Untitled, oil on canvas, 100 X 80 cm
What are you working on in your studio right now?
My main studio for oil painting is in Zhongshan, China, and at the moment I am working on a large batch of canvasses in preparation for my first solo exhibition, which will be held at the artist village compound where my studio is located. The show is currently planned for Easter 2014. I spend half my time there, the other half in Hong Kong, where I have works on paper and an assortment of smaller paintings on board and smaller canvasses being worked on on a daily basis.
Can you describe your working routine?
My working routine is not really fixed according to any schedule, but when I am in Hong Kong, work begins from the moment I wake up in the morning and usually carries on, on and off, until I retire very late at night. The only thing that takes place at the same time every day is when I get out of bed, I have to do an ink drawing before doing anything else, such as brushing my teeth or eating. I spend a good part of the daytime at the library writing poetry and poring over art books, as well as photographing around town but with no fixed project or goal in mind. In the evenings after dinner I'm usually listening to music, looking at art online, and then drawing/painting until around 2 or 3 A.M. In Zhongshan the schedule is a bit more disciplined, as I don't do as much poetry or photography up there. I basically go into the studio in the mornings and paint until the early evening, pretty much every day of the week.
Can you describe your studio space and how, if at all, that affects your work?
My studio space in Zhongshan is a larger, proper studio set up so I have more freedom of movement when working there, can work on bigger pieces, and also since it is purely a work space where I do not live, it gets pretty messy as my painting process is quite physical. In Hong Kong I just work in my apartment's living room, where I still make a mess that I have to clean up, but due to the significantly smaller space I generally don't work on anything bigger than 30 X 22 inches (76 X 56 cm) there.
Untitled, acrylic on paper, 76 X 56 cm
Tell me about your process, where things begin, how they evolve etc.
My process is fairly intuitive without much attention paid to a larger conceptual framework or serial working manner at the moment. I began teaching myself to draw and paint from scratch since 2012, so it is still very early for me and I am just trying to see 'what the paint does,' as I believe Robert Ryman once said of his own beginnings as a painter. At the center of my practice is exploring the materiality of paint and struggling to yield a surface that gives a sense of space and structure, however contradictory, that reaches a state of form I can live with. As it is, I have gotten to a stage in the past few months where there is starting to be some consistency and integration from work to work, often with a landscape-like space or an archetypal suggestion of figures/figuration somewhere in the picture plane. I figure these basic painterly tropes are a good starting point for me to establish my visual vocabulary and also have a dialogue with the paintings of the past and present that I admire and learn from looking at.When I actually get to paint, there really isn't any methodical approach or system to what I do. A color may just come to mind at random, and I will begin putting that onto the surface, making gestures without any plan or expectation of what I am going to get out of it, but one mark responds to another, colors start piling up, getting scraped away, and built up again, and so on and so forth, and somewhere along the line I always reach a certain point where I can intuitively sense the general shape and structure of the image I need to work towards. Once I get to that point, it is just a matter of continuing to work the painting in that direction, and to clarify that very vague and fleeting but definitely there inkling of what the image would be. Sometimes I could just be making marks almost haphazardly and at a certain point I step back and realize I have a finished, satisfactory image that I have no idea how I managed to pull that one off. I'm just going with my gut at the moment. But often times, my gut also cancels itself out and I keep painting over an image with a totally different image, and work like this can go on for months before a single surface is resolved. But of course, it may not be resolved anymore a bit further down the road, so we will see! The key for me is to remain open and receptive to my creative instinct, but also to be able to let go at times and accept.
Top: Harbinger, ink on paper
Middle: Untitled, ink on paper
Below: Sparrow's Flight, ink and acrylic on paper
all 76 X 56 cm
What are you having the most trouble resolving?
I guess the thing I am having the biggest difficulty resolving right now is whether to work in a manner where I strive to make pleasing, beautiful images that other people can like and accept easily, therefore giving the impression that I am a "good" painter, whatever that means, and making that an end in itself, or to also be able to accept the parts of my creativity that occasionally yield up ugly, difficult pictures and seeing where those take me. I am still young and it is natural I suppose for someone at my age to want to be heard and understood in the world, to be liked and respected. But many of the painters I admire seem to have moved beyond this, and are able to really paint out of themselves without the need to impress in particular. I hope I can develop the courage to get to that stage someday, as I realize the habit of simply making well qualified, impressive work that does not really challenge some existing standards of form and aesthetics is also a symptom of much art out there that heavily caters to the marketplace. I must always keep in mind to prioritize constant movement and experimentation over the acquisition of virtuosity.
Untitled, oil on canvas, 100 X 80 cm
Do you experiment with different materials a lot or do you prefer to work within certain parameters?
What does the future hold for this work?
I really do not know what the future holds for my work, except that I'd like to keep making it and hope that more people will be able to see it, especially in the flesh. Facebook has been great as it has brought me out of isolation and put my images on public circulation for anyone to access and have a dialogue with, but the tactile nature of my work also requires a personal, physical presence to be really engaged with.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thank you Valerie for giving me the opportunity for this interview and for the chance that more people can find out about what I do. I'm still learning, so I am grateful to have this platform at this stage for me.
Paradise, oil on canvas, 220 X 170 cm