Briefly describe the work that you do.
Woodcuts and ink drawings, often of a grandiose scale. Animate and inanimate objects grafted onto one another, violent, yet intimate, suspended in moments of tension.
At what point in your life did you decide to become an artist?
Somewhere around the age of 3. My desires became foggier between the ages of 11 and 18, and have vacillated between clarity and uncertainty since then. At this point in my life, I’m pretty sure that three year olds have already got it figured out. The challenge is not letting the noise of growing up distract us along the journey.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I grew up in a Podunk town in Kansas to parents who were as different as night and day and who both came from family backgrounds with richly brutal histories. My dad was Chinese and grew up during the Cultural Revolution and Mao’s reign. My mom’s family was from Nationalist Taiwan. For the purpose of this questionnaire, I will name three key influences that have shaped my life. One, I grew up raising all sorts of animals, strays and rescues and rejects. Two, a story of perspective my dad emphasized throughout my upbringing: “Don’t be a frog in a well, who looks up at the sky and says, ‘Who could love the sky, when its kingdom is so small, and mine is so vast and large?’” Three, my dad’s death, a hard lesson of keeping vs. loss, and a reminder for me to stay focused on the things that truly matter.
What types of conceptual concerns are present in your work? How do those relate to the specific process(es) or media you use?
My work focuses on the interdependence of preservation and change. Stories and objects act as anchor points in our families, friendships, and relationships. The desire to anchor ourselves in familiarity contrasts with the need to grow amidst inevitably changing surroundings. At the same time, a grounded sense of identity enables further growth, by creating opportunities to connect with others and change along with our environment. There is a lineage that runs through my work. The drawings are reminiscent of old fable illustrations, and there’s something permanent and decisive about putting things in ink and carving pieces out, forever. Woodcut is especially important, because whereas most creative processes are additive, like paint, woodcut requires that pieces be cut out to make a record.
We once heard Chuck Close say he did not believe in being inspired, rather in working hard everyday. What motivates you in your studio practice?
I’ve often thought of two artist stigmas. One, that creative pursuits are out of love, not financial stability, and two, that great work only comes from great suffering. I’ve always been unsettled by these stigmas, and in fact find them harmful and limiting. The first devalues the artist and overlooks the reality that a creative person still needs to eat. The second gives too much credit to the suffering and not enough to how the artist as a person chooses to respond to suffering. So a big motivator for me is the desire to prove that it is possible to balance personal wellbeing and career success with creative pursuits and accomplishments. I want every creative person to believe that it is possible to thrive instead of starve, and to not be afraid to make practical decisions that don’t “match” with the ideals of how artists are “supposed” to live.
What artists living or non-living influence your work?
Visual artists: Albrecht Durer, Art Spiegelman, Francis Barlow, Julie Chen, Swoon, Winsor McCay
Artists by philosophy: Bruce Lee, Norton Juster, Steve Jobs
When you are not making art what types of activities and interests do you engage in?
I currently work in the printing industry, promoting Lean Manufacturing. I’m fascinated with the Lean mindset as a way to create a work culture that values continuous improvement, respect, and lifelong education.
I’m obsessed with business practices and the ever-evolving role of technology. I’m on a constant hunt for new tools to work and live smarter and free up human time to do better things.
Better things to do with human time include: being outside as much as possible, preparing delicious food such as fruit pies and various curries, hosting potlucks, teaching and leading workshops, jumping in the lake in January, and organizing a wide gamut of events such as pillow fort and box fort parties
At her core, Jenie Gao is an artist, a storyteller, and a teacher. As an artist, she approaches her artwork as a history in the making, aligning minute details with an overarching philosophy and purpose. Through her specialties of woodcut and ink drawing, she expresses that what is included is as important as what is cut out, and that craft must support concept.
As an artist and beyond, Jenie is a challenger of conventional norms and an asker of infinite questions. She believes that the work we do should be a reflection of who we are. She believes that the key to producing great work lies in the partnership between the constant core of who we are and the willingness to continually reinvent ourselves. And so she hunts for experiences outside of her familiar fields, from the arts and humanities to business and technology.
Jenie received her BFA in Printmaking/Drawing from Washington University in St. Louis. She has shown and led art workshops at various venues including RedLine Milwaukee, Carroll University, Schlueter Art Gallery, the Milwaukee Third Ward, and MIAD, and will have a solo show at the Sharon Wilson Art Center in early 2015. She currently has a studio in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood and is a soon-to-be new addition to the Madison scene. Watch out, Madtown.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.