Diary of a Painting and Sailing Voyage, Philadelphia-based Painter Shuling Guo

Shuling Guo graduated from the Oil Painting Department of Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing (B.F.A.) in 2010. She immigrated to the United States in 2019, and now lives in Philadelphia and on the Sailing Vessel Selkie, painting while implementing sailing voyages. In 2012, she had her first solo exhibition Secret Fragrance in Beyond Art Space in Beijing. Since then, her work has been widely exhibited in Beijing, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and among other places. Her works have been included in the permanent collections of Central Academy of Fine Arts Art Museum (Beijing) and Art Museum of Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts (Guangzhou). In 2020 she held the first solo exhibition in New York at Fou Gallery: 5—6 pm. In 2022, she opened the second exhibition in New York at Fou Gallery – Sotto Voce (Fou Gallery, New York).

Shuling Guo, Le Marin, Martinique-4, 2021
Pencil on paper, Artist’s Frame, 14 x17 inches
 ©Shuling Guo, courtesy of Fou Gallery 

We’d love to hear how the journey has been so far, Shuling. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I grew up in the south of China. I started to paint when I was a teenager. I received my BFA degree from the China Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing in 2010. After graduation, I became a full-time painter in Beijing for nine years. In 2019, I emigrated to the United States. Now I am based in Philadelphia and living on a sailboat. In the past three years, my partner and I have spent more than half of our time on our sailboat, Selkie. Last year I did my longest voyage, from Martinique in the Caribbean to Annapolis, MD.  

Shuling Guo, Sotto Voce-Long Island, Bahamas, 2021
Oil on canvas, 40 x 44 inches
 ©Shuling Guo, courtesy of Fou Gallery
Shuling Guo, Sotto Voce-Exuma, Bahamas, 2021
Oil on canvas, 27 x 35 inches
 ©Shuling Guo, courtesy of Fou Gallery

What brings you to art? What ideas are you exploring in your projects?

When I was a kid, I was fascinated with western fairytales like Grimms’ Fairy Tales, Fables of Aesop, and with Japanese cartoons such as Sailor Moon and One Piece. These books have delicate illustrations alongside the story. Since the age of 10, I started to draw and copy the figures that I liked from these books. I went to an art high school in Guangzhou to study painting and drawing. The high school was affiliated with the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Art and shared the library with the college. I indulged myself in the large book collections of western oil paintings, especially late 19 century and early 20 century paintings like Impressionism and Post Impressionism. My obsession with colors and oil paint drove me to attend the Oil department at the Central Academy of Fine Art. During four years of training there, I learned realism skills and color techniques which gave me a solid foundation to paint whatever I wanted to paint. 

My art practice is strongly connected with my life experience. Moving from Beijing to the east coast of the US changed my visual perspective. Beijing is a gray city; the East Coast is bright. In 2019 I traveled to Florida on our sailboat. Around sunset on the water there, the visual world has amazing gradient colors. This new color palette caused a deep reaction in me, emotionally and physically. I transformed these colors into the canvas and created the last body of work for my last solo show <5-6 pm> in 2020. 

In 2021, I spent most of the year living aboard the boat. We sailed from the Caribbean to Annapolis, Maryland, and then back down to the Bahamas the following winter. Sailing life, the surrender to nature and relinquishing of control it requires, shaped my personality and that reflects in the paintings. I used my painting to document the voyage—-a sailing diary. Each painting in the 2022 exhibition <Sotto Voce> has the name of the location where it was created. Because the geography and environment kept changing while we sailed from country to country, harbor to harbor, the light and colors also have their own character and feeling in each location. I love this quote by John Berger from the book: I send you this Cadmium Red, “no color represents light, and light would vote for none” In my work, I want to keep an open mind to explore how to depict light— in an abstract existence. 

Shuling Guo, Sotto Voce-Le Marin, Martinique, 2021
Oil on canvas, 35 x 27 inches
 ©Shuling Guo, courtesy of Fou Gallery

What does “community” mean to you? How do you see yourself in a community?

As a recent immigrant, a sense of Community has become something I have become much more conscious of. Before I left Beijing, I had a connection to other artists, to my home region and language, and other communities. But becoming an immigrant to the West was a significant and challenging experience for me, and now I find myself part of a much broader community of Asians and immigrants generally. It has been good for me to have this common bond and support from others, and as I become more experienced and established here, I will try to pass that support on. 

I’m also now part of a sailing community, in which everyone is very supportive and will help each other out with anything they need. It’s a nomadic community, and you meet people in different harbors maybe a thousand miles from where you first met them. There are very few Asians in this community though, so whenever I see another Asian sailor (especially a woman) I seek them out and make friends. This has been fun for me as I now have Japanese, Vietnamese and Chinese friends who I met along our journey! 

Shuling Guo, Sotto Voce-Long Island, Bahamas, 2021
Oil on canvas, 40 x 44 inches
 ©Shuling Guo, courtesy of Fou Gallery
Shuling Guo, Sotto Voce-Annapolis, MD, 2022
Oil on canvas, 16 x16 inches
 ©Shuling Guo, courtesy of Fou Gallery

What are you working on right now? 

Right now, I am back on dry land for a while and there is a studio in our house, so it is a good opportunity for me to work on bigger paintings. I am continuing with my study of color and shape, with the many ways color can be expressed and the feeling it can impart. I am still processing the visual and emotional experiences I’ve had over the last few years, especially with traveling on the water, and am channeling that into my work.  

Do you have any advice that you would offer to others?

Everyone has their own path. For me, it has been to recognize what is truly meaningful to me in my work and my life, to be thankful that I can do it, and to commit myself to keep doing it no matter what.

Shuling Guo, <5—6 pm>-13, 2020
Oil on board, 12 x 12 inches. Photo by Yun Kai
©Shuling Guo, courtesy of Fou Gallery
Shuling Guo, <5—6 pm>-20, 2020
Oil on board, 14 x 11 inches. Photo by Yun Kai
©Shuling Guo, courtesy of Fou Gallery

text & photo courtesy of Shuling Guo & Fou Gallery

recommended by FOU Gallery

Shuling Guo in her Studio on her boat named Selkie
Photography by Joey Wang
©Shuling Guo

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