Interviews | June 19, 2023 |

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Image courtesy of Zhenyuan Shi

Interview: Zhenyuan Shi
Luca Curci
talks with Zhenyuan Shi during Supernatural, INTERNATIONAL ART FAIR in London

Zhenyuan Shi is an artist originally from Shanghai, China, who currently resides and creates in New York. They earned a BFA in Film & TV production from Tisch School of the Arts in 2018 and later pursued an MFA in Design & Technology at Parsons School of Design. As a queer immigrant, Zhenyuan’s work often explores the poetic expression of pain and complex emotions experienced by bodies living under systems of oppression and exile. Their work employs symbols and rhythm alterations across the canvas, depicting nuanced and multifaceted experiences. Their artwork has been exhibited in various galleries, including the Kunstraum, Usagi NY, Thames Art Center, and more.  

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Image courtesy of Zhenyuan Shi

Luca Curci – What is the trigger that leads you to paint?
Zhenyuan Shi – As an artist, I have developed a structured approach to my work that helps me create pieces that are both meaningful and visually appealing. I typically start by selecting a key theme for the series I want to create, which can be anything from memory to childhood to nostalgia. This theme serves as a guiding principle for my work and helps me stay focused on a specific message or feeling that I want to convey. Once I have chosen my theme, I spend a significant amount of time writing poetry that reflects it. I keep the theme in mind as I write, allowing myself to be inspired by my experiences, memories, and thoughts. I find that this approach helps me create pieces that are authentic and personal, as I am drawing on my own experiences and emotions.

After I have written a series of poems, I begin to sketch out my ideas on paper. My goal is to create visuals that capture the emotions and feelings conveyed in my poetry. I pay close attention to color choices and symbols, ensuring that they complement the poems and add an additional layer of meaning to the piece. This process is critical to my work, as I believe that the visual aspect of my art is just as important as the written words. While I primarily draw inspiration from my own experiences and writing, I also find that the work of other writers can inspire me as well. If I come across a poem or an essay that really resonates with me, I am often inspired to create a new piece of work that reflects my response to it.

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Image courtesy of Zhenyuan Shi

LC – Which artists have somehow had an influence on your work?
ZS –
As someone who frequently uses symbols in my own work, I find inspiration in artists who incorporate symbols into their pieces as well. Joan Miro, Gitte Maria Moller, and Chris Lloyd are among the artists who captivate me with their use of symbols and color to convey the themes behind their paintings, creating a mesmerising atmosphere. Because I often work with Risograph printing, I also seek inspiration from other artists who participate in the small publishing scene or produce their artwork in zine formats. Publishers such as Cold Cube Press, Fotokino, and TXTbooks are reinvigorating the print medium, pushing the boundaries of publishing and art. Their unwavering curiosity and persistent experimentation with the printed medium serve as a catalyst for me to discover novel techniques and formats to integrate into my own creative endeavours.

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Image courtesy of Zhenyuan Shi

LC – Which art themes do you pursue? What is your preferred subject, if there is any?
ZS – I constantly delve into my inner self through my art practice. The canvas acts as my playground where I am free to express myself through a variety of mediums, including abstraction, symbols, and color. My work is a reflection of my journey and experiences, and I seek to examine and understand my identity through my art. Being a queer person and an immigrant, my work centres around exploring themes related to my identity. I am constantly inspired by the immigrant experience, as well as the queer experience in different cultures. These themes are significant to me because they are integral parts of my personal journey, and my art is a means of examining and understanding them in greater depth.

Memory and nostalgia are also prominent themes in my artwork. Having left my home country a decade ago, I find myself intrigued by how the landscape of my childhood has transformed within my memory over time. It is through my art that I strive to capture these fleeting memories of home and bring them to life in a way that is both emotional and personal.

LC – How do you choose your subjects? Is it a reasoned or an instinctive process?
ZS – In my experience, inspiration comes from a combination of instinct and reason. Often, it arises unexpectedly – triggered by a scent, an encounter with an art piece, or a piece of writing. Once I’m inspired, I approach it in a reasoned manner. Firstly, I assess whether I can incorporate the inspiration into the art theme I’m currently exploring. Next, I analyze whether it will provide a fresh perspective or enrich the narrative of my current series. Finally, I decided whether to include the subject in my work. 

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Image courtesy of Zhenyuan Shi

LC – Do you use art to express something in particular? Is it your medium of expression?
ZS – Absolutely, art is my primary medium of expression. It serves as my bridge between my internal world and the external reality, allowing me to communicate thoughts, feelings, and experiences that are often difficult to put into words. My art often centers around identity and memory, two themes that are intertwined. In my artistic expression, I delve into how my memories and identities are formed, and the complexity of it. I also further investigate how it shapes our perceptions of ourselves and our place in the world.  Ultimately, my art is a dialogue with myself and the world around me. It’s a tool for self-discovery, understanding, and communication. So, yes, I would definitely say art is my medium of expression. 

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Image courtesy of Zhenyuan Shi

LC – In which way the artwork presented in our exhibition is connected with the exhibition’s theme?
ZS – My work seeks to generate a setting that is both surreal and ritualistic, which perfectly aligns with the theme “SUPERNATURAL”. 

LC – Can you explain something about the artworks you have in our exhibition?
ZS – My piece, Funeral For My Past, delves into the emotional journey of bidding farewell to one’s former self and identity during the process of migration. This transformative experience can be tumultuous, overwhelming, and even traumatic. I drew upon the traditional Chinese funeral ritual as a metaphorical representation of this profound spiritual process. Through this piece, I materialized the moment of letting go and embracing a new beginning.

LC – What do you think about the organization of our event?
ZS – I think it’s super great! It’s awesome to be able to exhibit in UK even when I’m located in the US.

LC – Would you suggest a collaboration with us? What do you think about ITSLIQUID GROUP services?
ZS – For sure! Your services provide great opportunities for growth for artists around the world. 

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Image courtesy of Zhenyuan Shi

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