Has your training as a sculptor influenced your painting?
Yes, a great deal. I didn’t think so when I was younger but now I really think it has. In a way, I like to imagine that my characters exist in a three-dimensional space, I really want them to have a sense of volume. When I paint, I still think about sculpture, Bernini’s sculptures, for example. I want the surface to be very smooth..
I haven’t studied [sculpture] all that much, but I went to Rome last year, and I saw works by Bernini in real life for the first time. I was utterly amazed by their beauty, how well they had been made. Of course, I don’t think I’m interested in painting the same way, but just that physical contact, the feeling you have when you look at a Bernini sculpture.
“[…] I went to Rome last year, and I saw works by Bernini in real life for the first time. I was utterly amazed by their beauty […]”
Do you paint your subjects in the same way in Paris as you do in Beijing?
When I was living in Beijing, I was a rather confused or lost art student.
I think I was still looking for my language, as well as my subjects. Now that I’m living in Paris, and have lived elsewhere too, it seems to me that being able to see different works of art has been extremely important. I remember when I lived in New York, I saw a Mike Kelley retrospective and a Robert Gober retrospective. I then lived in Holland, where I saw lots of paintings by Vermeer in person, and others in Paris. I think the art that I see in different places really teaches me a lot about painting. Here, I like to go to the Musée Picasso and the Musée d’Orsay. I enjoy looking at paintings. When I look at them, I have the feeling that I’m talking to the great masters. And of course the light is really special in Paris. I love the sunsets, and the fact that the light looks different in every season. I believe that the light is a really important part of my painting too. Living in Paris has undoubtedly influenced my practice.
Do you paint from photographs? Who are the characters in your paintings?
This is usually how I work: I have a situation in mind, which sometimes comes from my memories, sometimes from my imagination. I ask my friends to pose for me. Then I get to work, I take a lot of photographs, I invite them over and I take many pictures. I usually do a lot of drawings from these photos.
I consider the drawings to be studies. I use them to decide on the composition and the elements I want to include in the painting. So then when it comes to the actual painting stage, I’m (sort of) more focused on other painting issues than on drawing issues. I generally use my own photos because it’s easier. The ones I take are much more “pragmatic”. They’re not enticing or seductive shots. I like to take lots of pictures even for just one pose, shooting from different angles.
Who is the French master that you most admire? What is the painting that you have seen here in Paris, at a museum or elsewhere, that has made the strongest impression?
When I was a teenager, I saw Monet’s Water Lilies at the Orangerie. I can remember this very well. In fact, I think that trip made me want to become a painter. Now that I’m an older artist, it’s hard for me to connect with what I really liked as a teenager, you know ... but every once in a while when I visit the Musée de l’Orangerie, I still feel that connection.
“When I was a teenager, I saw Monet’s Water Lilies at the Orangerie. I can remember this very well. In fact, I think that trip made me want to become a painter.”