XU YANG

@_XU.YANG_

 

She has been a constant and very early supporter of me and She Curates, and we have grown close over the last few months, so I was so delighted to speak to her about her INCREDIBLE work. We discuss cooking Korean food, living in London, inspirations, autobiographical works, first artworks, journeys and more. 

“I guess there’s a part of me that wants people to appreciate the daring, boldness and vulnerability in my work.”

  • INTERVIEW


     

     

    Tell us about your journey to become the artist you are now? Was it a decision, or an inevitability?

     

    Since my early teens I was anxious of being trapped into a life-loop. I grew up in a small town, since I was very little I always rebelled against the idea of have a ‘steady life’, get a permanent job and work there for the rest of your life. I always looked for what does life mean and what is it to be alive? My parents run a small company, they go to work at 7am and come back home at 7pm, my mum told me sometimes she feels trapped by it and she does not want me to repeat something that she is doing. I was very lucky to have a family to support me to explore my interests and to be different.

     

    What was the first work you ever produced?

     

    The first works I produced when I moved to London at 18, by myself, were photographs. A collage or tapestry of images. I was amazed by London, it was a culture shock, London is so dynamic, everywhere different cultures and people, that’s when I started thinking and exploring who I am, so I took thousands of photos of London, I guess by capturing the unfamiliar of London, I was trying to cope the loneliness and the fear inside of me.

     

    What 3 words would you use to describe your artwork?

     

    Fabulous. Fun. Fragile.

     

    What do you believe is integral to the work of an artist?

     

    Honesty. I do think good artists project all their emotions into their works, there is nothing in between the work and the artist, it’s like sharing a secret or deep down who you are through your practice, looking at a good artwork sometimes I feel it’s like peeping into the diary of the artist.

     

  • " Fabulous. Fun. Fragile."

    Can you tell us a bit about your process, and how your artwork comes to be?

     

    Sometimes I paint stuff from my performance and sometimes I would get new ideas to perform by looking through my drawings or paintings. I paint large scale for a couple of weeks, quite often I would do a lot of small oil sketches alongside to work out colours and the next step. When I want to explore new ideas, to distract myself or re-charge my brain I do performances or work with different materials. I also sketch a lot. A good motto could be always carry a sketchbook, just to capture any new ideas that might come in your head.

     

    What do you want your work to say? What memorable responses have you had to your work? And which artwork would you like people to remember you for?

     

    I guess there’s a part of me that wants people to appreciate the daring, boldness and vulnerability in my work. I love when people have had a wow reaction and told me they have never seen anything like it before. No matter whether they are positive or negative, a reaction is a compliment. My works always change a bit when there is something big happening in my life, for example in the summer of 2019 I was in a very fragile situation, I had almost no money and my partner due to unfortunate events was close to declaring bankruptcy. In the photos I took at the time I turned to expose my body a bit more, I guess I was trying to show my vulnerability or just simplify that I had nothing more to lose.

     

    Do you ever feel nervous about parting with your work? Do you see your work as autobiographical? As separate entities…?

     

    My works are like little mirrors reflecting different stages of my life, sometimes I look back to old works I can see myself as I was when I was making the work, sometimes I realise that a work I was actually speaking to a part of my history. Making art is making decisions, I think all our decisions are based on our feelings at the time and on past experiences, I see my works are part of my life, like eating, sleeping …those life essentials, for me, are 100% autobiographical. I don’t feel nervous about parting with works as long as I know where they are going. I am very precious about my works and picky about who’s having them, I like to know that they will be looked after, it’s like picking a good partner for your child in the old days.

     

    Who or what are your biggest influences, and how do you find them? How do you believe these come out in your work?

     

    I’ve found that it’s very easy for me to engage with historical artists. Artists I find myself continually returning to are Angelica Kauffman, Velazquez, Sargent, Bosch… I look at their compositions, how they mixed their paint and the marks. And also they really made me start looking beyond just the imagery and think about the narratives and the symbols behind the elements that I am putting together.

