On the surface, the artwork of Alice Lin titillates with its whimsical playfulness and can be greatly appreciated in this regard alone. If we take the time to delve a little deeper however, the returns are infinitely rewarding, as Lin creates profoundly personal imagery which speaks intimately about the human condition. Utilising the ancient painting techniques of her native China in a thoroughly contemporary manner, Lin fosters connections with her cultural history which wield even greater power given that these associations also extend to her subject matter. Infused with a magical surrealism, Lin’s protagonists appear in portraits that are both metaphorical in nature and emotive in intent. Her ambitious scope gives way to rich detail and we are immersed in the wonders of a unique imagination that effortlessly succeeds in jumpstarting our own.
Alice Lin was born in the north of China in 1980 and is currently living and working in Beijing. As a child Alice studied calligraphy, Chinese painting and classical poetry, all of these disciplines still inform her work to this day. Alice has previously worked within the 3D effects industry and is now focusing her talents on her fine art and freelance illustration.
WOW x WOW is super honoured to have two wonderful paintings by Alice in our inaugural exhibition, ‘Lightning Bolts & Little Sparks’. ‘I Love Unicorn’ and ‘Miss Rabbit’s Garden’ are both terrific examples of Alice’s rich poetic surrealism. To mark this special occasion, we have this exclusive interview with Alice for you all to enjoy. Read on!
Hi Alice, thanks very much for making the time to have a chat, we really appreciate it. To get us started, can you give us some background on what has lead you to this point in your professional life, be it your formal training, hard work, serendipity, etc.?
Hi, I’m so happy to have a conversation with WxW here, the last time I was featured was about a year ago, time flies. It’s my great honor.
Talking about being an artist, it’s been an amazing experience throughout my life so far. Four years prior to doing my own thing, I was working for a CG company and had different jobs within illustration, animation, multimedia and 3D projections. Through those experiences I’ve been very well trained and am now versatile in different situations. However, at that time, tech art was still in its infancy and sometimes this could result in frustrations. Then, when I decided to focus on my own art, the easiest way for me to get started was by painting, because ever since I was a child I’ve been learning traditional Chinese painting skills. I know the techniques well, but intended to use these old methods in my own way. Actually, in the beginning it was a very experimental time for me, while I was trying to make sure that these old methods could be adapted to my style. I always had a belief that I could expand on those skills and explore new avenues. So here I am.
We’re interested to hear about where you’re currently living and what you like about the area? What is the art scene like there and do you feel a part of that community? Are these aspects of your life that are important to your creativity?
I’m originally from a small coastal city in the north of China, but have been living in Beijing for the last 21 years. I love this city, even though it has a bad reputation concerning its air pollution. What I love most about Beijing, is that it’s the central area for Chinese culture; it probably has more international galleries, art activities and art communities than any other cities in the country.
In the beginning I created my own art, I didn’t have any professional artist friends in my life, but it didn’t stop me wanting to become an artist. Most of time, I was just working at my studio with my cat and I really enjoyed those times. Within the last year I started co-operating with galleries who introduced me to artists and art activities. 798 in Beijing, it’s the most popular contemporary art area in China, all of sudden I realized ‘Oh I have a big family in the best place now!’ I was so thrilled. But most of time, I still prefer being alone, living in my own thoughts and do my own things.
Talk to us about growing up. In what ways did your childhood and upbringing affect your relationship with the arts?
I started learning to draw at 5 years old. At that time my teacher was a traditional painting, calligraphy and poetry artist. He was my first teacher in life and my aesthetics have been influenced by him a lot. My parents were very supportive. We had vacations in different places each summer, and my relatives brought me different books or information from the many countries where they used to work or travel. I’ve a big family in my hometown and I received encouragement about painting and drawing from them and developed a sense that it was something I could do.
How do you approach the creative process? Do have a concrete idea of what it will look like before you get started? What type of reference do you use, if any? Please talk us through how you construct an image.
It’s a lot of fun to create a new piece, actually. If open myself up, I find the source materials and atmospheres around me. Mostly, I make a sketch before painting, sometimes it’s influenced by life. For example, when walking on the street and being surrounded by ads or shop windows I get some interesting ideas. Or when watching movies, or reading books, or being in nature; I follow my stream of consciousness, sketch it down and see if it’s what I really want to say.
Your artwork appears to explore instances of our internal worlds meeting and merging with the external universe. Would you say this is an accurate observation? If so, we’d love for you to elaborate on the concept for us, and if not we’d appreciate you setting us straight.
