Guang Zhu, 5 You and (77), 2012
It was a cold, but sunny Monday afternoon in Williamsburg, where the sidewalks were covered in blackened ice. While the district was (and still is) known for artsy murals, hipster music venues and posh eateries, there is a grittiness that embodied its industrial past. Given that it was less congested, but compact, I entered into an apartment.
Standing in front of the door was a petite lady with a blue and gray striped boatneck top, clear glasses and a jet black mini pompadour. Behind her, there was an array of paintings, woodblock sculptures and framed drawings leaning against the back of the sofa. With a pantry, potted plants and a balcony, it was a welcoming atmosphere rather than just another cold hard concrete-filled studio. Her name was Guang Zhu.
Born in China, Zhu moved to Vancouver at 17-years-old and then to New York nine years ago. Unlike the majority of Chinese artists, Zhu deliberately stood out by using math-inspired abstractions. Here, we talked about math, how Antoine Picon influenced her and why she refused to be typecast.
Guang Zhu, 5you& (converted).
M: You have a degree in fine art, but you also studied math and philosophy. What made you want to explore these topics in your artwork?
Z: I started thinking about a lot of math and philosophy as part of the art[s]. While I was making art, it’s just always a part of [the] content. I feel like I need to know this as what it is [and] that came until later when I was in grad school. When you are doing [an] undergrad [degree], you spen[d] four years exploring an aspect of art and find one… perspective [that] you want to explore and stick with it for a year or two. After you take [a] few years, it’s a different story. You start questioning if there is anything else.
M: I have to say that your artwork is interesting. It’s about abstraction and minimalism, but then you put in texture where it looks like tie-dye. How did you become interested in art and who inspires you as an artist?
Z: I spent a lot of time writing computer programs and reading about mathematics. There’s a difference between how artists read and work [versus] how [things] work within the same materials. When I was reading mathematics and computer softwares, my mind was more inspirational and sort of romantic. It comes from generating those patterns and sharp visualizations…about how I feel about [mathematics].
M: So many artists look to masters, but you look to academics like professor Antoine Pican, who is a professor in history and architecture at Harvard University. Why do you look to him as a source of inspiration?
Z: I became [interested] because he did a really amazing study [of] architecture and mathematics. [He studied] how they interact as subject matters. Subject matter is the foundation of early computation for calculus and geometry software development. It’s great for production, but what’s lost is the artist’s relationship with [it]. I think that’s something [that] really strike[s] me.
Guang Zhu, Moon-Like 2, 2014
M: What exactly is the process like for you to create those types of artwork?
Z: Those are basically the end result[s] for my thesis. To count, it took me less than two years. I started mathematic models similar to this [points to a painting]. It’s basically a tangent curve. I’m drawn to that idea of mathematics on how space and [the] limit works. Based on that idea, I designed hundreds of equations. I laser cut the wood with the equation, then make the woodblock prints next to it. I like the results because the life of the woodgrain [is] on the prints. It’s a strange sensation [when] you feel the harsh, crisp computation versus the [woodgrain] growing into the [block].
Perfect Lover, Sophisticated designed geometrical composition
M: Speaking of being an independent artist, there is pressure for you to have your work displayed at the galleries and to keep up with the trends going on in the art world. As an artist, have you ever felt the need to compete?
Z: As an Asian artist, you can’t get into the market if your work is not flashy. Your work has to be political, [it needs to be] about China. I haven’t worked in a [long] amount of time. I do have tremendous thoughts about the whole country, but it’s not my practice to bring that into my work. I find it hard to see the statistics about how Asia is into the market.
M: It’s good that you don’t put yourself in a box - that’s really important. If you have one place to display your artwork, where will it be?
The Dia Beacon.
Guang Zhu, Light reflects on the beads when shown with a flashlight
Guang Zhu, Two wood sculptures lean on top of the frame