How did you get into making art?
I started making art as a way to create my own worlds and provide a distraction from the chaotic social environment I grew up in, which was during the Cultural Revolution in China. I was in elementary school when regular classes converted into propaganda classes, and most cultural content from beyond China were banned. I remember having a hidden book of social realism paintings that I studied intently, not having other references. I loved to draw everything and everyone I saw around me. During the ‘re-education movement’ when I and other high school aged youth were sent by the government to labor at farms for several years, being able to draw and make images was what brought me joy within the physical struggles of daily life. When the college education system finally recovered, I was lucky to attend school to study oil painting and pursue art professionally.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on a series of larger oil on canvas paintings that I began during the pandemic, in preparation for a solo exhibition next year at Gallery 456 in NYC. With these pieces I am thinking about the collective and contradictory spaces between mythologies and reality in relation to my personal experience of being a first generation immigrant. I’m playing around with incorporating more imagery inspired by traditional Chinese folktales.
With these pieces I am thinking about the collective and contradictory spaces between mythologies and reality in relation to my personal experience of being a first generation immigrant.
What inspired you to get started on this body of work?
During quarantine last year, being stuck at home, I was thinking about ideas of home and how interior environments can be used to symbolize emotional states. This inspired me to focus on interior spaces as the setting for many of my paintings, each room being a microcosm of society from an Asian American perspective. I was very interested in juxtaposing ambiguous interactions and conflicts, pieces of memories and mythology, and hints of contemporary life into these psychological interiors.
Do you work on distinct projects or do you take a broader approach to your practice?
I like to work on a series of paintings at a time, with each group of paintings thinking about related themes and focusing on different repeating motifs, social conflicts, and painted environments.
What’s a typical day like in your studio?
I usually like to work evenings into late night. Before I enter the studio, I like to take a walk outside, getting some fresh air and opening up my mind before I head inside to paint. When in the studio, I will put on some music and drink a cup of tea or beer. I usually work on three to four paintings at a time, and will constantly rework older paintings. Typically I will try to paint seven to eight hours at a time. I like to keep my studio pretty tidy, so I clean up before I head out.
Who are your favorite artists?
Max Beckman, Goya, Bosch, Duchamp, Francis Bacon, Freud, Anselm Kiefer, Immendorff, and Henri Rousseau, among others.
Where do you go to discover new artists?
Gallery and museum shows, library art catalogs, and online.
Furong Zhang is an artist based in State College, Pennsylvania who was recently shortlisted for The Hopper Prize. To learn more about the artist: