Lu Zhang at Randall Scott Gallery – Interview by Cara Ober

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CO: Where are you from? What is your background?

LZ: I was born in Chongqing China, but grew up in “the heartland,” Oklahoma City.

CO: What’s your educational background? What was the most important thing you learned, especially in College?

LZ: I attended a public high school with a very small art department, which had art I, II, and III. I took art III several times to further develop a portfolio. I then went to MICA. The best part of MICA was the environment of being around dedicated artists, something I did not experience in high school in Oklahoma. Though, I have to say the most important thing that I learned is that a college education for art is really bogus, and often hinders creativity. Looking back, I would have taken fewer classes about conceptual art and talking about our ideas, and more classes that taught actual skills, like printmaking, or metal fabrication, or mold-making. I also would have supplemented my MICA degree with business courses from another university that dealt with taxes, legal issues, contracts, etc. etc.

CO: Since College, what have you been up to? Tell us about your exhibitions, projects, and endeavors.

LZ: I spent my last semester at school focused on applying for a travel fellowship to China. I was a finalist, but did not end up receiving the award. I still really wanted to go to China and explore the contemporary art scene there, as well as explore my idea of the parallel direction my life could have taken. I got a job at an architecture firm making models where I worked crazy hours to save up money to live in China. I left for China in August of 2006. The plan was to stay for a year, but for health reasons I came back after six months. It was still a great experience though. In order to get a long-term visa, I registered as a student at the Sichuan Art School where I was able to meet my Chinese contemporaries and have a dialogue with them. I also went to an art opening in Shanghai with a friend who was having an opening. It’s amazing what’s happening in Chinese Art.

LZ: Since coming back, I have returned to work at the architecture firm. I really enjoy the job actually since I do get to make things everyday and see these small parts come together into a huge, lit model covered in miniature people. One of the last ones we did had a working trolley. The hours are also flexible which is the best part, since it has allowed me time to make art and have shows. My friend Ivanny and I curated a show this November/December at the Whole Gallery called the Race Show. After a day of visiting galleries in NY, he and I were discussing the nature of identity art, and how sometimes it can be a bit opaque and not very engaging. We decided to do a show where we would invite artists whose work we were engaged by to create a piece about “race”. The term could relate to identity, gender, culture, stereotypes, the human race etc. The idea was that the nature of the show would make it impossible to uphold any idea of political correctness, and that a more sincere and probably more humorous dialogue could happen. The show actually brought up lots of interesting questions on the issue of the lack of black artists being represented, and how the show relates to the city of Baltimore. I would love to move the show to other cities across the country and see how it functions in a different venue.

LZ: Personally, I am working on a series of work for a solo show in April. The ideas came out of my China trip, specifically the exposure I had to Chinese opera. Even more specifically the sort of grass roots, homespun opera, I saw in Chongqing. I was really drawn to the props used to signify value to the audience. The beards, and hairpieces were loaded with meaning in terms of morality, gender, sexuality, etc. The series has several beard drawings as well as headpiece drawings, some of which incorporate the extremely involved decorative ornaments used in the hairpieces. Most of the drawings, though, deal with the iconic form of the beard/headdress. I explore the form through delicate, fine lines, to create a dense mass that has a movement where the drawing process is very apparent. The one I am working on now is an even more abstracted version, 4X6 feet. I am working more with washes and ink drawing in this one.

CO: What do you do for a living?

LZ: I am a model designer at an architecture firm in Baltimore.

CO: Why did you choose art as a career? What have you learned about the business of art vs. the making of art so far?

LZ: I’ve always wanted to be an artist. As far as choosing it as a career goes, I really just felt like I had to give it a real 100% try. My parents always suggested I do something more profitable and keep it as a hobby. But it’s one of those things that if you regulate it to being something secondary, your chances of staying emotionally connected to it are much slimmer. As far as making art vs. the business of art, I try to keep the two separate in my head. I try to make work thinking that no one will ever see it. I think my ideas about art making would be considered naive by many. But, I’m really not interested in the commercial aspect of it. I love hearing how people respond to the work and what it makes them think of and how they relate or do not relate to it. But as far as, what I was thinking about, I really don’t enjoy talking about my mental/emotional involvement in it. It is still very personal to me, and usually private. I prefer to talk about the process. I am learning about the professional part of it, and think it is important to run your art business like any other business if you want to make a living doing it.

CO: What do you think of the art community here in Baltimore?

LZ: I’m actually not sure how involved I am in the art community here. I have mixed feelings about what I have seen. There are a lot of artists living in Baltimore, especially MICA grads. I see a lot of nice prints/works on paper, a lot of bad painting. I’m probably biased.

CO: Who is your favorite artist and how have they influenced or taught you?

LZ: I don’t really have a favorite artist. I guess this goes back to the last question, but I don’t actually look at a lot of art. I try to, but I really don’t like the majority of what I see in galleries now, so I prefer to look for things outside the art world. I’ve always said that you can tell good art because you want to hug it. I have a background in sculpture so that may be where that comes from. I think it is good when someone wants to physically interact with your work. I like process oriented work. But I don’t like the phrase “labor intensive”. Some work is labor intensive but doesn’t require much thought, just a lot of time. I like things where you can sense a focused energy/attention. I also like work on the opposite end of the spectrum, stuff completely devoid of the process, stuff that looks like candy. A few of the artists that come to mind, Cai Guo Qiang, especially his fireworks drawings. Wolfgang Laib, the pollen squares. Do Ho Suh, the houses. Andrea Robbins and Max Becher, the German Indians, and Wall Street in Cuba. Shigeru Ban, Rodin, Roni Horn, Hans Haake, Hans Bellmer, Sally Tykka, Martin Puryear, Antoni Tapies, one of my favorite pieces is “the veiled Nun” by Giuseppe Croff that is at the Corcoran.

CO: Can you discuss your process for making work?

LZ: With the smaller pieces, I just start drawing. The most recent series, I call the rice series, I start with small repetitive “grain” shapes and the drawing grows from that. In the larger works, the beards, the opera headdresses, I begin with a rough idea in my head of the final form I want the drawing to have. It is a very loose idea, maybe something symmetrical, in the middle of the page. That’s about as far as I finish the work in my head before I start. I then begin drawing and work out from a point. I completely finish one part before I move on to the next; I do not work on the entire page together. It’s a bit of an obsessive-compulsive thing on my part. I just have to finish one aspect completely before I can move on. It’s the same in the tile paintings, except rather than moving out from a point, I work in layers.

CO: What is your opinion on authenticity and art? Is it necessary? Is it important to you? How can you recognize an authentic piece of art?

LZ: I have mixed feelings about it. I have no problem with artists like Jeff Koons and Takeshi Murakami who have factories of art school graduates who make their work for them. I think for both of them, the manufacturing of their work is perfectly in tune with the ideas behind their work. They are making a product. Though, the part I have mixed feelings about is that the work is still sold for huge sums of money. It would be awesome if a big name artist would sell their manufactured work for much cheaper, something lots of people could purchase, therefore making it an actual product available to the masses. It’s like they are building handmade cars for the super rich. I’d like to see them make art at the level of the Tata Car that was just released in India, retails at $2500. But then again, does the world need more cars?

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