藝術家專訪｜想像力過剩的怪誕世界：駐紐約臺灣藝術家曾采翎 Tsailing Tseng
Updated: May 13
A Grotesquely Imaginative and Bizarre World- An Interview with New York Based Taiwanese Artist Tsai-ling Tseng
採訪編輯 Editor｜謝蕎安 Joanne Hsieh
翻譯 Translation by | Joyce Lee
圖 Image courtesy｜曾采翎 Tsailing Tseng 提供
Brooklyn, New York 紐約布魯克林
Hi Tsailing, can you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from and where are you currently based at? What are some places you'd recommend for visitors?
采翎：「我來⾃台北，我很幸運可以住在紐約。我很喜歡去大都會博物館，紐約當代美術館， PS1，Whitney、New Museum看博物館推出的新展覽，還有在Lower East Side、Chinatown、Tribeca及Chelsea 看各式各樣的畫廊展覽。我也很推薦花⼀天的時間去 Dia Beacon 走走，跟紐約市相比那裡安靜很多，有完全不⼀樣的感覺。」
Hi, I am from Taipei. I am fortunate to live in New York. I really enjoy seeing art exhibitions in New York. Met, Moma PS1, Whitney and New Museums always have really great programs. I also really like to walk around in Lower East Side, Chinatown, Tribeca and Chelsea to see gallery shows. I would also recommend taking a day trip to Dia Beacon. It is much quieter and has a totally different visual experience in comparison to NYC.
What is your work or studio situation currently? Where do you paint your large scale pieces?
采翎：「我很幸運跟我⼀位藝術家好友可以在Bushwick/East Williamsburg的⼀棟老建築共租⼀間⼯作 室，我們這層樓的前排是藝術品裱框公司，常常可以看到很厲害的畫作在這棟樓進進出出。」
I am really lucky to share a studio with a close artist friend in an old building in Bushwick / East Williamsburg. The front side of our studio floor is an artist frame shop, there are so many masterpieces coming in and out of our hallway all the time.
What do you want the viewer to take away from your painting (through a cold read)?
My hope is to convey stories to the viewers. The stories are usually built from distorted self-portraits in colorful and textural worlds, doing illogical things. I employ fantastical visual effects to attract the viewers’ attention and curiosity and to lure them into the core of my paintings, which is self-critical, sarcastic, and socially relevant.
What’s something you care the most about in your paintings? Your works bring up social issues through imaginative imagery. What do you hope to accomplish through this approach?
采翎：「最困難也最好玩的挑戰是如何⾃由靈活地將我的想像⼒及⾃⾝⽣活體驗連結，創造看似無害的荒唐世界，並以反諷詼諧的語氣挑戰觀眾正視當今社會存在的問題。例如《Minor Feelings》 裡，中間這位有很多食物的女⼈正在吃著香蕉，背後的⼩女⽣瘦巴巴地拍著女⼈的⼿臂想要乞討分食。表⾯來說這是⼀個資源分配不均衡的現象。另⼀個⾓度來說，我藉由這個塗著⼤紅⼝紅、眼妝花掉、張嘴吃香蕉的女⼈描繪男性視⾓下的⼝交，表達亞洲女性總在⻄⽅世界被刻板印象定義成被動、聽話、順從的⾓⾊。強迫觀者聯想且正視⻄⽅社會長期物化亞裔女性的社會議題。這張畫的標題是借⽤韓裔美籍作家Cathy Park Hong去年剛出版的《Minor Feelings》這本書。」
The most difficult and fun challenge in my practice is to combine my imagination with personal observations and encounters freely and creatively, in order to create a seemingly innocent and bizarre world. My goal is to challenge the viewers to face the current existing social problems through a sarcastic and humorous lens. For example, Minor Feelings, 2020, on the surface, is a criticism about consumption: a woman eating from a pile of bananas, while a skinny girl behind her begs for food. However, I also tried to present the straight male perspective of fellatio by illustrating an Asian woman eating a banana with red lipstick and smeared eye make-up. I hope to force the viewers to face the long-term western fetishization and objectification of Asian females. This painting’s title is directly borrowed from the Korean-American author Cathy Park Hong’s book, Minor Feelings.
Who are these half-human, half-beast figures in your paintings? They always seem to be between a polarizing state of shock and daze, which is really interesting to me. Can you elaborate on that?
