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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Hsieh (MissyChiao)


Updated: May 13, 2022

A (True) Story of an Asian Cowboy: An Interview with Taiwanese American Artist Yowshien Kuo

採訪編輯 Interview and Edited by|謝蕎安 Joanne Hsieh

圖 Image courtesy|Yowshien Kuo 提供

翻譯 Translated by|Joyce Lee

一個亞洲面孔的西部牛仔 - 位居密蘇里的藝術家郭耀賢 (Yowshien Kuo)筆下一位重複出現的角色。他穿梭在一個又一個故事場景,探索當代美國繪畫中未知的領域- 臺裔美籍的藝術。是該得到關注的時候了。

An Asian cowboy - a character that repeatedly shows up in Missouri based artist Yowshien Kuo's paintings; he explores the uncharted territory of an aspect of contemporary American paintings- specifically, Taiwanese American art, that is getting it's long overdue attention.



Hi Yowshien! Can you tell us about yourself? Where are you from and what are your recommendations for visitors when they go to your city?


My name is Yowshien Kuo. I am a visual artist currently living and working in St. Louis, Missouri, United States. St. Louis is considered the largest city in the state which is centrally located in the U.S.It is a city known for the Anheuser-Busch corporation, makers of the internationally recognized Budweiser beer. St. Louis is also identified by The Arch, a large sculpture by American-Finnish architect and designer, Eero Saarinen located near the Missouri river. This monument originally stood as the symbol for the gateway to the West and was constructed in 1963.


Aside from my studio practice I work as a professor at three schools in St. Louis that include, Washington University, Maryville University, and St. Louis Community College. My favorite public places in St. Louis are the Pulitzer Art Museum and Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis. Both building designed by the Japanese architect, Tadao Ando. The Kemper Art Museum at Washington University and St. Louis’ Forest Park which has the St. Louis Art Museum, Zoo, and great walking paths, all which are free to the public.


How would you explain your work to a stranger?


My work is directly influenced by the history of race, immigration, and minority status in the United States. As an Asian American, historically our voices and roles have culturally been nearly invisible and still struggle today to be heard and identified as contributing to the history of the U.S. I believe Asian Americans are also silenced by our individual Asian communities as well, meaning they are unrecognized as a significant cultural identity in both American and Asian communities they come

from. Therefore, many people may refer to my practice as sociopolitically driven.



I hope that the work serves as a window to encourage navigating the much larger and important concerns about our relationships to one another. The problems humanity faces are largely due to ignoring and pretending issues do not exit and the result of these persistent attitudes. The erasure of history and truth has lead to generations facing an everlasting losing battle with inequality in all aspects of daily life. Assimilation means becoming similar to the norm, but who exactly is defined as

the norm?


What influenced your aesthetic choices?


The aesthetic choices are inspired by traditions of art making that have existed outside of European Renaissance influences and therefore modern artistic and philosophical aesthetics. Many people call these arts, folk arts. in European and American art perspectives. The self-taught or decorative artist. I use this as a reflection of the ideas and attitudes reflected in the origins of the American people. The folk art influence is combined with visual symbols, clothing fashions, and the visual language of the side of America that tends to support a system of white superiority. I enjoy taking that part of my American identity and claiming it as my own so I can feel I have a sense of ownership to my American heritage that has been stripped from my identity in the eyes of many Americans.


Can we talk about being Taiwanese American? How relevant is it to your art? Do you feel connected to your heritage?


Although I was born in the U.S., I spent much of my childhood in Taiwan with my family from there. Most of my memories from my youth are rooted in Taiwan, memories I cherish today. On the surface my art appears primarily American because I use so much of America’s visual symbolism. However, the narratives in the the work are often directly rooted to experiences derived from comparing cultural

life in Taiwan with my life as an American. Although my knowledge of Taiwan’s history is limited, my experiences there informed me that Taiwan is a country who’s identity embraces multi-ethnic and cultural identities. For me, this makes me very proud of my Taiwanese heritage. Still, I have many questions regarding my relationship to my Taiwanese heritage as am continuously learning how to ask the right questions.