Yes, it’s about exploring the internal and external, about the relationships between the two; self and surroundings; human beings and the world. Most of time we deal with ourselves. You may view most of my paintings as portraits; these portraits for me are about exploring the concept of the ‘container’. It’s a medium between the inside and outside. Our body is a container, connected to the outside world and our breath, blood, thoughts, feelings, emotions, dreams, etc. are the content; through this content we are able to experience life, and we are able to learn about art, the world or ourselves.
Alongside nature and the animal kingdom, pop culture provides you with inspiration and you have recently created a series of works focusing on the themes of desire and temptation, featuring vast quantities of sweets and candy. What was the trigger for you to start exploring these themes and what thoughts were going through your mind as you developed the series?
Yes, this series was inspired by Pop Art. As I said previously, it’s about the content. Candy and skulls; commonly we consider them as opposites, like happiness and darkness, everything has its double side. But it’s human nature to reach for as many sweet things as we can. Candies and skulls with melting gold mixed together. In a way, it’s a dialogue about removing self-desire.
Given the surreal and dreamlike nature of the art you create, your unconscious mind is clearly something you nurture and look to during your creative process. Can you tell us about any techniques that you employ to tap into your subconscious or that help ideas rise to the surface?
I believe that it’s from my being, an intuitive narrative about my cultural background and childhood experiences. When I was child, I spent a lot of time by myself and I’m not sure why, but I always enjoyed it. Maybe I was just an odd little child. Through this time alone I had many opportunities to think and let my imagination run wild, or to read books and process the information in my mind. Or maybe I should say, visualize the scenarios that would occur in my mind and draw them, or produce them using different materials, for instance when I would make rag dolls, paper-cuts, woodcuts, etc. I love handmade stuff. To this day, I still use these methods to work out my ideas.
As we move through life we continue to grow and change. In what ways have you seen the themes you’ve been exploring with your work evolve since you started down the path of being a professional artist?
Yes, exactly, we move through life and continue to grow and most of time it’s just about dealing with ourselves. I paint the human figure and explore the concept of each of us being individuals. When I communicate with people about their thoughts or backgrounds, I’ll read their body language through their face or gestures. Through my art, hopefully the viewers will make connections with their own lives. Then, if I keep creating more works and doing more research, I’ll develop a better understanding and interaction with the world. It helps me open up to my present surroundings and also go backward to embrace my cultural background at the same time; I have realized that time can be bent. I had these same feelings when I was starting new tech art projects; I started thinking of all the ways to deal with the present and the past through our cultural history.
Have there been any occasions where you haven’t always necessarily had a full understanding of the symbols or dialogue that emerge from the narratives within your art? Could you give us an example of an image you painted that ended up revealing something to you after its completion?
Looking back at my artwork, especially those first few pieces, I wanted to reveal what I was to myself; I followed my intuition to draw things out and see where they went. I asked myself, “Why am I drawing this? How does it make me feel?” I did some self-analysis. For instance, animal figures wearing clothes (sometimes it was western clothes, which I learned about by looking at picture books when I was child) and plants combined, like in the painting ‘Fairy Tale’, was very obvious. Then after it was completed, I could tell that it is also a reflection of my background and experience. It’s an interesting process.
In order to get a better understanding of the personality of an artist, it can help to get a peek behind the curtain. Would you be willing to share a story from your own life, possibly one whose memory you find yourself returning to for inspiration, or maybe just a tale about a hardship you’ve overcome which has helped define the person and therefore artist that you are now?
I think it’s really about personality, which stems back to my childhood, as I was an only child. My father used to be a police officer and my mother was a music teacher at a local school. They provided me with everything I could have ever wanted and taught me to be well behaved, but sometimes I just felt uncomfortable within that environment. All the time I was growing up, everything was about dealing with myself. Naturally, this was a hardship for a child to go through. I suffered from anxiety due to my surroundings and art gave me a way to deal with the anxiety. It pushed me into revealing parts of myself and reducing the mental pressure; it was all about getting to know myself. On the other hand, I had a strong curiosity to discover the world. For me, the key factor in life is having self-respect and self-acceptance and once I had that I could open up to my environment and to the potential of the world around me. I know it’s going to be an incredible ride through life.
If you could own one piece of art from any of the world’s collections what would it be and why?
Oh, it’s very hard to choose, maybe it would be ‘The Fifer’ by Édouard Manet. Besides its great gesture, it gave me a sense that a portrait can have more meaning than just being a portrait. Actually, there’re a lot masterpieces I want to mention.
What’s next for Alice Lin?
I want to keep learning about myself, allowing concepts to become clearer and showing me the potential in things. I can’t wait to see where it all goes!