采翎：「我作品裡的⾓⾊⼤部分都是我⾃畫像的延伸。半⼈半獸是因為很多時候我的想像⼒起源於動物特性。例如《The Death of Knowledge/ Monkey Brain Table》這張畫的靈感起源於中國某些地區吃猴腦的風俗。畫中央頭腦被剖開的半⼈半猴⾓⾊卡在餐桌中間，發呆等著被⼈吃。我想暗諷中國共產黨對於⽂化審查制度⽽影響到華語國家的⾃由知識新聞。我藉由畫中半⼈半猴無奈的放空神情表達⾝為⼀個台灣⼈看⾒我的國家台灣⾯對中國政治脅迫的無奈， 以及中國摧殘香港、新疆、⻄藏與蒙古等地的⾃由⺠主⽂化語⾔。」
Most of the characters in my paintings are extensions of my self-portraits. They often seem half-human, half-beast because a lot of the times my imagination is inspired by animal instincts. For example, The Death of Knowledge/ Monkey Brain Table, 2020 is inspired by a regional Chinese tradition of consuming raw monkey brains. I present an open-skulled, half-human, half-monkey figure in the center of this painting. She is waiting to be served as a dish. It’s a metaphor critiquing the Chinese Communist Party’s censorship, which disturbed mandarin speaking countries’ freedom of information and news. I want to use the figure’s dazed eyes to express that as Taiwanese, I feel helpless when seeing my country threatened by China, and the cruel damage China does to sovereign/autonomous regions such as Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia.
Pieces like Seven Creatures in My Heart, 2021, use bright neon colors and the muddy browns, which are a very unique palette. How do you choose your colors and what is their significance? Or are they choices based purely on intuition?
In my recent work, I intentionally chose neon yellow or lemon yellow as the skin color of my main female self-portrait characters in order to highlight that Asian people are often called Yellow People. I use colors as tools to create lights in my paintings. Yellow is the color of light. Light is the focal point for a majority of viewers. I want to use this advantage to manipulate the viewer’s attention to the glowing objects in my paintings, such as to an Asian girl that people would usually neglect.
What inspires your aesthetic choices, such as brush marks, composition, colors, and imagery?
For me, composition means finding angles and structures for my narratives. Before jumping into oil paint, I make a lot of sketches for a specific idea that I want to convey. When I find the most suitable perspective, I then start to figure out the space around my characters. Goya’s prints influence me a lot on building a rigorous composition to activate my characters in a believable imaginative surrounding.
「我受到Judith Linhares的影響很⼤，尤其是她作品中對筆觸⼤⼩、⽅向及流動性的理解。在 我創作的過程中，很多時候油畫被我畫得太死太緊，這時候就會想起Judith Linhares對筆觸的這些概念，是讓我的作品起死回⽣最好的⼯具。 意象或者⼈物的特質是最好玩也最靠直覺的地⽅。對我來說意象是⼀張圖開始的起點。⼩時候看了很多⽇本動畫，宮崎駿的神隱少女和魔法公主以及⾼橋留美⼦的⽝夜叉都影響了我對⼈物特質描繪的美感和想像⼒。」
As for the brushstrokes, I am influenced by artist Judith Linhares whose works are a masterclass in making conscious decisions about the function of large and small brushes, and the direction and the fluency of the brushstrokes used to convey a feeling or a message. In my painting process, many times I rely on these concepts to loosen up or to "rescue" the works that I pushed too far and made too tight. The most intuitive part of my work is the imagery. For me, it’s the beginning of a painting. I watched a lot of Japanese anime when I was a kid. Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke, Kiki's Delivery Service and Rumiko Takahashi’s Inuyasha play big roles on my aesthetic choices and imagery.
What’s your favorite body of work created by another artist?
采翎：「我很喜歡 Martin Wong 1980年代的紐約房屋磚塊的作品系列。」
I love Martin Wong’s city paintings from the 1980s.
What was your path to becoming a professional artist?
I always thought art was an impossible thing for me to do when I was in Taiwan. When I was a kid, my elementary school teacher told my mom I had no talent, and that it would be better for me to focus on my academics. I still begged my mom to let me take an art entrance exam for the art middle school in Taiwan, but I wasn’t accepted. In middle school and high school, I had an inferiority complex when it came to my art.
