Jiannan Wu, born in 1990 in Dalian, China, is a young artist specializing in sculpture. He is the Elected Member of American National Sculpture Society, member of American Medallic Sculpture Association, member of Council of Overseas Chinese Artists Association and faculty of New York State Summer School of the Arts. Jiannan Wu received his BFA Degree in Sculpture from China Academy of Art and his MFA Degree in Sculpture from New York Academy of Art. Through formats of relief and diorama, Jiannan Wu presents the theme of contemporary urban life in a realism and narrative way.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I was born in Dalian, China in 1990. At the age of four, I was sent to children’s art school by my parents to learn painting. I was very fond of it, so I kept studying painting outside school until I entered the middle school of art and high school of art in Dalian. In 2009, I was admitted to the Sculpture Faculty of China Academy of Art and obtained my BFA after five years’ study and practice of sculpting. In 2016, I received my MFA Degree in Sculpture from the New York Academy of Art. After graduation, I worked for Jeff Koons for two years while continuing my own creation. In order to devote more time to my own creation, I left Jeff Koons Studio last year and started working full-time as an independent artist. Since then, I also teach sculpture courses occasionally. Now I’m the faculty of NYS Summer School of the Arts, Elected Member of American National Sculpture Society, Member of American Medallic Sculpture Association, and Member of Council of Overseas Chinese Artists Association. Most of my current works are about contemporary urban life.
What is your art philosophy? Is there a theme you are currently addressing?
My art prominently features the theme of people’s daily life in a narrative way. Selfie Series is about the selfie phenomenon among the young generation and Subway Series presents different subway scenes in the New York metropolitan area. In my sculptures, I try to express my love for life and my faith in humanity through conveying the interest and vitality of people’s daily life in a humorous and realistic style. I consider myself a storyteller, solidifying an ongoing segment of the story scene into tableaux and inserting corresponding interest and thinking into it. By putting “people” under my spotlight, I focus on the shaping of each character’s personality and details. Each scene in the work is a stage, and each character has his own audiences and the world.
My current ongoing work series is called Country Love. It is a series of color reliefs with the theme of daily life in rural areas in northeast China. In this series of sculptures, I present the “people” and “objects” in contemporary rural China from different angles to show the country culture in northeast China, especially the changes and new social relations out of the collision between foreign pop culture and the local traditional customs, and the anxiety about the localism and identity since the 1990s.
Moving from China to the US, how has your practice changed during the past few years?
The undergraduate courses in China were mainly based on realistic practice and traditional materials learning, which were about foundation and technical training and had little to do with artistic creation. Because I’m a big fan of action & toy figures, and the film special effects industry in the United States is well developed. When I decided to continue my sculpture study in the United States, I was planning to be engaged in the special effects industry. I chose a graduate school focusing on figurative art. Required by the graduate courses, I started to think about the starting point of my creation. Considering my own living environment, I created a few pieces of sculptures with the theme of the New York subway. It turned out to have received good feedback and media attention. Exhibition invitations from galleries were also following. Thus, it was natural for me to pursue a career as an artist after graduation.
It is in recent years when I began to really consciously comb out my creative thinking and context. I began to calm down from the busy and intense schedule, and to rethink my relationship with life and creation. Some elements of my creation in recent years are constantly changing, such as subject matters and materials. The work form I’m interested in also transformed from diorama to medieval sculpture and to relief with more contemporary form. To the contrary, there are also things that have never been changed, such as my sculpture language and my focus on “people”. I think sincerity is important. Both changes and invariable are reasonable as long as they are the inner voice of the artist. What your work presents is decided by what kind of person you are.
Your works have been exhibited and appreciated internationally. You are also the recipient of several prestigious awards. How would you define “success” in art?
Create works you want, and have a good life through your creation. It is not difficult to achieve the two things separately, but joining them together is difficult.
What does “community” mean to you?
Indispensable. The core of art is communication, and the community of artists is the closest social circle and the most direct communication platform. In fact, not only artists, but also everyone in the society needs community. The community of ordinary people may be their employment group, while artists have a stronger desire to stick together because usually they work independently. This is why there were so many artists groups and movements in the art history, and also there are many associations and residency now. The need for community is not only for communication, resource sharing and information obtaining, but also for human nature.
I have joined some communities, such as the schools I attended, the associations I belong to, the organizations I have won awards, the residencies I have attended, and the employment group I have worked in. All these communities have given me great support and help in my creation and career development in recent years. I’m open to new communities, as long as it is suitable for me.
As an influential creative, what advice would you like to share with others?
Find out your talent. Everyone has a natural fit for their own field, so find it, work for it, and you will be the lucky one. It is the same in artistic creation. A good piece should be integrated with the artist himself and be breathing together with the artist. Just like an old friend you haven’t seen for a long time.
Find your own “language” rather than simply make a “style”. The former is intrinsic and inborn while the latter is superficial and can be learned.
So, be true to yourself and be sincere to your creation.
text & photo courtesy of Jiannan Wu