     

    What are your artist essentials, and where do you like to create the best? What is your studio like?

     

    Pen and paper. Sketch sketch and more sketching, you don’t have to be in the studio to be creative, when I have ideas I sketch them out, anywhere and anytime, I think my sketch book is probably the most creative part of my practice, but also the most private. My studio is very messy, it has textiles and paint tubes everywhere, but the special skill I developed is that I can always find where I left my stuff (most of the time).

     

    How do you believe has your practice changed over time? Has it evolved?

     

    Absolutely, as I’ve gotten older my work has undoubtedly changed. I think it evolves in a good way as I’m maturing with more life experience. The works are growing with me. For example, I have become more patient with the process of painting, I can take time with it and do it slowly. I spend more time just looking, looking at works that are in progress and looking at finished pieces, so this slowed down process has made me think more critically about my works.

     

    Looking ahead, what do you think could be your biggest challenge?

     

    To continue an artistic career is not the easiest thing in the world. Let’s face it, as a foreign new graduate, needing to make money to survive in the UK and have time to make works is not as beautiful as it seems.

     

    What do you for fun?

     

    I love food so cooking. Korean food is my recent obsession. I also like to visit the work of different architects, interior designers, John Nash and William Morris are my favourites, I would love to visit every place with their designs involved. Also shopping, you’ll find me at every London vintage fair and trolling through fabric shops. I have also travelled to other cities like Brighton and Oxford to look at antiques and vintage.

     

    What is next for you as an artist?

     

    I am looking for a studio in London at the moment, I am very grateful that I am doing stuff that I am really enjoying, so I would say just continue working.

     

    What would be your dream project? What has been the most rewarding project you’ve done?

     

    A lot of my works are inspired by some great master pieces, like the Rokeby Venus, The Swing, self-portraits by Labille-Guiard and so on… I would really love to show my works next to the works that inspired my creativity and some of my all time favourite artists. The most rewarding project I have done so far is my solo show ‘100 Carat Diamond’ in mid-march this year, it was the first exhibition that included my photographic works, paintings and other medias, I consider that was the exhibition that made me started thinking about my different practices as a whole and how different elements inter-link with each other.

     

    Favourite historical female artist?

     

    It’s hard to pick one, but Rachel Ruysch not only accomplished herself globally with her unique flower painting techniques, but she also taught her father and her sister how to paint. Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, as a female painter that was active in mid 18th century, she did not have an easy life, however she was the first female royal academician and the first female artists that had a studio in Louvre and taking in female students. I am not only admiring her skills of painting but also the fact that she was helping other female artists under her the best of her capacity.

     

    Favourite current practicing female artist?

     

    Rachel Ara, who explores tech and installations which is very rare for a female artist, she’s spoken about the resistants of she’s had as a female artist and as a woman working around technology, and the gender-led problems female artists are having in the contemporary art world. she has only used women to help to her to complete and install her works. Her works are visually and conceptually amazing, and she is an incredibly genuine person.

     

    Who should She Curates interview next?

     

    Too many good artists, but connect with Rachel Ara if you can, she would really be a great person to talk to, and her partner, Laura Hudson, who is a fabulous painter, curator and an amazing talker with a lot of interesting ideas and opinions with political and constructive thinking, and Victoria Cantons, you know that she is my partner but she is truly a remarkable person who has had so many lives before she committed to just make art. I think all of those artists are splendid and I believe that they would make great changes in the world and they deserve more notice.

     

    Is there anything else you wanted to say?

     

    Miss Universe 2019 Zozibini Tunzi said that we need to teach girls leadership, I cannot agree with her more. Leadership follows with confidence and independence, from my personal experiences in China and UK, it’s very hard for a lot of girls to develop these. It needs to come from family, education and society, of course we have a lot of great female leaders that are making changes but let’s have more.