「⼀直到我18歲去美國UCSD 讀書，因為英⽂不好上課很多都聽不懂，跟⼈交流⼜有很多⽂化衝極，挫折感很⼤。有⼀次意外經過聖地牙哥的連鎖畫材店 (Artist and Craftsman Supply) ， 去裡⾯逛了好久，拿零⽤錢買了⼀些畫材。整天窩在我的房間畫畫、不去管⽣活中的責任。這段時間對我很重要，每天⾃⼰對著畫布把⼼情想法投射到各種想像世界裡，⽤圖像故事表達出⽂字說不出來的情緒。在獨處的環境下發現以前跟別⼈比較誰畫的比較好的那種挫折感都變得很沒意義，靜下⼼來才正視到我真的很喜歡繪畫。接著⿎起勇氣申請紐約視覺藝術⼤學(SVA)插畫系，去讀了⼀年轉成藝術系，接著到了芝加哥藝術⼤學(SAIC)完成MFA in paintings and drawings Program。之後我搬到了紐約，從紐約的藝術環境及與藝術家們的交流上，學到各式各樣可以豐富我作品的元素。 」
Then I went to the States to study structural engineering in UCSD when I was 18. I had a hard time understanding English in my classes and readings and felt defeated. The culture shock was difficult and I struggled to make friends during that time. One day I passed by a local art supply store in San Diego, and felt drawn to the materials. I bought art supplies with my allowance and then stayed in my room painting ignoring other responsibilities. That was a really formative period of time for me. I began to project my feelings and emotions onto canvases and forgot about the frustration I encountered in the outside world. I stopped comparing myself to others and fell in love with painting for the first time. I then applied to SVA illustration major and transferred to fine arts after the foundation year. I attended to SAIC to pursue my MFA in paintings and drawings. The education never stops though. Since, I have immersed myself in New York’s art scene and constantly exchange ideas with other artists which enriches my work in so many ways.
Can you name some of your favorite writers, artists?
采翎：「我很喜歡藝術史裡的William Blake、Leonora Carrington、Marc Chagall、Frida Kahlo、 Titian，以及 Goya。當代藝術裡，我受到Judith Linhares、Tala Madani、Nicole Eisenman、 Rosa Loy、Lynette Yiadom-Boakye 和 Maria Lassnig的影響很深。」
I look up a lot to historical artists like William Blake, Leonora Carrington, Marc Chagall, Frida Kahlo, Titian, and Goya. I am very inspired by contemporary painters like Judith Linhares, Tala Madani, Nicole Eisenman, Rosa Loy, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and Maria Lassnig.
Covid-19 has made such huge impacts on all aspects of our lives, with NYC being one of the most devastated cities, how has this impacted on your work and life?
采翎：「⾝為⼀位亞洲女性住在美國，疫情對我有兩⽅⾯的衝擊。除了對疫情的恐慌之外，我走在布魯克林熟悉的街道上受到不少以前在類似的街坊不曾遇過的種族辱罵。⾄於創作⽅⾯，⼀開始疫情爆發太多事需要時間消化，所以創作停了⼤概兩個⽉的時間。以前我總是隨機在畫布上發想，在油畫的過程中慢慢找到⼈物故事。但因為 lockdown 不能去⼯ 作室，我在家裡開始用⾊鉛筆和⾺克筆作畫。之後把這些在家的創作帶入⼯作室裡，才發現這些練習對我在油畫中尋找⾊塊、光、以及敘事的幫助很⼤。所以我開始把這個過程帶到我準備油畫前的程序，讓我更精準地表達我想闡述的故事，也省去很多顏料費和時間。」
As an Asian woman living in America, the impact of the outbreak of COVID-19 has been two fold. Besides the personal fear of the pandemic, I have battled racial slurs several times in my familiar neighborhood of Brooklyn, something that I hadn’t experienced there before. In terms of the artistic practice, I stopped making art for almost two months just because I needed time to process what was going on in the world. Before the pandemic, I used to start a painting without a plan, then found figures and stories in the process of making. However, because of the lockdown, I couldn’t go to my studio, so I turned to drawing at home. I made colored pencil and marker studies on paper. Later when I brought those studies to my studio, I realized I was finding shapes, sharper narratives, colors and lights for my oil paintings. I think by adding this practice to my painting preparation, it definitely helped me to be more clear head about my narrative, and saved a lot of the material cost and time.
What was your favorite activity as a child and does it have any impact on your work as an artist today?
When I was a kid, I loved to hide in my room and read all kinds of illustration books, stories and fictions. I enjoyed the feeling that my brain was in the imaginative world. I can see the connection with my current art practice. The difference is that I was imagining other people’s stories in my childhood, but now I am creating my own stories and transferring them onto a canvas.
What motivates you to keep painting?
I love bringing the figments of my imagination to life and experimenting with different techniques. I enjoy getting lost in my pieces.
What do you do when running into a creative block?
When I run into creative blocks, I usually do a deep cleaning for my studio, or do something unrelated to art making to keep myself from overthinking. Or I would go over the old sketchbooks or older works, re-exam the old ideas or unsuccessful older works to find new solutions from the old problems.
What kind of challenges you’ve been presented, as a female Asian artist living and working in NYC?