Q: 這是個人意見,我覺得一個新的“台灣意識”正在成形,並且年輕一代的臺裔美籍人士希望能夠和普羅印象中的“華裔美籍人士“區分開來。這似乎也反映在藝術市場上,台灣身為被邊緣化的國家,仍然在找尋自己的聲音,臺裔美籍的藝術,也是如此。請問你的看法是?

Personally, I think there is a newly formed “Taiwanese identity”, and a desire for the younger generation Taiwanese Americans to be distinguished from the general umbrella of "Chinese Americans". It's also reflected in the contemporary U.S. art scene — there seems to be not much of discussion of Taiwanese American art. What is your take on this?


I agree with your statement here as well. I do desire to be able to distinguish my Taiwanese heritage from Chinese more clearly. To be honest, at this time I am only familiar with the cultural differences through experienced observation and reading about it online. Including vocal explanations from friends and family. The differences are not clear enough for me to articulate confidently and therefore I seldom try to explain it to non-Asian people.



What are you currently working on?


Currently I am working on two major projects. Paintings for a group show for early 2021 in Boston, MA along with a potential solo exhibition following later that year. Along with a ceramic porcelain project involving life sized American football shoulder pads painted to resemble Chinese Pottery. The research and professional help are still in the early stages for those.


At the moment it feels as though all the work since 2017 are in direct conversation from one another. Primarily exploring effective ways to discuss race supremacy, colonialism, racial melancholia, and the ascension of Asian American voices. I do feel that in the near future different bodies of works will be made considering the fore mentioned themes.


Can we talk about the motifs in your paintings, especially the animals?


The animals are very important in my work. They are there to symbolize duality. Specific examples include the comparison of humans to animals as a tactic to marginalize groups of people throughout history. I think of the slave trade, calling Chinese immigrants rats and comparing them to vermin. On the other hand, the animal can serve as a symbol of power wether it be for the good or the bad. We see these dual meanings across cultures and in mythological and folk tales.



I grew up with parents who supported my interests in the arts. Taking many public and private lessons in visual and musical arts in both Taiwan and the U.S. I pursued music until my mid-twenties and shifted my focus to the history and practice of visual arts very seriously. My university training emphasized classical anatomy, painting, and sculpture. This taught me how to observe closely.



Who inspire you or that you look up to?


Many of the people who have inspired me are primarily American people of color, because I can relate to their perspectives. James Baldwin I feel is one of the most important writers in American history. In painting, Robert Colescott, Horace Pippin, and Lorna Simpson have made a tremendous impact on my visual language.


What were some of your favorite activities when you were little? Do they have any connection to the work you're doing now?


As a child I made a lot of creating scenes, short movies, building props, costumes, sound, and lighting. The VHS home recorder was my favorite toy. This is what I did with my friends nearly every weekend. An interest in creating alternate worlds rooted in our own is what I realize to be the through line between then and today.


What do you enjoy doing when not in the studio?


Outside of the studio my favorite activities are strength training, outdoor walks or hiking, yoga, socializing with friends and family, and watching movies.


What's your most memorable experience as an artist so far? And the most challenging aspect of being an artist is?


A memory that stands out to me in my artistic career is recently with my first museum show at the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis. Working with the museum staff and teen program truly elevated my works more than I could imagine. The most challenging part has been meeting deadlines.


What's the best advice you've received?


The best advice i’ve received is simple, “You‘re always an artist inside and outside of the studio.” From my mentor in graduate school.


What are some of your short/long term goals?


Short term goals are to show work in Taiwan or major art fair. A long term professional goal is to establish relationships with people doing serious work regarding the Asian American diaspora.


What kind of music do you listen to ? What is our favorite movie (or book)?


I have a lot of nostalgia when it comes to music from my teens and twenties, 90’s and 00’s rock and hip-hop. I also spent a lot of time in night clubs, so electronic music too. A favorite movie of mine is The Stranger by Satyajit Ray. A favorite book is The Red Pony by John Steinbeck.

特別感謝 Yowshien Kuo 郭耀賢

Special Thanks to Yowshien Kuo


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