Anita Wong is an artist that understands that to reach for the future, your feet must be firmly grounded in the respect for tradition and culture that can only be found in the past. Anita proclaims (with great exaltation) her beginnings in the Lingnan style Chinese rice paper painting culture that shaped her into an artist with tremendous veneration for authenticity. Anita gets a lot of her inspiration from nature and stresses that although Lingnan style art is her base, she views herself as a modern artist that experiments with various other mediums and formats. Anita is a multi-dimensional individual that has experienced various cultures, geographies and careers and is currently having a blast creating what ever art her soul desires. It was a great pleasure interviewing Anita – see her very illuminating and warm words (and a cross section of some of her art) below …
“Overall, I don’t have a particular artist or a particular art period that I follow because I want to …”
Please tell us a little about yourself – your childhood, siblings, where you grew up, what you liked as a child, strange thoughts as a child/now, unique attributes, where you live now, etc.?
I was born in Beijing and moved to Hong Kong at the age of three. I started learning Lingnan style Chinese painting when I were six from a Lingnan 3rd generation Master. I knew I wanted to be an artist at a very young age – I was drawing when other children played in the playground. With my strong interest in art, I was able to skip senior high school when Hong Kong Polytechnic University accepted me into their art and design program. I continued my studies in London at Central Saint Martins University of the Arts London. I grew up in London as a teenager and moved to Maryland to continue studying my M.A. and M.F.A. degree in digital arts and photography. I became a Professor in Art and Design in my early 20s for over 10 years. I taught Art and Design at the School of Visual Arts, Maryland Institute College of Arts, the Art Institute and Temple University, where I met wonderful educators and artists. However, I gradually realized that I didn’t get very much time to myself to do what I really enjoy doing in my life – which is to create art. In 2014, I gave up my career as a Professor and became a full-time artist instead. As a Chinese American artist, I want to dedicate my life to pushing the boundary of Lingnan style rice paper painting. I now live in California and have been loving every moment as an artist.
How do you describe your form of art and what tools do you primarily use?
The art form I am specialized in is Lingnan style Guo Hua (Rice paper painting from the south of China). I use Chinese brushes, rice paper, ink and Chinese paint (very similar to watercolor but most pigments are from nature (e.g. a stone pigment, an old tree pigment, etc. and could be very toxic). I am also specialized in modern art – I like experimenting with different mediums and different formats. I am now painting with both acrylic and Chinese paint – it’s been a fun process for me.
What does your art mean to you?
My art means everything to me. I don’t force myself to be an artist and I don’t force myself to create art, it just comes naturally. Each day I wake up and I am glad I am an artist. Dali said to himself every morning: “Every morning when I wake up, I experience an exquisite joy —the joy of being Salvador Dalí— and I ask myself in rapture: What wonderful things is this Salvador Dalí going to accomplish today?”
Which artists do you look up to the most?
辛鵬九 – my teacher and a world-renowned Lingnan style master and one of the first pupils of Chao Shao An. I’m also very inspired by Louise Bourgeois, Claude Monet as he is the master in brush and color. And of course, Picasso for how brave and creative he was in trying different styles and being so original. Overall, I don’t have a particular artist or a particular art period that I follow because I want to be influenced by many great artists. I try to follow both western and eastern art, both traditional and modern. I try to get my inspirations online and offline.
Your work touches on nature a lot and it also has a reflective and solemn character to it – why do you think you are pulled to create in this manner?
I love nature and animals. I spent many hours caring for birds when I was a child and they became the subject matter for my art ever since. Rice paper painting is one of the oldest art forms that honors nature. It is seen by many as a dying art form as we have generally disconnected ourselves from nature in the digital age. My goal as an artist is to push this art form forward with new styles (that is not forced or following some trend) and updated meanings. Currently, I am seeking collaboration opportunities with leading scientists and biologists to update the core meaning of the art form. I am also developing a new painting style that is unique and has never been done by any Lingnan style painters before. I’d like for the traditional art form to come alive again and allow it to speak to the modern minds of the modern viewers.
What is the worst critique you have ever received about your work? What is the best compliment that you have received about your work?
I think the worst critique I’ve ever gotten is that my paintings were too big. I painted very large scale paintings for years to achieve expressive brush strokes and I was told no one will ever buy my art because no one will be able to hang it in their living room. As an artist, I think there are greater meanings and reasons why I create art, selling was not my main goal. To me, the art form and freedom to express is priceless and can’t be valued with money. The best compliment is that “your art is so beautiful that it made me cry, it talked to my soul”.
Since Style.No.Chaser is a men’s lifestyle magazine, what attributes/items/clothing /etc. do you think define a man?
I think to be able to express oneself with clothing is an art. It is very important to feel comfortable but think outside the box. For example, a formal suit with a more edgy pair of shoes brings out the character of a man. I think it is also very important to dress for the occasion, to own both formal and casual wears, have fun and perhaps think like an artist.
What is your personal life philosophy?
My personal life philosophy is to be a good person, love and follow your passion. Life is shorter than we think. Try to make every day better than the day before, compliment a stranger when you could. Care and love your family and friends. Surround yourself with good people and hardworking ones. Never give up too fast. “Just do it”, keep working hard but don’t complain! Believe in yourself and have confidence but also have respect for others. Believe that you will achieve something great eventually with positive thinking and hard work. It is okay to be different, let’s love our differences because the world would be a boring place if we are all the same. Enjoy different food, have fun and learn about different cultures, make friends and smile! Be thankful for what you already have.
What is your favorite color and why?
My favorite color is aqua – a greenish blue. It has a real calming effect while being modern. It is a beautiful color to be used in both traditional and modern art.
Who dead or alive, celebrity or not, artist or not, would you like to go on a two-week road trip with and why?
I would love to go on a road trip with Yoko Ono. I think she is very smart and inspiring. She went through a lot in her life. I was actually mistaken as young Yoko Ono more than 30 times in U.K. and U.S. I think it’d be really fun to see what Yoko thinks, it’d be a good laugh and an inspiring trip.
What type of music do you listen to (if at all) when working?
I love listening to music as I work, I like modern Jazz very much as it is free and lively.
How can people learn more about (or buy) your current and upcoming works?
I am having my first solo exhibition in S.F.. this March at Canessa Gallery : http://www.behance.net/gallery/49626173/Canessa-Gallery-presents-Anita-Wong-solo-exhibition. My works are also displayed online at Behance.net/anitawong and anitayanwong.weebly.com.
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