Art News

Vivien Zhang

Favorite material to work with?
I make works on canvases, which are prepared and primed myself.

What is your medium? Oil paint is my favorite, but I often work with acrylics too. I usually mix my paint with various mediums, such as stand oil and damar varnish, which change the consistency of the paint and the shine of the paint, allowing variations in the painterly surface in my works.

What themes do you pursue? There are two main concerns I seek to explore in my works: the issue of the use of culturally-specific motifs in a displaced context, and the issue of authenticity and authority in relation to multitude.

At the age of ten, I moved to Nairobi from my hometown Beijing, and subsequently to Bangkok, Thailand. I then went to complete my BA degree in Fine Art at the Slade School of Fine Art (University College London) in London, and am currently pursuing a MA degree in Painting at the Royal College of Art, London.

From these shifting experiences came my growing desire to reclaim my original culture – Chinese culture. For the past year I have been re-visiting specific Chinese objects of significance, as their role defines my relationship with the audience in a “contemporary” and “displaced” context, and allows me to explore personal concerns relating to displacement, trans-experience and diaspora.

Most recently, by exploiting my familiarity with these motifs’ structure, my paintings have been reduced to abbreviations of marks en masse. The repetition and excessive accumulation of marks and forms now apparent in my works reflect my inquiry into the authenticity and authority of reproduction and mass production. In addition, the reduction of the figurative representation is also a result of my continuing re-examination of the use of culturally-specific motifs in contemporary artworks; thus, by abstracting the motif and introducing constituents of anonymous origins, I challenge the audience in their presumptions associated with cultural-specificity, and furthermore, of the artist identity in relation to artworks.

How many years as an artist? Three – since three years ago when I began to fully understand my own practice, and why I do what I do, though this is always changing with the development of my interests, concepts, and investigations.

Sketchbook? For the most part I make sketches and drawings on loose paper – standard cartridge paper or oil painting paper, with ink, marker, pencil, watercolor and other types of paint. My sketchbook is a place where I drop down notes more (of artists, shows, and ideas) than I draw.

Most important tool you use? The most important tools I use are my palette knife (for mixing paint), my glass palette, and my sable brushes made from wolf hair. My painting process is quick and often charged with a lot of impulse and energy; thus, I also use siccative to increase the drying speed my paints so I can work more quickly.

Where is your studio?
My main studio right now is at the Royal College of Art where I am pursuing a MA degree in Painting. It is located right at the main Kensington campus of the college, next to the Royal Albert Hall in London. It is wonderful as I get to communicate with artists across the field and designers from other courses. During the summer, when I travel back to China to see my relatives and friends, I set up a studio in Beijing to work as well.

Favorite eats?
I love all sorts of cuisines and especially South-east Asian food. A bite at Addi’s (Thai) near Earl’s Court, or some sushi at the cozy Kulu Kulu (Japanese) is always heartwarming. I also keep lots of snacks in the studio, as I often work late and do not like interrupting my working progress to go out and find food.

What was the best advice given to you as an artist?
Keep drawing – though I admit I do not do it nearly enough.

What’s around the corner from your place?
The Cartoon Museum – a very under-celebrated little museum with a massive collection of cartoons, caricatures and comics from 18th Century Britain to now.

A piece of art you love?
Laura Owen’s new paintings at Sadie Coles, London (till November 17th).

Where can we find you outside the studio?
Outside of the studio, I like going out to see exhibitions, galleries, film festivals… On top of the major exhibitions, I really enjoy the small galleries in Mayfair, as well as theatres such as Sadler’s Wells or a small play from RADA. I also like going out to explore new cuisines, such as Moroccan food and Vietnamese food. And from time to time, I travel with friends to other parts of the country for a hike in the countryside or a special festival.

What could you not do without?
Hand cream – for the “poor artist” hands, and a watch.

Process> Concept or Process<Concept?
As a Painter, I believe in the importance of the painting process and in the enjoyment of this activity. Thus, I would say Process>Concept when it comes to the self-indulgent times of creation for the artist. Though, a good balance between the art and artisan must be achieved, and so the concept that supports an artistic practice is crucial to any practice. An artist’s concept may direct his/her process and vice versa.

Art School or Self-taught?
I went to the Slade School of Fine Art (UCL) in London and completed my undergraduate degree in Fine Art there. At the moment, I am currently pursuing a MA degree in Painting at the Royal College of Art, London.