The biggest challenge is that there are very few Asian female artists mentioned and discussed in mainstream art history. This void creates doubts about the critical importance of my personal voice and political stance. For this reason, my earlier works avoided the opportunity to have conversations about social and political events, and race issues that are related to my Taiwanese female identity. I used to avoid self-portraits and instead used half-abstract animals and monsters to express my feelings and emotions, intentionally preserving my work in a surreal, utopian imaginative world. It wasn’t until I moved to New York after I graduated from SAIC, made my first series of self-portraits and interacted with different Asian immigrant artists, that my work started to express my identity, self-doubts and frustrations as an Asian female artist.
Can you recommend us a documentary or a book(s)?
采翎：「三島由紀夫的《⾦閣寺》、《The Earthsea Cycle》 ，作者Ursula Le Guin、《The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House》 ，作者Audre Lorde，以及去年出版的 《minor feelings》， 作者 Cathy Park Hong 。最近因為朋友介紹，準備看《Why Asia?: Essays on Contemporary Asian and Asian American Art》，是由⼀位台裔美籍藝術史及策展人 Alice Huei-Zu Yang 所著作。紀錄片我比較少看，但我很喜歡台灣導演楊德昌的《⼀⼀》、《牯嶺街少年殺⼈事件》還有侯孝賢的《悲情城市》。」
I am not too familiar with the documentaries, but I really love Taiwanese film director Edward Yang’s movies such as Yi Yi and A Brighter Summer Day. Also another Taiwanese film director, Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s A City of Sadness. In terms of the books, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima, The Earthsea Cycle by Ursula Le Guin, The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House by Audre Lorde, and Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong. Also a friend of mine just recommended Why Asia?: Essays on Contemporary Asian and Asian American Art by art historian and curator Alice Huei-Zu Yang. I just got the book and is very excited to read it!
What are some short- and long-term goals that you would like to add to your accomplishments?
采翎：「短期我會計畫回台灣⽣活和創作半年，今年五⽉底會在台北的濕地Venue有⼀個pop-up show和⼀個壁畫的project。短期內我希望能夠在台灣更積極找到展出機會，融合更多台灣社會⽂化元素到我的作品裡，也希望得到更多機會和台灣觀者交流。長期⽬標是希望能夠維持我對繪畫的喜愛，可以⼀直穩定創作、進步。 」
My short term goal is to be more proactive to find some exhibition opportunities in Taiwan. I think it’s very important to incorporate more Taiwanese cultural and political elements to my work, and to exchange ideas and feedbacks with Taiwanese viewers. I plan to live and work in Taiwan for half of a year. In late May, I will have a pop up show in an exhibition space called Venue in Taipei and will make a mural for the space. My long term goal is to keep my passion about art, have a steady studio practice and keep pushing myself to make better work.
曾采翎 （b. 1991)）是一位來自台灣的藝術家，活躍於美國以及國際藝壇。過去三年曾采翎在布魯克林的藝術圈中耕耘，並有一系列即將到來的展覽，包含倫敦 Leibe Gallery藝廊的 Cave Canem 群展、芝加哥 Goldfinch Flatfiles 群展、紐約 Klaus von Nichtssagend 藝廊的 Paint School Exhibition 群展、以及台北的濕地 Venue快閃展覽等等。曾采翎也曾在許多知名藝廊和展覽中展出，像是芝加哥EXPO CHICAGO國際當代和現代藝術展、首爾LVS Project Gallery藝廊的ASYAAF群展、雅典的ART ATHINA國際當代藝術博覽會、長島市的 LIC Arts Open 群展、布魯克林的 Greenpoint Open Studios 群展、GEORGE Gallery 群展、紐約 SVA Chelsea Gallery 的群展 LinkedIn、以及紐約的 Space 776 Gallery、the Barret Art Center、和 The Plaxall Gallery 等等。
Tsai-Ling Tseng is a Taiwanese artist who has established herself as a promising artist in the United States and internationally. She has spent the past three years immersing herself in the art scene in Brooklyn and has upcoming exhibitions, such as Cave Canem at Eve Leibe Gallery in London; Goldfinch Flatfiles in Chicago; Paint School Exhibition at Klaus von Nichtssagend gallery in New York; and Venue Space in Taipei to name a few. Ms. Tseng’s works have been widely exhibited at prominent galleries and exhibitions such as EXPO CHICAGO: The International Exposition of Contemporary & Modern Art, ASYAAF presented at the LVS Project Gallery, ART ATHINA, the LIC Arts Open, Greenpoint Open Studios, GEORGE Gallery, the SVA Chelsea Gallery’s LinkedIn: From Photography, to Painting, to Sculpture and New Media, Space 776 Gallery, the Barret Art Center, The Plaxall Gallery and numerous others.
Special thanks to Tsai-ling Tseng
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