PEIHANG HUANG - “I WANT TO CREATE SOMETHING THAT DRAWS ATTENTION TO THE SPACE, SUGGESTING IT’S INSPIRED FROM SOMETHING THAT MIGHT HAVE EXISTED.”
Interview by Maddie Rose Hills for Floorr
Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
I spent a few years in the United States when I was young, and then moved back to Taiwan before settling in the UK; but fate brought me to Paris last year. Taiwan is an island 180 km off the coast of China, where the official language is Mandarin. It’s very different to China but has an history of entanglement: it has a democratic government and rights, like gay rights, that China has yet to give to its citizens. Sadly, people tend to confuse Taiwan with Thailand, especially when you talk about food and massages! This can be a little awkward, but more often than not it leads to some funny stories. I was drawn to painting from an early age and studied fine art at university. I took my BA and MFA in Taiwan at the National Taiwan Normal University (it got the ‘Normal’ from the French École normale supérieure), and got an MA at the Chelsea College of Arts in London. I am lucky to have studied in two different traditions – east and west – and this has influenced my work. It’s led me to rethink my own identity and changed my perspective and my understanding of space.
Your paintings have been described as spaces of ‘exploration’. Colours unfamiliar to the natural landscapes they depict; fluorescent pink & orange, lead to a feeling that we, the viewer, are also entering new environments. These same colours are at points soft and dreamlike, and at others, alarming. How do you see the role of colour entwined with subject matter?
Color is the medium I use to give a sense of the unreal in my works. I want to create something that draws attention to the space, suggesting it’s inspired from something that might have existed. Sometimes the choice of color goes beyond the subject that it becomes almost abstract, but I try to walk the line between figurative and abstraction. I love to push the boundaries of color, and use combinations of color that seem unworkable at first. That’s not to say that my methods are random; they are intentional. The colors I use are refined and, ultimately, selected through a process of experimentation, and, in using them, I want to generate real tension that evokes genuine emotion.
In your latest body of work, ‘Youth Activities’, you used as inspiration photographs from your mother’s time, during life in Taiwan after the Chinese civil war. Is this the first time that you have used imagery, from a time and place you were not present, as a reference? Did the fact that these were not your direct memories affect the work?
I have always used my own memories and recollections from others as reference points for my work. I find it particularly interesting to interpret the memories of others. When I think about other people’s memories, I am conscious of the gaps in my understanding of their lives; all I see or hear is a cross-section of their lives and never the totality. For instance, my mother's memories are important to me, and I'd like to know more of them. But, to recover her memories and understand how she experienced them is impossible, because I did not live her life. Memory is inevitably fragmentary, particularly when dealing with others recollections; in the gaps, all I can do is insert my memories to create a new mixture with distinct meaning. This is how I insert my own imagination into the displaced memories of others. I am not trying to be an historian, but, true to the work of an artist, I am attempting to find a particular window through which I can observe reality and express it anew in my own work. I want to know how the lives of others relate to my own. I want to understand what we can learn from the history and the memory of others, and what this implies about the nature of human beings and behavior. These are the issues I try to address in the process of creating my art and in the final product.
Nora-Swantje Almes talked about the idea that your paintings explore time and layering as conceptual themes which can be linked back to the idea of what painting, as an act, is. Have you always been drawn to painting because of its ability to layer and manifest periods of time physically and visually?
Painting is a result of movement, color, and material. The patterns and colors draw you in, but it’s important to look deeper than the superficial elements of any work. When you look into the detail of the texture of any painting, you see it in a completely different light. There’s always something new to look at and consider, no matter where you look in a painting. I try to keep those elements of painting close enough to each other on the canvas, but not erasing it to indicate the trace of time. I like my work to retain a raw quality and not be too polished, so that I feel the canvas reflects the effort I have put into creating it. Every movement remains visible so the people can go on their own journey when looking at the paintings. The layering, the fragments, the structure, the brush points; in either harmony or in conflict on the canvas. This experience echoes my perspective and the structure of memory.