Interview: Xiao He
Luca Curci talks with Xiao He during THE BODY LANGUAGE 2022, at THE ROOM Contemporary Art Space.
Originally from China and currently living and working in New York City, Xiao He is a multidisciplinary artist with a focus on painting and visual communication design. Xiao He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a master’s degree from Carnegie Mellon University. Xiao is a member of the Oil Painters of America association and currently working for Apple. Her artworks focus on feminism, body and garments, and the cultural conflicts between the East and the West. Xiao’s works have been exhibited internationally, including the 2021 Genova Di Biennale, Upstream Gallery, and Barcelona International Art Fair. Her web design work On the Road has received GDUSA American Inhouse Design Award, and her mixed media artists’ book A Collection of Random Thoughts is now part of the permanent collection of Joan Flasch Artists’ Book collection in Chicago. Xiao He paints collaged women in exaggerated garment decor. With colored pencils and traditional Chinese painting pigment, the Chinese-born artist depicts female forms in a vivid color palette, with reference to the Fauvists and the Cubists. The glamorously dressed women in Xiao He’s paintings and drawings are often spotlighted and fragmented, calling for attention to the psychological state of the figures underneath the flamboyant physical appearance.
Luca Curci – What’s your background? What is the experience that has influenced your work the most?
Xiao He – I was born in southwest China and came to the United States when I was 16 for school, and have been living here ever since. Having studied both Chinese traditional ink drawing and western oil painting, I think I’m always trying to find the balance between the two mediums, and am always trying out different ways to combine the two cultural backgrounds in my art practice.
LC – How did you get to your current artistic practice?
XH – I think that everything that has led up to my current practice was achieved through the process of trial and error. I started out with collages from different fashion magazines, a habit that stemmed from when I was in art school. One day I thought to use the paper collage as the preliminary drawing, flatten it, and re-draw on different materials rather than using glue. I initially used colored pencils but didn’t like the texture, then one day I dipped my pencil in water first and dipped the tip of the pencil in the wet Chinese watercolor palette to draw on the plastic films. It turned out better than expected, and I was surprised to see an almost oil painting feeling. I’ve been using this technique ever since. Currently, I use Dura-Lar paper and Chinese mineral pigments, which are similar to watercolor painting. My methods might evolve to something completely different, but I think experimentation is key to growth as an artist.
LC – Which is the role the artist plays in society? And contemporary art?
XH – Like Charles Baudelaire said in his the Painter of Modern Life, “Modernity is transient, fleeting, contingent. It is one side of art, with the other being eternal and unchanging”. My interpretation is that, as artists, we capture the very moment of life, pursuing eternal beauty that is known as true beauty. For contemporary artists, I think social responsibility is one more layer of the role we hold. How can art advocate justice, or bring social movements, and go beyond the bourgeois decorations? For this reason, I have always appreciated the photography of Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado and the paintings of Kerry James Marshall, in addition to a list of other artists. I think representing the neglected, and the underrepresented in the history of art is a very important aspect of being an artist.
LC – How do you feel when you see your work completed?
XH – It’s hard to define when a painting is complete. For me, it’s the moment when adding any visual elements serves neither compositional nor conceptual purpose. I feel relieved, after spending all the time cultivating the concept, sketching, executing, and the long period of time spent modifying the piece. At the same time, I try to stay detached from the work after completion: I look at it as if I am viewing someone else’s work. I think if an artist is too narcissistic about their own work, they end up limiting their own growth. Self-criticizing is helpful for the next piece to foster growth and be better than previous work.
LC – Which art themes do you pursue? What is your preferred subject, if there is any?
XH – I found women’s bodies exceptionally beautiful. I like the curves, the texture, shades of different bodies. I am also fascinated by fashion, garments, and patterns. Therefore my recent works have been focusing on depicting the body and garments.
LC – Do you agree with our vision of art and what do you think about the theme of the exhibition?
XH – I think body language is a very broad and inclusive theme. I personally like to focus on the body. I especially like the psychological aspects of body language. What you see could have an indication of the emotional activities, and would deliver certain messages to others. I think body language is very similar to art, in terms of what you see contains the artist’s own emotion, and will evoke feelings in the spectator.
LC – Can you explain something about the artworks you have in our exhibition?
XH – Dual was created in 2020 during the pandemic when I was living in the East Village in New York. I remember my boyfriend and I were lying on the bed and talking this and that one afternoon on a day when the summer heat was overwhelming with the city noise outside. However, strangely I feel extremely relaxed. I feel my limbs, fingertips are unwrapped and free from any tension. I thought that this is a very beautiful moment, so I got up to do the initial sketches, and painted Dual based on the charcoal sketch from that very moment.
LC – Did you enjoy collaborating with us? Would you suggest it?
XH – Absolutely! Your team has been very professional with great communication. I’m also participating in the 2022 London International Art Fair with the ITSLIQUID Group. I would definitely refer my friends to you!
LC – What is your idea about ITSLIQUID GROUP?
XH – I think it’s a great platform for artists to extend connections, get professional help, and get more exposure to the art world.