I create small wall paintings and site-specific installations. My current and future bodies of work contain anomalies of the hand and the physical process of making a painting. I use non-paint materials as paint, such as fabric, paper, reflected light, colored plastic sheets, and threads. The works are constructed in physical spaces instead of on pictorial surfaces, and on unconventional structures of painting supports, indicating human touch and presence, thus, encouraging the viewers to walk around, examine and interact with the work.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
I was born in China and grew up in a family that strongly practiced Taoist philosophy. One important Taoist belief is that the truth must lie “somewhere in between.” This belief is applied to both our daily material lives and spiritual practices, which influences me both as an artist and in the making of my artwork. For example, in one of the recent bodies of my work titled Light Threads, light is materialized as sewing threads and paint transforms into light by casting reflections in its surrounding spaces.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
It varies. When I have a show scheduled or I start to create a body of new work, I spend as much time as possible in the studio. When I am not working on a project, I would like to shut off my studio and spend time else where such as in the nature, visiting art galleries or museums, writing grants for future projects or connecting with other art professionals. For me, studio is more of a work place. And most inspirations of my projects happen outside the studio. Once I know what to do for my next project, I work in the studio almost 50 hours a week but I might spend half a year brainstorming the project before I start working in my studio.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
I found myself doing more administrative tasks than the making of art. These tasks include but not limited to applying for grants and residencies, taking photos, writing, outreach, packing, meeting deadlines, archiving artworks, etc., so many things that have nothing to do with the actual making of art. There is little time that I stay in the studio making art. But it is the little time that makes all the other efforts totally worth it!
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
Again, it varies. I perform the best only when I am inspired and have a project to work on. The rest of the time I prefer stay outside my studio.
My work changed dramatically. I used to make hand-drawn animated films that dealt with my social and political backgrounds between the US and China—the two countries where I spent almost 50/50 percent of my life. Although the physical form of my art changed significantly from social/political work to abstract paintings/installations, the ideology of my art making remains the same. No matter what form I choose to realize my work, my art is deeply influenced by my Taoist background. As mentioned before, my artwork and me as an artist are both influenced by “somewhere in between”: one essence of the Taoist philosophy. Before, my work was about “somewhere in between the East and West cultures” and now it is about “somewhere in between the tangible and the intangible”.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
I have a very supportive circle of friends. My peer artist friends always share with me their critical thoughts whenever I have a new body of work. We critique each other’s works. Some of my friends act as mentors and always encourage me to be my best. My non-artist friends always show their support by attending my art events such as gallery openings or public talks.
I constantly gain inspirations from other artists; the name of the artist varies from project to project. My most recent inspirations come from the sculptures by Richard Tuttle and Rachel Harrison. I am very intrigued by their way of making sculptures. Both work in very spontaneous yet extreme specific ways, which are completely different from the way I make my art.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
Gardening. I am an avid gardener. I find gardening one of the most relaxing and meditative practices.
As a multi-disciplinary, conceptual and project-based artist, Ms. Xuan Chen decides upon the media that best fits the concept of each project: painting, printmaking, site-specific sculptures/installations, animated film, drawing, interactive installation, graphic narrative, etc. Her artworks have been exhibited in solo and group shows in galleries, museums and film festivals and she has won many national and international awards/grants including 2014 Dorothy Yeck Award (Miami University’s Young Painters Award), Working Artist Award (2013), 1st place New Mexico’s Contemporary Art Society award (2012), 1st place in the 14th Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival (2011), Honorable Mention in the 26th Tallahassee International Exhibition (2011), New Visions/New Mexico contract award (2010). Born in Mainland China, Ms. Chen has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and Albuquerque, New Mexico. She received an M.F.A from the University of New Mexico in 2011.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.