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Interview: Xinyu Han

"Next Question" by Xinyu Han

1) What is your background story? Where are you from and where did you attend school? What are your hobbies and interests?

I was born and raised in Shanghai, China. I came to New York when I was 18 years old and studied at the School of Visual Arts, located in New York. I love sketching, painting, taking pictures, and enjoy food.

2) How did your experience of living in Shanghai and studying abroad in New York City affect your personal perspective and the view of the modern world and the people residing in it?

By leaving Shanghai for four years, when I come back, I realized my childhood under my parents' wings made me lose sight of the more colorful, contradictory side of the city. New York helped me to see Shanghai and cities differently. New York City has taught me being alone is not loneliness. Alone is a statue of an individual. Loneliness comes from alienation. A crowd of people is usually the trap of alienation.

"Red Painting" by Xinyu Han

3) Do you see a contradiction between your role as an artist, in which you engage with people in order to have a dialogue, and the realization that you feel alienation and loneliness in interacting with people in the modern era? Do you try to resolve this contradiction, or do you embrace it as an artist?

Yes, I embrace it. I keep a certain distance from people to make me more comfortable as an observer. That later becomes one of my research steps, walking on the street and just merely seeing things. By doing that, I could always happen to see more—for example, the reflection of walking people on the window or the unpredictable shadows and lights.

4) What are some important hints in your paintings that reinforce the sense of loneliness and alienation in living in large, modern cities? How do you negate a sense of connection with strangers and passerbys?

In my paintings, faces are always presented vaguely, sometimes even the figure is ambiguous too. I think the vague face is the way that individuals would be presented in the crowd. Usually, when viewers’ eyes need to perceive a group of people, the features became the least important part. But with vague faces on canvas, as a still image, it changes its meaning. Without facial expressions, figures can be visually distant and the emptiness of a group of people can be exaggerated. The absence of features also helps me push the foreground into the background, give more flatness to the real scene. The painting decreases personal existence by picturing crowds. It conveys the insignificance of the individual.

5) How do you arrive at the imagery? Do you use and combine photographic references that you take yourself with a DSLR, perhaps? How do you curate what gets included and what gets censored out in the painting? How do you compose your paintings to arrive at a cohesive and poetic imagery?

My references are mostly coming from the photos I took with my film camera. I love to carry my Contax t2 film camera with me every day. I feel the images developed by the film are always more colorful and vivid than the photos taken by DSLR. Then I would look at the image that interests me repeatedly, zoom in, and zoom out. It’s like doing math, minus the useless details and add on what’s important to me. Sometimes I would draw many drafts to manage the composition; other times I would just spontaneously paint it and wait to see what paintings are trying to tell me. I believe the painting is telling its fact, and sometimes that’s even beyond my grasp.

"Painter" by Xinyu Han

6) Could you talk about the work titled, "Painter"? Why did you decide to paint a man painting white on a wall? Did you come to a kind of a realization about the material or spiritual quality of the white wall or the man's inner state of being? Why did you choose to include the man in the image?

The work Painter is inspired by what caught my eyes on the street. One day, I saw a man painting a reconstruction board on the roadside. Perhaps he is a construction worker. The man was so concentrated on painting the wood board, did not mind the pedestrians at all. The board was almost finished, sunlight reflected on the white pigment illuminated the board and the man, as if they were in a different world. A quiet and peaceful world. I was standing a few steps away from them and couldn’t move away from what I’ve seen. This breathtaking moment evoked my curiosity of the painter’s relationship with the world.

I painted the Painter because I thought that the scenery is what moved me. However, when I finished the painting, I realized the thing that touched me is the simple enjoyment he had with the whiteboard but that enjoyment is unclear in my artwork.

Therefore, after the work Painter, I made another painting about this construction worker. I painted him repeatedly; the figure of him became less and less critical. The more I saw are brushstrokes and colors. This sensual experience is what attracts me while I saw him with the board on the street.

"Painter II" by Xinyu Han

7) Who are some of your favorite figurative painters? Whose works influence your work in terms of style or meaning?

I looked at Gerhard Richter as an influence since I aimed at making photorealistic painting but not photographic. With influences as diverse as Luc Tuymans, who paints as standing away from personal emotions, and Marlene Dumas uses figures to represent her strong feelings, new synergies are generated from both traditional and modern structures. In my works, I am trying to keep a distance from concrete facts but in the meanwhile, absorb personal opinions. I choose the objective facts as a source for subjective expression. Both of my “Red Painting” (2020) and “Green Painting” (2019) present my perspective of social relationships. As I experience social distancing, I am keeping a mental distance from my works and concentrating on subjects that depict the current moment.

8) What do you find to be different between Shanghai and New York City? What artistic inspirations did you derive from the architectural appearances and social environments of the two cities?

I found the streets in both cities are very different. In New York City, streets are named with numbers and always the one-way road. Blocks are divided into square, just like the city's characteristic —— straight forward and decisive. Shanghai’s streets compare to New York City, are broader and more complicated. The streets' names are named by different cities in China and the blocks are divided in organic shapes. New York City gives me a direct perspective, Shanghai, in a way, adds some subtle hints in me.

"Blue Painting" by Xinyu Han

9) Could you talk about the work titled, "Where should I go"? There is an overall sense of mystery and uncertainty in the image. Is the person going through multiple visions of the past memories or the plans for the future? Is this about your own path as an artist or a collective feeling of uncertainty for the future in a post-COVID world?

I painted “Where should I go?” in my senior year of undergraduate study. Before the COVID, I was very anxious about my future by that time. I did not know what I should do to make a living in New York after graduation and lack confidence with my works. At that time, I feel my future is in the mist with the pressure from outside, but I am exposed in front of everyone.

Ironically, Covid eased my anxiety. During the pandemic, I realized I should live in the moment. Since no one would know what will come next, the only thing I can do is to make sure I don’t leave any regret for myself. It sounds cliche but thinks it makes me more certain to keep walking on my path as an artist.

"Green Painting" by Xinyu Han

10) What are your next steps as an artist? What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

My next step is to expand my field of art. The current global issues showed me how important that social activities to humans. I realized I need to see more social reality before setting my conclusion. Having this thought drives me in a new direction.

I am applying for the graduate program, I expect to engage in more experimental ideas while maintaining the exploration and integration of the social humanities in my work. I am looking forward to beginning a new adventure.

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