From the studio: Yongqi Tang

Studio Visit

How is your relationship with your hometown today?
Yongqi Tang in her Washington studio
Yongqi Tang in her Washington studio, 2023, Photo by Mikey Baratta
"My hometown is a place I both reluctantly and willingly left behind. It's where my roots are, and my earliest life experiences shaped my identity, which always leaves me yearning for it. However, spending more time in the United States has made me more skeptical of ideas I would readily accept if I were in China, such as Confucianism. Additionally, because I haven't been back for so long, I feel increasingly displaced from my hometown. When I talk about it, I'm not referring to what it is now but rather a memory, a dream, or a piece of the past. As a result, my understanding of China is based more on memory than reality."
What are your art-historical references?
Yongqi Tang's studio in Washington
2023, Photo by Mikey Baratta
"Growing up in a small village that rapidly transformed into a metropolitan city within thirty years meant that the art scene in my birthplace was non-existent. Consequently, I did not have the opportunity to experience any quality art until my family took a trip to Europe when I was thirteen. Walking into St. Peter's Basilica and beholding Michelangelo, Raphael, and Lorenzo Bernini's works for the first time had a profound impact on me. Renaissance and Baroque art ignited my interest in art history, and I have since developed a natural inclination towards representational and figurative paintings. My art still draws inspiration from the old masters such as Piero della Francesca, Bruegel, Tintoretto, and Botticelli, and having my debut solo exhibition in Rome feels like coming full circle. I find modern painters like Francis Bacon, Antonio Lopez Garcia, and contemporary painters such as Adrian Ghenie equally fascinating. I have studied a wide range of paintings and drawings from Western to East Asian art, from the Middle Ages to the present day. However, my focus remains on figurative art, as it reflects the complexity of human nature and conditions, which I find intriguing."
How do you chose the color palette in your paintings? Do colors have specific meanings to you?
Yongqi Tang paints in her studio
2023, Photo by Mikey Baratta
"Prior to beginning a large painting, I always create numerous preliminary color studies, from which I choose the most appropriate palette. I select colors based on their symbolic meanings and the emotions they evoke. For instance, in my work Eat Drink Man Woman: The Apartments, I use yellow to convey my persistent sense of unease about residing in a foreign country. In contrast, red is the primary color in Eat Drink Man Woman: The Wedding, as it is traditionally associated with weddings in China. Red symbolizes joy, good fortune, and love, but can also represent violence, danger, and anger. For Eat Drink Man Woman: Holzwege, which centers on ancestral offerings, I chose green as it is often associated with death and rituals. Through careful consideration of color, I aim to imbue my paintings with deeper meaning and evoke a specific emotional response in viewers."
Where and how do individual and community experiences find their balance within the scenes you depict on your paintings?
"The scenes depicted in my paintings are rooted in my memories of being part of various collectives and assuming different identities in different groups. While these experiences are personal to me, they are not unique, and many individuals have gone through similar situations. It is gratifying to hear that my Chinese friends can identify with my paintings and empathize with me. It affirms my belief that my art is successful in conveying universal human experiences.

To me, individual and community experiences are intertwined and inseparable. My paintings showcase how we perform different identities in different groups, highlighting the complex interplay between individual and collective experiences. Ultimately, my aim is to create art that resonates with viewers and speaks to the universal human condition."
Why have you chosen paint as the medium to express yourself and tell stories?
Yongqi Tang paints in her studio
2023, Photo by Mikey Baratta
"Making marks on surfaces has always come naturally to me. In all honesty, I never consciously chose painting as a medium; rather, it was painting that chose me. I've been doodling everywhere since I was a child, using a stick to draw on the ground in the countryside, sketching on textbooks and exam papers in the classroom, and even creating my own manga zines to sell. My teachers were often annoyed by how much I drew during class. Despite my passion for drawing, it wasn't until I took my first oil painting class in college that I discovered my love for painting. Believing that drawing is the foundation of painting, and that one could easily transition from one to the other, I learned at a rapid pace compared to my peers. I was immediately enamored with the process of building up layers, making marks, and pushing paints. The versatility of paints allowed me to create any texture or illusion I desired, which fueled my passion for painting even further."
Several works exhibited in Somnium/梦中人 at T293 represent dining tables. The concept of identity plays an important role in your work, what does a "round table" have to do with it?
"The tables depicted in my paintings hold cultural significance, representing social gatherings in various countries. From my perspective, dinner is a crucial way to network in China, where individuals exchange valuable social resources and connections. As such, round tables are the preferred dining tradition in Chinese culture, providing the best way to share food and communicate with a large group of people as it allows for easy access to both food and fellow diners. I grew up eating at round tables, often with a round glass top, and this has become a fundamental aspect of my identity."
The exhibition is entitled Somnium/梦中人, meaning the dream/dreamers. What does dreaming mean to you personally?
Yongqi Tang
2023, Photo by Mikey Baratta
"The Chinese title of my exhibition 梦中人 (dreamers) shares its name with a famous song by Faye Wong that serves as the theme song of Wong Kar Wai's movie, Chungking Express. Given that my works primarily fall under the category of Asian Diaspora, I opted to select the Chinese title first and then translate it into English. In the original context, the title refers to a "dream" lover, aligning with the film's focus on love stories that take place in Hong Kong. However, I felt that translating it to "dreamers" would deviate from my intentions, as it suggests a fantasy about someone. Instead, "dream" to me signifies an eerie sense of nostalgia - unreal yet hauntingly familiar. This sentiment reflects the themes in my present work, as I often dreamt of returning to China and found myself in my childhood home or en route from school. In these dreams, I often thought to myself that I would soon return to the US. However, upon waking, I realized that I never went back not because I couldn't, but because I actively chose not to. Dreams, to me, reveal the vulnerability and complexity of my choices, and the exhibition's title encapsulates the sense of longing and nostalgia that pervades my works."
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