To Love Real People, Seattle-based Painter Yongqi Tang

Yongqi Tang (b.1997, Shenzhen, China) received an M.F.A from the University of Washington in 2022 and has held teaching appointments at the painting and drawing department. She is the recipient of the Bernie Funk Artist Scholarship, Boyer and Elizabeth Bole Gonzales Scholarship for Excellence, and the Puget Sound Group of Northwest Artists Scholarship Award. She was an artist in residence at the Field Projects Gallery, NY, and is currently one of the artists in residence at the Amazon 2023 AIR Program. Her works have been covered in outlets including Shoutout LA, Al-Tiba 9 Contemporary Art, and Maake Magazine.

EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN: Holzwege, 79 x 109 in, Charcoal on Paper, 2022

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

First of all, thank you so much for inviting me to this interview! I am a painter who currently lives and works in Seattle, WA. I was born and raised in Shenzhen, China and later went to school in the Washington state. I studied both psychology and art during my undergrad and I just earned my MFA at the University of Washington in 2022. I mostly make large-scale figurative paintings that reflect on the ambivalence of identities and the need of sincere connections. 

What ideas are you exploring in your practice? Is there a theme you are currently addressing?

Since I have been living, studying, and working between China and America, my works are influenced by the drastically different cultural and ideological contexts of the two countries. People are often looking for their own reflection, it is either in the mirror, in the books, or in the images. It is very important for anyone to find a similar figure in the external world, because if we don’t, we will feel alone and weak. However, as Asian, we could barely see our images in the oil painting, while it is still very much dominated by the Western hegemony. I would like to make paintings in which Chinese people could see themselves and feel empowered.

 EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN: The Apartment, 79 x 109 in, Oil on Canvas, 2022
 EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN: The Apartment, 68 x 94 in, Charcoal on Paper, 2022

Do you have a mentor or piece of advice that influenced your practice?

My professor once told me that I should paint the phenomenon instead of the literal images. Because I worked with photos a lot, I often stuck myself in the loop of making things too photo-realistic. The advice reminded me that instead of copying the figures I should try to see the big gesture first, and also, I should never copy a photo as it is. 

 EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN: The Wedding, 79 x 109 in, Oil on Canvas, 2022

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

Everyone needs a community, and in fact it is almost impossible to not live in one; to me the question is what kind of community is important. Although the online community provides me with many resources and connects me to a bigger market, I think the AFK (away-from-keyboard) community is where I am truthfully relying on. I see myself not only in the niche of the art scene but also in a larger network where people from different industries need and support each other. To be honest, I think being an artist is a very selfish act, because that means your community will sacrifice their time and money to support you, which is especially true when you don’t make a lot of money. I am really thankful for having a supportive and encouraging community.

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

I don’t think I am in the place of offering advice to other people so I would rather offer a piece of advice to myself: To love real people, instead of mankind in general. 

 EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN: The Wedding, 75 x 102 in, Charcoal on Paper, 2022

text & photo courtesy of Yongqi Tang

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