China and lived there with my parents for 18 years. Wuhan is a big city located in middle eastern China. The humidity in the air is always high, so the weather is sweltering in the summer and extremely cold in the winter. I didn’t speak my hometown dialect nor did I live in the downtown, so most of the time, I felt I was an outsider.
Then I got accepted by the Central Academy of Fine Art, and moved to Beijing. That was the most crucial time of my life. I studied photography at that time, but I didn’t connect to this media very well. However, I met my best friends who are artists, designers, directors, and models. Together, we had the experience of being strongly impacted by art. With their encouragement, I started to paint after I graduated. Two years later I got accepted by the Le. Roy Hoffberger School of Painting at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore.
I moved to Baltimore in the summer of 2015 with two suitcases and started my life in the U.S. I met many talented people there, learned about painting, art, America and myself. After graduation, I moved to Brooklyn, New York. This time I had two 20 feet long Uhaul trucks of belongings. One was filled by my paintings.. I rented a small room as well as a studio space. At the busiest time, I was an assistant for two artists and I also interned for a gallery in the Lower East Side.
It’s been a year since I moved to New York. I’m still trying to make new friends and figure things out. However, the farther away I am from my hometown, the more I feel at home.
2. Please describe your work.
In my painting, I try to create a place where one layer allows another to escape its origin. This idea came to me while I was listening to a piano album, but I immediately realized its application to the visual arts. I am attracted to art that makes you doubt – to which your response and your feeling is never certain. In which sense need not follow the obligations of representation or of the subject, but rather improvises: adapting and extending personal history (the range of experience, value) as compelled by one’s proximity to art. For as it is with the way of the world, you are never certain of life’s meaning, but you have the freedom to form opinions from self-knowledge.
So I invite uncertainties, lacunae, discordances—contradictions, even—into my paintings. They form an open system. Their exuberant abstractions restore an invisible and immaterial perception of the world to appearance, unfolding the inevitable ambiguities of the contour of existence. These ambiguities sometimes adhere, and sometimes fracture. This exciting uncertainty is the heart of my painting, emerging dynamically in its layers, their structure of interplay and exclusion. These spatial relations are encountered as kinesthetic haunting, as a mixture of restraint, excessive, airy openness and almost claustrophobic compression—landscapes of suggestion.
3. How did you start making art & why do you make it?
Since I was four years old, I have been drawing. There wasn’t a turning point when I suddenly decided to make art. Instead, it has been a long process. The idea of art unfolded in my mind gradually. During this ongoing process, I have never stopped making images. My interpretation of what art is has constantly shifted, as well as what I need from art. It’s a process of building my categories and vocabulary which, in turn, shaped the world around me through my perception.
At the beginning, making drawings and paintings was just a spontaneous thing to do: recording memories, mixing colors, expressing myself. Then it became a way of thinking — What are surfaces? What are materials? What is perspective? What is art? And what do all of these have to do with the rest of the world? It gives me access to myself and to the world, moments in which my thoughts have their new body.
4. Would you please talk a little bit about your experiences as a Chinese artist living in the states? Why is it important for you and your work to be in the US?
I feel the distance is inescapably contingent. As a nomadic Chinese, shifting from country to country, observing the transition of behaviors, of opinions, and feedback of all sorts, I feel myself suspended. Suspended between cultures and forced to suspend judgment. Forced to become the outsider—indeed in China too, as always with my unpretty darker skin, and ever more, the more I Westernize—I must wait to conclude, watching instead, hanging in political suspense. But this waiting is Chinese too, for we have written the world’s longest history (which remains unended) in the emotional poetry of our beautiful language. This is a legacy from which I can never be truly free.
It is important because it doesn’t matter where the artist is coming from, what matters is where he or she is going. This is the freedom of being human. I am a female Chinese artist painting in America. So I am human. I am part of the human. And I do not know the destiny of the human. Still—what I paint is human being.
5. What is your creative process like?
Painting is a mind game. It’s not just an action of making images, it’s more about how my mind reacts with my instinct. It’s a negotiation between my knowledge and the unknown.
When I make the very first few marks on a white surface, I’m digging a hole, opening a window, building a wall inside a space. Then I make bridges to connect the holes, windows, and walls. However, they are not holes, windows or walls, they just have shared functions. It’s a game played by the shadows and lights. They are also a metaphor or a suggestion. It’s a moment right before their action.
Then I have this space, and the structure and the system. They are paused as images, but the action can be extended by the viewers’ imagination.
And this will be an open system.
6. Which current art world trends are you following?
I don’t follow a specific art trend. I follow whatever interests me, and art is all over the place.
7. What internal and external factors motivate your conceptual choices?
The dilemmas were born when I started to measure the distance between the world and myself. Because there is a question: what world? And what distance? The world is a technology of divergence, it is material and spirit, it is the diversity of apprehension. It is good and bad: a toxic joy. It overwhelms, dominates—unless we retreat outside, to view its beautiful traps.
8. What is the biggest challenge you face professionally?
The most challenging part is also the most exciting part for me. When I make paintings I see my limitations and by continuing to paint, I extend the boundaries. Since moving to New York, I now make smaller scale paintings (from 77”x 96” to 36”x 48”). When the scale changes, the capability of how much information the surface can contain changes too. I currently am trying to find the balance between my intensity and the smaller scale surfaces.
9. Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
I’m working on a group of colored pencil drawings, trying to read one book a week (currently Wittgenstein’s Mistress) and write something everyday (to practice English). I have been following the news a lot, thinking about what I can do, what images can do. Thinking about the structure of history and the world. I’ve also been listening to Olafur Eliasson’s and Timothy Morton’s lectures, and studying Bonnard (color) and Kandinsky (form).
10. What are you most proud of?
I’m proud that I’m still alive and able to create.
11. Where do you feel art is going?
Before answering this question, I think I need to figure out what’s the meaning of human beings living on the earth.
Art is a human activity which represents, reflects, and reveals the world. Where art is going depends on the position that humans locate themselves, their relationship with their mentality, politics, the environment, technology and so on.
12. What is the role of the artist in society?
Tarkovsky said one time in his interview “Artist would not exist if the world were perfect.” However, human beings tend to aim for perfection, and society holds the illusion that “tomorrow will be better.” I think the artist plays the role of negotiator between reality and appearance, both physically and spiritually.
13. What advice has influenced you?
“to express what one feels exactly as it is felt — clearly, if it is clear; obscurely, if obscure; confusedly, if confused.” ——- The Book of Disquiet , Fernando Pessoa, Penguin Classics, p.81
“The problem is not to make political films, but to make films politically.”
14. What’s the most ridiculous fact you know?
All the news about China since Thanksgiving 2017.
View more of Xiaofu Wang’s work here.