Zelene Jiang Schlosberg is a Chinese-American artist living and working in Chicago who has been hailed for her bold approach to art-making that has resonances in both painting and sculpture. Solo exhibitions include Chinese American Arts Council Gallery (NYC), North Central College (Illinois), University of Illinois at Chicago, East Central College (Missouri) and Woldt Gallery London. She has participated in numerous group shows, including Chicago Sculpture International, The Research House for Asian Art, Zhoub Art Center, The Art Center-Highland Park, CICA Art Museum Korea, and The Royal British Society of Sculptors in London.
Her painting “Directions #0” was featured on the cover of composer John Liberatore’s 2018 debut CD album, “Line Drawings” (Albany Records), and her work “Contemplation” serves as the cover art for Grammy-Award winning Third Coast Percussion’s latest album, “Between Breaths,” released in September 2023 (Cedille Records). Her works can also be seen in Artist Talk Magazine (UK), Studio Visit (US), Art Market Magazine (Israel), World Journal (US) and Tsing Tao Daily (US), and on network TV (ABC News, Chicago). An enthusiastic lover of contemporary classical new music, she frequently collaborates with notable avant-garde musicians, who also collect her work, in addition to several museums. She has been a multi-year participant at Context Art Miami and Los Angeles Art Show (2021-23). She also acts frequently as a curator, jurist and advocate in the art community, whether in Chicago, New York, and abroad.
We’d love to hear how the journey has been so far. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I was born in Hunan and lived in Beijing, China, until 2009. I settled in Chicago and only really began exploring art in a systematic way since coming to America, although it was always a major part of my life. I love the vibrant cultural offerings of Chicago (music, theatre, dance, etc), as well as the incredible food scene, including, of course, its Chinatown. I have two cats, and I am particularly fond of our younger one, Lily, who I consider a muse of sorts.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice? Do you have a specific topic or theme that interests you?
I wish to touch on existential themes of the here and now. I am also very fascinated by myth, history and art history, and am reading and studying images constantly. A lot of my recent works have ended up being multiple panels placed together, a kind of reimaging of diptychs and triptychs from the medieval and Renaissance periods. I cut holes in a lot of my canvases, adding a quasi-three-dimensional quality and giving a sense of air and breath.
You’ve been very active during the past few years. What is the most exciting project you’ve accomplished so far?
I was very honored when Third Coast Percussion, one of the world’s most prominent contemporary music ensembles, featured my 2022 work “Contemplation” on the cover of its latest release (September, 2023) “Between Breaths.” The Chicago-based ensemble won a Grammy Award and has been nominated numerous times. “Between Breaths” features works which “explore aspects of meditation in sound, incorporate unconventional timbres and tones, and invite listeners to lose themselves within a captivating sonic landscape.” These aesthetic concerns are very close to my heart. The composers included are well-known visionaries such as Missy Mazzoli and Tyondai Braxton.
“Contemplation” (40×60 inches) is a grand landscape of a particular sort, consisting of six stacked panels with torn canvas. The austere color palette, limited to mostly white with a small amount of silver, gives the work a marmoreal quality, hinting at the timelessness of Ancient Greek sculpture. The architectural rationality of a grid system contrasts with the many irregular shapes, lines and waves that cut across the panels, sometimes diagonally, creating an intense sense of motion.
In the manner of a Bosch triptych, the work is infused with specific iconography, including flora and fauna, and, more importantly, references to female-hood, whether in the curious alien figures sprinkled throughout, a chain adjacent to what might be a uterus-shaped design, or the outline of a Chinese-style vase that dominates the far-left side of the work.
When Ensemble Member and Executive Director David Skidmore conceived of the idea, he felt Contemplation could be “a beautiful abstract representation of the thoughts, ideas, and feelings in this album,” which I found very touching.
How do you define “success” in art?
For me, success is having a direction that you know you want your art to take, giving each piece your all, however, you define that. I also love being part of an art community, whether virtual all over the world, or right here in Chicago. I also personally feel successful when daily life is balanced to the point where I have time to think about art, as well as make it. I am lucky to have that feeling from time to time!
What does “community” mean to you? Has your local community inspired you as a creative?
Most definitely! Places like MANA Contemporary, Elastic Arts, Bridgeport Art Center, and the various galleries and museums around town give me so much inspiration, as well as institutions such as the Chicago Symphony and Constellation Chicago. My husband is a musician, so I have been fortunate to be introduced to many wonderful musicians, many of them who focus on contemporary music.
Community also means collaborating beyond the circle of visual art. A good example of that was last year when I joined forces with Michelin-starred restaurant Esmé; not only was my art featured in their beautiful restaurant, which almost looks like an art gallery in its design, but chef Jenner Tomaska actually created several dishes that were inspired by my artworks — both their architectural qualities and color palette.
Do you have any advice that you would offer to others?
I have gained a lot by studying art of the past, from many different cultures. I also enjoy going on walks. (In fact, the idea of the flaneur was the inspiration for one of my past exhibitions, and it’s a very healthy activity to boot!) I would also say: don’t be afraid if there are times in your life when you don’t feel like making art. I sometimes “hibernate” by reading books and studying, and then return to art-making after many months off. It gives my practice and myself a sense of renewal.
text & photo courtesy of Zelene Jiang Schlosberg