An Interview with A CLEARING

In the beginning of 2019, I received invitation from Alena Dao and meg willing, co-founder and co-director of A CLEARING to be their ‘A POSSIBLE PRACTICE’ featured artist in 2019.

A CLEARING is an intentional space to slow down and make art outside the crashing waves of dominant culture. It is a space for all of us who rise from in-between-ness of rural isolation, of womanhood, of queerness, of color to be seen, heard, and supported. In 2019, A POSSIBLE PRACTICE will also include 2-3 happenings across Maine and a retrospective artists book—an ephemeral visual poem/surviving catalog of what we’ve created together this year. 

As the featured artist, we create work in conversation with a chosen theme, the chosen theme for this season is Kristin Chang’s poem “Etymology of Butch”. I’m ashamed to admit that I do not exposed to the art of poem as much as I wish, it took me a while to digest her poem but the process was inspiring and open up my mind to new perspective and new experience. I’m grateful that I have helps from Alana, meg and my best friend in walking thru the poem and I finally found my own interpretation of the poem and created this painting, which I’m going to discuss more in the following interview.


When you think of this season’s theme, what elements strike you? How does your work for this season relate to these ideas?

What I see from the poem is the pain, struggle, and happiness of a lesbian who grew up in a traditional Asian family and her journey of accepting her identity. It is inspiring me to create a painting of two women embracing each other with a body full of scars, who look strong and empathetic even though they’ve been through a lot. They’re the loved one, the strength, and the support to each other. They have been through all the difficulties and finally got to be who they are, despite all the scars they got from the past. They’re now stronger and happy.

‘Hug’, 16x20 inches, Oil & Chinese Ink on Xuan Paper, 2019

On your website you share that your recent paintings draw on the traditional Gongbi technique—Chinese fine line realism painting. How did you become interested in this technique? How does exploring this traditional technique connect you to history and lineage?

When I first discovered Gongbi art, I was fascinated by the unrestrained freedom of Gongbi painting, or Chinese art in general, where you could care less about perspective, texture, and logic while still keeping the painting realism. It’s a kind of art that falls in between 2-D and 3-D mindsets. I was curious about how it would turn out by combining Gongbi with oil painting. That’s when I started my recent body of work. Through exploring this traditional technique, it motivates me to learn more about Chinese art and culture; at the same time, I stepped out of my comfort zone of painting on wood panels to painting on Xuan Paper—paper used since ancient China, which is soft, fine, and thin.


Who are some of your artistic influences?

Renowned still life artist, Sadie Valeri, has had the greatest influence on my work. I took a year of online study under her to learn 19th century master artists’ techniques.

Gongbi artist and associate professor of Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, HanLei Luo, is the artist that gave me an in-depth understanding about Gongbi process and thinking through her book and works. I also find the works of master artists like Wang XimengIstvan Sandorfi, and living artists like Zhao Guojing & Wang MeifangJeremy LipkingBrad Kunkle, and Jeremy Geddes to be very inspiring.


Describe your workspace. What essential tools do you need before you begin your work?

I work best in clutter-free workspace where I have big table space, as well as plenty of space on the floor because I like to move around when working. Of course, I need my easel when doing oil painting, especially when I’m working on the fine detail. Letting the painting stand upright, parallel to my eyes, allows me to see any mis-proportion or mistake


What are you listening to when painting?

I have a wide range of taste in music. It depends on what kind of mood and atmosphere I want when working. Recently, I’ve been listening to Metta Chanting by Imee Ooi when doing line drawing. When painting in oil, I prefer indie or rock music.


What are your latest obsessions?

This probably sounds nerdy, but my latest obsession is drawing the thin and complicated lines of flowy hair. I could spend hours just drawing those lines. It is becoming my new way of meditation.


How do you generally spend your days?

My ideal kind of painting day always starts with coffee and breakfast after I wake up. Then, going into my studio with another cup of coffee or tea. I like Earl Grey or Oolong tea. In the studio, I look at my planner, write a little in my journal, check my emails, and select the right music or show on Netflix before I started painting or drawing. I enjoy starting my day early, because it’s quiet and I prefer working in daylight; however, I work after sunset most of the time since I have a part-time job in the day.


Do you have any creative routines or rituals?

I usually spent an adequate amount of time on composition sketching, figure/portrait drawing, or color study. Once I’m satisfied with the concept, I enlarge the drawing to painting size and trace it onto sized Xuan paper. I tone down the paper with several washes of a mixture of diluted ink and coffee because I don’t like to work on white background and this process makes the paper looks like antique paper. After the paper has dried completely, I work on the line drawing carefully with small red bean brush and Chinese Ink, because most of these lines will be shown through in the final painting. In order to make the paper suitable for oil painting, I apply multiple layers of acrylic matte medium to prime the paper before starting my oil painting process with thinned oil paints, building the delicate detail layer by layer while keeping the surface eggshell smooth.


What do you want the audience to take away from your paintings?

I want to offer my work as a way to introduce people to Chinese art and culture and to appreciate it gently, like Gongbi technique and Chinese traditional costume, Hanfu. Despite all the intentions and messages I carefully place in the composition, I like to think that my work is a mirror that could reflect the viewer’s inner world, helping the viewers see the thoughts and feelings that are hidden in their subconscious. ■


Upcoming event of A Possible Practice!!

Just a few days ago, A CLEARING was over the moon to announce their dream collaboration with @tender.table to present an evening immersed in food, art, storytelling featuring women, trans, and nonbinary folks who are black, indigenous, or people of color! For this food + storytelling event, speakers, Asha Tamarisa, Evelyn Wong and Cassandra Loftlin will make and share a home cooked dish alongside a story about sweet, savory, sour, and bitter relationships to food and its connections to identity, memory, and community. In the same time, 2019 featured artists work will be on display; and of course, my painting, ‘Hug’ and I will be there.

Join us for an evening full with amazing art, delicious food and inspiring stories.

Get more detail about the event and/or RVSP here.