occupation: visual artist
found at: New Britain Museum of American Art (New Britain)
From where do you hail and how did that upbringing influence your desire to become an artist?
My family is all from mainland China, but I was born in Taipei, Taiwan. I moved to the U.S. shortly before my third birthday. My family moved around a lot and growing up in the suburbs, no one I knew was an artist. It was something that people could become only once upon a time, like during the Renaissance. Plus, with parents who are immigrants, my family had more materialistic ideas of success, so becoming an artist never even occurred to me. However, in my last year of high school, I attended a magnet arts program where I met other students who were planning a career in the arts. It was a real eye-opener.
What was the most difficult aspect of your formal education as an artist? The most fulfilling?
As a classic overachiever, it was difficult to learn to get rid of the desire to be good. Because if you start thinking like that, the work is dead. I had to learn that it was more important to make something alive than to demonstrate skill. As for most fulfilling, graduate school — not undergraduate — really taught me how to think. I’ve always been quick, and I tended to rely on natural abilities but I was undisciplined in habits of the mind. Graduate school really taught me that art is a critical field of knowledge that requires rigor and discipline.
What influences your art, in which the subjects frequently appear as children and yet maintain a savage maturity?
I’m interested in what makes us human or inhuman. I’m pretty omnivorous in terms of absorbing the world of ideas: current events, history, linguistics, science, myths, literature, film, travel. I was a double major, literature and visual arts in undergraduate and I have an MS in art history as well as an MFA in studio art. I even listen to talk radio rather than music while I work, so I’m constantly feeding myself.
What role has being an Asian woman played in your life and how has it influenced you as an artist?
Until I was in junior high, I grew up in mostly white communities with few other people of color. At the same time, my parents remained largely unassimilated to American culture. For example, my mother, despite having lived in the U.S. for almost 30 years, never learned the language. I would say living in this gap between the two cultures, that being Chinese and American — at the same time somewhat outside of both cultures — has been the dominant shaper of my personality, the way I think and therefore my art. I think being a woman and my Asian heritage has saved me from being too cerebral, and that reflects in my work in terms of my comfort with issues of the body.
Discuss your most recent work, which continues the exploration of a fantasy world populated by starkly beautiful female creatures engaged in battle, often against themselves.
Actually, my most recent work has men in it! For the first time, in fact. I don’t quite understand it completely myself. Funny enough, I was at Women’s Studio Workshop, an artist residency in Rosendale, N.Y., so for six weeks I lived only among women. I found this wonderful book on carousel animals, and came across the Spooner Centaur. Apparently to honor military heroes from the Boer War, companies such as Spooner would carve their likenesses and create centaurs so that children could ride on their backs. However, the Boer War was a dark spot in British history as they created concentration camps where tens of thousands of women and children perished. I had this image in my mind when the Egyptian revolution broke out. My mind being associative, conflated these two events and out came these monoprints with centaurs, man-dogs and girls threatening to throw shoes.
What is the riskiest thing you‘ve ever done?
Becoming a full-time artist.
When was the time you were most scared?
I believe none of us will ever be as terrified as we felt when we were infants and young children.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
I hope it’s still to come, but for now, I would say simply having made this life for myself: a life totally committed and in which I am completely present.
What is your biggest regret?
I really don’t believe in regret but I do look back at some unkind things I have done in the past, in my youth, and feel quite ashamed of that person.
What sort of response are you hoping to provoke from those who view your art?
Oh, any response, as long as there is a strong, visceral response. Even negative. I don’t love to hear people criticizing my work, but I do think as long as people are not indifferent, I must be doing something right.