ONCE UPON A TIME
Living Her Dream Playing with Paint
Interviewed by Tamma Hicks, STEAM Magazine
STEAM When did you begin practicing your art and how did you learn?
WL I have always been drawing, since I was maybe 5 years old. My pencil drawings were everywhere, and after I started elementary school; sometimes I got in trouble of drawing on homework sheets or textbooks. "Being an artist" has been my biggest dream as a student, but when the time came to apply for college, I had to make a decision between applying to the art academy or the engineering academy… Unfortunately, I followed the "safer path" and chose "the practical way of learning and living", becoming an engineering student. However, art never really left my life: after I graduated, I quickly became a journalist in a fashion newspaper (the places an engineering degree can take you to…uh), then worked as a reporter and editor for several years. In 2006, when I was about to hit my 40th, I realized, that this was it: I couldn't wait anymore, the dream of dedicating my life to fine arts had to start or it'd be too late. I experimented with free form abstract art for a while, and 4 years later, I found that female figurative art is where I have the most to expression and contributes. My sketching foundation helped me a lot to grasp the figure form, but it took me several months to get used to how to apply the oil paints, and being able to use it as the way I wanted.
STEAM Which artists have most influenced your work, and who are your favorite artists?
WL By the time I started to paint, I spent my time studying a lot of painting works, from the old masters to the emerging artists of all sorts, trying to understand and absorb the essentials of oil painting. After this phase, I studied several Chinese artists (both famous and emerging) whose work were more contemporary, more "expressive of the modern society", and those artists actually deeply influenced me and helped me refine my techniques and vision. Their names are: Xin Dongwang, Xia Junna, and Li Shuang. My favorite artist is Xin Dongwang (he is a bit like Lucian Freud, bold paints, crude style), although my style is far from his, but every time I look at his pairings, I gaze, I feel that I can see through the figure's soul, his/her whole life. I think this is the true power of art.
STEAM I love your portraits and abstracts, but have you stepped outside of that comfort and tackled other styles or mediums? If so, what? If not, why?
WL Thank you. There are so many forms of art I love, but life is short; right now I am still refining my style and even though I have experimented with several variations (acrylic, oil, abstract, figurative, etc.), I now really want to focus on what provides me the opportunity to express myself the most. I tried to paint a couple landscapes and still-life in oil, and a bird as you know, for fun mostly. I found that figure and abstract are still my favorite forms of art, and the most expressive, at least for me--funny though how, for me, these two appear on the opposite in terms of using paints; one feels so "restrained" on how to apply paint, while the other is so free – but I love them both equally. Ultimately though, I realized that painting for me is not only about the fun and pleasure of playing with paints, the truth is that I fell in love this magic that through applying the paints I could create a scene that speaks to me, and digging out the little universe within my heart and soul, depicting my innermost emotions and thoughts.
STEAM Describe your creative process. Do you start with images or ideas? What tools do you use in your work?
WL I start with images. I have stored up a lot of photos taken from my models and as well as photos collected from Chinese stock photos sites, and all of these can be the starting point of my creation. Sometimes I use part of the body or cloth from one image, and then I use the hair style or background from another, so one painting could be a combination of 4 or 5 photo sources, but for the figure's face, I always create one from my imagination. I do use Photoshop to render the images if I feel like to get a sense of the final result first, but sometimes I do just paint directly on the canvas. Nevertheless, I will always find an emotion, a mood that I would like to evoke, and I work on the face very carefully, make it my own special kind, a face that I feel the most close to me. Maybe subconsciously I am making it a reflection of myself on the canvas, that it is myself after all, like many viewers have commented.
STEAM Does inspiration come to you or do you actively seek it? If so, how?
WL I do constantly seek inspiration, but I found that when I start a new painting, some ideas would come out naturally from the feel of the structure, the paint tones, or the position of the figure. I would suddenly feel the urge to work it onto that specific direction or expression.
STEAM I know you travel quite a lot and sometimes paint during these trips’ what do you do with those paintings? Do you bring them back with you?
WL I mainly travel to China and France because my family members are in these two countries, when I stay longer than 2 weeks, I have to paint, otherwise I would feel missing it too much. I try paint very small pieces though, in order to bring back.
STEAM Is there one piece that is special to you, or that you particularly enjoyed creating?
WL Yes, "Lady in Blue" is very special to me, because it was the first figure painting that I completed and then I felt: wow, I found myself in it. It is a brownish toned 36 inch square painting--a very modern style Asian girl with an eerie touch… very special and my husband's favorite! The subject is wearing a dark blue shoulder-less evening dress, with messy twirling up strange hair style, sitting next to a little typical Chinese designed wood table, and there is an Amaryllis flower pot on top of it. The girl is leaning to the side of the table, gazing towards the viewer, with an a bit odd position, feels like she is being pulled by the table and flower pot. I created the face, and worked on the expression very hard, just trying to let her come alive, and that being able to speak to the viewer of this obvious contrary of modern attitude and heavy traditional bond behind her. I realized this is a painting naturally came within my inner self--having grown up in such an environment carried with both heavy tradition and heavy politics, and I sort of hated and escaped from it, and found myself freedom and a modern life style, physically and spiritually. But on the other hand, I think tradition has its glory, and it profoundly enriches us in many ways. I am molded by my childhood background, and I am aware of it, I know that I constantly fight on my traditional baggage deep down, but at the same time I still treasure it, and accept this conflict. So this painting is very special to me, because it started me to engage my strong spirit in art.
STEAM A while ago you did a project on your Facebook page that I thought was very clever! How did you come up with the idea? The project was a picture of a bird and you asked your friends to paint it and send you a picture of their work, you also painted it and showed everyone.
WL Oh yes, that was a really fun project. As a self-taught painter, I did not have the chance to study and practice with others, so the social media was a great help for me to get that kind of communication going on, and I love it. I saw this colorful bird image on the web, suddenly had an urge to paint a bird for the first time in my life, and wanted to paint with others with this same subject. For me, I wouldn't just paint it the way it is, I wanted to do my usual way--to combine some elements and make it into something special, therefore it will show a certain level of emotion or story like my other paintings. So I paint a falling leaf on top of the bird's head, indicating the loneliness of every creature in nature. While I did this, all my painter friends on Facebook did their own version of this bird painting in all different ways and styles. I was thrilled to see those interpretations with one subject, and I think this is one of the most important points of making art.
STEAM Where is your work being exhibited?
WL My work is being exhibited on a regular basis at The Misfit Gallery in the Bishop Art District in Dallas. At the same time I often participate in local expositions and shows.
STEAM If there is anything I have forgotten or that you would like to talk about, please do!
WL I just feel so fortunate to be able to create art every day, so grateful to life in general that allows me to finally live in my dream.
To see more of Weli’s art: wenliart.com