^ Tsai-Ling Tseng, Pond Habits, 2018, oil on canvas, 127 x 140 cm. Courtesy of the artist.
OTP Short-Forms: Tsai-Ling Tseng
An interview between Tessa Krieg and the Brooklyn-based painter Tsai-Ling Tseng.
Pouring paint, narrative representation and little girls looking at the clouds.
Drawn towards a lysergic style of painting that evokes both a mythic tradition of transformation narratives as well a uniquely fabular notion of the anthropomorphic, Tsai-Ling Tseng's paintings seem to dwell in that border region between figuration and abstraction that often stimulates our most potent aesthetic experiences.
At times reminiscent of Yoshimoto Nara's corporeal distortions as well as Cecily Brown's nightmarish hell-scape rabbit compositions from the 90s, Tseng's paintings offer an original perspective that blend a humourous sense of the banal with an intense existential dread.
The following interview was recorded ahead of the artist's upcoming solo exhibition at Kapp Kapp Gallery, scheduled for January 2021.
TK What’s important to you?
TT I guess having fun with painting is really important.
Also having my own space in the studio and to locate where I am as an international person coming from Taiwan - to just have a little safe place around me and be happy with my imagination - that is all important to me.
^ Tsai-Ling Tseng, Animal Instincts, 2019, oil on canvas, 127 x 140 cm. Courtesy of the artist.
TK How long have you been making visual art? How did you get into it?
TT I dropped out of UCSD (University of California San Diego) where I was doing structural engineering, and then I didn’t know what to do because in Taiwan I was just focusing on school.
I would always draw without taking it seriously but then I finally got my own space. I just got a lot of art supplies in my apartment in San Diego and was like okay I’m going to be an artist!
And then I applied to the School of Visual Arts. And that’s, I think, when I started making paintings. Then I went to the School of Art Institute of Chicago. Then this is my second year out of so that’s eight years making art and I’ve been learning a lot!
TK How has your practice developed in that time?
TT A lot has changed since I met my mentor, Judith Linhares, from the School of Visual Arts. At first I didn’t know what to do at all. She told me to just pour paint on the canvas and then do whatever you want.
That is, at first, how I came to a formal understanding of what a painting should be and that was kind of an abstract understanding. She was teaching me about movement and I think I took that idea. I pour paint and it feels like water or a cloud and I find a figure in between them.
They become stories so that’s how I first began really “painting”. It’s kind of like a little girl looking at the clouds, finding all different kinds of animals and trying to make sense of it.
Then recently I started doing all those little drawings and I realized I can compose real stories. I don’t have to find it but I can take that idea — into the story that I’m composing. I think my way of composing the pictures is the way of story telling.
^ Tsai-Ling Tseng, Farewell Dragonfly, 2018, oil on canvas, 127 x 140 cm. Courtesy of the artist.
TK How does humor play into your art, if it does?
TT It does. I think it makes me feel less scared or less afraid to approach a certain situation.
I’m not specifically aware of a humor in any specific moment, but I guess it’s something for me to feel like: “Oh it’s okay, that kind of feeling. Like it's not as scary as it looks or not as embarrassing as it seems.”
I make my art as kind of like my self-portrait, but in a more general sense, it doesn’t make me feel too close to it so I can be more playful.
TK Can you tell me a little bit about your painting of two turtles climbing a tree?
TT I think I do a lot of turtles because I’m really shy— the turtle just feels like it carries a home and I can just hide in it anytime so that just really attached to me and I try to capture that kind of feeling a lot through the turtle.
I do a lot of butterflies and caterpillars, it’s like a transformation, like there’s hope that I could become a butterfly or the sadness of the butterfly, because it’s going to pass away really soon.
TK What’s the inspiration behind your use of color?
TT I think I do a lot of yellows and yellow is just like a representation of light — and I realized if it is blending into the figure it could also be seen as symbolic of my Asian identity. A lot of times I start with the darker color and at the end I’ll bring in yellow.
In terms of color, I will say light is most important. So everything is shinning in some place. At first I just couldn’t understand how to figure out the light source, and then I was kind just like neon; it’s just shiny by itself!
^ Tsai-Ling Tseng, Helloween, 2018, oil on canvas, 127 x 140 cm. Courtesy of the artist.
TK There is a lot of physical texture on the surface of your paintings, could I ask you to tell me about your approach to texture?
TT My grandfather passed away last year, I couldn’t go to Taiwan because I’m still waiting for my visa and I was really close to him. I just kept working on this painting for a year.
These ones over there are just like a lot of mistakes and I’m just saving them. I don’t necessarily love texture, but I have realised that it is another way to build up another kind of story.
TK What is next for you?
TT I have a solo at the Kapp Kapp Gallery in January!
TK Are there any artists you would recommend the reader to check out?
TT These are the shows that I’m really looking forward to seeing:
Cheyenne Julien at chapter NY
Hannah Beerman at Kapp Kapp
Michelle Uckotter at A.D.
Eden Seifu at Deli Gallery opens on 9/12
Gahee Park at Perrotin on 9/12
Born in Taipei (Taiwan), Tsai-Ling Tseng completed her BFA in Fine Arts at the School of Visual Arts, New York in 2016 before going on the complete her MFA in Painting and Drawing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2018.
The artist's recent exhibition history includes: If These Walls Could Talk at AHA FINE ART (New York), New Directions 2019 (curated by Akili Tommasino) at Barrett Art Centre (New York) and Creative Mosaic (curated by Osman Can Yerebaken) at Plaxall Gallery (New York).
Tsai-Leng Tsing has been the recipient of awards from: Shandaken Projects, Anderson Ranch Arts Center and the Mercedes Matter | Ambassador Middendorf Prize.
The artist's debut solo exhibtion will open at Kapp Kapp Gallery in January 2021.
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