Artist of the Week: Yanyan Huang

Yanyan Huang was born in China, raised in America, and is currently living in Italy where she paints, makes objects, and writes. She earned her BFA from University of California, Los Angeles in 2012.


What materials do you use in your work and what is your process like? I work with Flashe, oil, and ink on canvas and paper. When space allows, I make foam sculptures. I recently bought a bunch of layout bond paper on sale and it’s wonderful. The bond paper is heavier than tracing paper, absorbant, but still nearly transparent. I’ll move from drawing on paper to painting and back again. Sometimes, I borrow elements from my drawings for my paintings or vice versa. I wish to work under the barely perceptible surface of things. Shapes hide in plain sight while lines take up residence as visual and gestural non sequiturs. I try to record my participation with time. Gestures build up, echo each other, and converse with each other. Fragments of mundane objects, the curve of a chair, meet with embedded muscle memory.

The composition reveals itself while gestures are taking root. It’s a collaborative process between my desires, my intuition, and my yearning toward my version of perfection. All these grapple for control over chaos and despair. Chaos looms in the corner, smugly aware that one or two missteps could throw the whole thing off. There is a struggle between wanting to participate and needing to rebel against my own predilection for perfection. For me, making objects is about injecting chaos at low doses into perfect forms, or capturing and rewriting moments in time.


What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on? Since my return to Tuscany in February, I’ve been creating a line of ceramic vases and plates. I arranged to glaze ceramics in an artisanal studio in Montelupo after wanting to imprint my work on a more dynamic and immediate medium. I’m also working on a line of printed silk dresses that strike a balance between fragility and whimsy. To be influential with a light touch is ideal. The prints are variations of my paintings printed onto silk viscose. I used the same printer that makes Roberto Cavalli’s fabrics. Italy and especially this region has a long tradition of artisanal craft, so I trusted they would have the highest quality of material. In fact, I feel very blessed that I have these resources at my fingertips.


How has your work developed within the past year? My work within the past year has become looser, and I’m allowing myself more room to explore. Since graduating, I have come to terms with the fact that I’m not yet an exhibiting artist and don’t have a gallery, and actually, I’m fine with that. It allows me enormous freedom, since I have no public to speak of or market value as of yet.

In this interim period, I am exploring media that I’ve always had an interest in, namely prefabricated objects and clothing. I created a line of dresses printed with my paintings because I couldn’t find a better print that resonates with me or a better material than weightless silk viscose. Contemporary fashion is unnecessarily layered and cumbersome, cheap, and mass produced. It thrives on subjugated desires and insecurities and runs on the labor of countless impoverished children. There is nothing special about fashion; it’s highly unethical and an endless waste of natural resources.

Part of my work is writing about art. Who better than artists to write about art? I contribute where I can, using my knowledge of art and average sentence formation skills. I write for Opening Ceremony‘s art blog and Pas Un Autre, and I maintain a website called Do Easy Art.


What kinds of things are influencing your work right now? Wherever I am, I soak up my immediate surroundings. Right now, the richness of Italian history, Tuscan beauty, and a deep feeling of nourishment are all influencing me. The sense of preciousness and taking pride in quality as well as the slowness and sweetness of time here have also influenced my work.

How has living in Florence affected your art practice? Living in Florence where there is no real art scene to speak of is a huge contrast to the scenes I’ve experienced in LA, NY, and Beijing. I find that I am able to concentrate better here and am not constantly being pulled down a million paths. Also, there is no social pressure and no dread of running into the same people at yet another opening. I guess I’ve become less despairing in my work, as I used to make foam sculptures about inertia and veiled pointlessness.


What do you want a viewer to walk away with after seeing your work? I would like a viewer to know that simplicity is oftentimes harder than something superficially complex. Compare a Bergman film to The Expendables. With a paucity of effects, the auteur can create something more essential and truthful than a movie with explosions, fast cuts, continuous orchestration, movie stars, and whatever else. Editing takes immense willpower and control. To paraphrase an ancient Chinese saying, “It might have taken me one minute to draw an apple, but I had to draw a thousand apples in order to draw this one.”


What is one of the bigger challenges you and other artists are struggling with these days and how do you see it developing? One of the biggest challenges I struggle with, and what I know friends of mine struggle with, is how we fit into the global art community if we don’t align with or wish to support the values that propagate such a community. Art school programs don’t mention the realities of capitalism; rather, they obfuscate them as if all an artist needed to do to become successful was to just make work. Schools blind their students to their inherent talent and deaden rather than awaken the senses. You can’t learn about art and ignore the market. You have to learn everything about the art world and see where your values and skills fit best. Art schools have a responsibility, which they shirk, to at least prepare students for the varied numbers of paths. Instead, they hang the dream of being the next Koons over their noses.

Art school, or maybe even art in general, is a cocoon where nobody will say what they really feel. Artists are discouraged from going to fairs so that they don’t get depressed or overwhelmed. I think fairs should be compulsory field trips! Get to Switzerland or Venice or Dusseldorf if you can, just so you have an idea of the sheer volume of art that exists and gauge your own taste. In addition to fairs, you should also visit foundations, private collections, collectors’ houses, museums, alternative spaces, artists’ studios – basically everything you can.

Museums are seen as venerable churches when they are more like cemeteries. I would like art professionals to examine more closely how patrons amass their wealth (how ethically or unethically), their motivations for donating for the “public benefit” (or tax write-off?), their motivations for founding an art school, where their interests lie (private or philanthropic?). Patrons of museums are no different than boards of large corporations; the practice being an interlocking directorate. The few people who sit on the boards of Chevron, JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, and moonlight as visiting professors at Ivies, are similar to those patrons who are on the boards of MOMA, the Met, LACMA, Tate, and so on and so forth. I’m not saying that people with the means and the power to drive culture are automatically bad, but we can’t just assume that their taste is “high taste” and that the rest of us savages should follow suit.

So in a way, I suppose we’re struggling with money and the contradictions it creates. On one hand, we would all love more institutional or private funding. On the other hand, we don’t want to look at who’s funding us and why, who’s teaching at schools and why, what they’re teaching, or why an MFA matters. We want to remain independent and ethical by going through channels of ethic-cleansing.

What are some artists you are interested in right now? I’m interested in the following artists right now: Becky KolsrudBea FremdermanMichael DoppFabian MartiDavid KitzKorakrit ArunanondchaiJ.Patrick Walsh IIIMichelle KimMiltos Manetas.