Peihang Benoit Interview - The Hopper Prize

Peihang Benoit

Peihang Benoit on finding early inspiration, working towards a number of exhibitions, & the importance of key concepts such as time, space, memory & identity.

How did you get into making art?

I was drawn into Japanese comic books such as Sailor Moon or Dragon Ball when I was a pre-teen. I began by copying the figures and eventually started creating my own storylines. However, I quickly encountered the challenge of managing perspective and background drawing. I asked my mother if I could attend proper drawing classes to improve.

Upon attending the classes, I fell in love with academic sketching, and from then on, I never looked back. Working on images, drawing, and painting became a meditative process for me, something that felt completely natural and inexhaustibly captivating. Meanwhile, my mother started nurturing my passion by taking me to exhibitions. I vividly remember my first experience at the Biennale in Taipei Fine Art Museum. The sight of Yayoi Kusama’s fluorescent pink ballon like work filling the entire courtyard opened my eyes to the vast world of contemporary art.

While I continued my training in art classes, the idea of becoming an artist continued to grow day by day. So, when the time came for university, I wholeheartedly embraced the fine arts program without a second thought. And that’s how my journey began.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on a painting series titled ‘Gateway.’ I have been developing this series for about 2 years with the aim of a solo exhibition. The exhibition is scheduled for March 2024 at TKG+ Gallery in Taipei.

In addition, I have several exhibitions in the pipeline, including an institutional exhibition, an art fair, and a gallery group show, most of which are planned for 2024. Meanwhile, I am also resuming my ceramic works, which I had been doing since 2019 but had to pause due to the pandemic and my relocation to a new city. These commitments keep me quite busy and excited at the moment.

This body of work was inspired by the confinement resulting from the pandemic and the early stages of motherhood.

Peihang Benoit

What inspired you to get started on this body of work?

This body of work was inspired by the confinement resulting from the pandemic and the early stages of motherhood. At that time, I had just moved to a completely new city where I had no personal network. These two events coincided shortly after my move, and I suddenly found myself in multi-layered isolation. It was undeniably a very challenging period. I began to ponder how I could capture this phase of my life, which was likely shared by many, and transform it into something meaningful.

During this period, there was even a month when I didn’t step out of my apartment at all. I stayed at home, taking care of my baby girl in a very small space with little room to move around. The daily routine of caregiving, combined with sleep deprivation and isolation, distorted my sense of time and space. I lost track of days and focused solely on my baby’s routines: feeding, playing, sleeping. Often, I would find myself staring at things at home or observing family interactions, but my mind would drift elsewhere, often revisiting places I have been in the past.

Much like Alice in Wonderland falling into a rabbit hole into another world. This experience of distortion became a catalyst for further thinking. It led me to reassess what painting can be and how memories can be summoned from the past to the present.

Do you work on distinct projects or do you take a broader approach to your practice?

My work often emerges as an aftermath of feelings I cannot explain at the time. Usually, it’s triggered by an event, an event that concerns my identity, who I am, what I like to be, and where I am from. It takes time for me to reflect and develop these feelings consciously, but I can ultimately distill it into a few key words such as time, space, memory and identity. As a woman, a Taiwanese, and as an individual who has traveled and lived in various places, the layers of identity build up and create gaps that I believe can be filled with interpretation as an artist.

In general, my approach involves identifying deeply personal subjects and weaving them into the broader fabric of history and contemporary events. I contemplate their significance on both an individual and societal level. Consequently, my creations merge intimate experiences with universal themes.

What’s a typical day like in your studio?

My day in the studio typically begins around 9:30 AM. To kickstart the morning, I take some time to relax, enjoy a cup of coffee, respond to emails, and work on administrative tasks, all of which keep me occupied until 11 AM.

After this, I start to look into the source materials, sketches, and contemplate the day’s canvas work, all while preparing fresh paint on my palette, readying the canvas, and tidying up the studio. I refer to this period as my “brainstorming time.”

I usually pause for lunch at this point, and the real action unfolds post-lunch when both my mind and stomach are well-fed and settled. This is the beginning of my first painting session, which typically lasts until 3:30 PM. I take a brief break for a snack during this time. Snacks are essential to me because an empty stomach and fluctuating blood sugar levels can disrupt my creative flow. Following the snack break, I re-engage with the canvas for another productive session before wrapping up for dinner and family time.

Occasionally I have studio visits, and I enjoy these moments as they shift me from a solitary work mode to engaging in conversation and brainstorming with others. I consider myself as much an extrovert as an artist so very often studio discussion generate insights.

Benefiting from the studio being in the house, I return to the studio around 9:30 PM after family responsibilties are done for the day. During this time, apart from another section of painting on canvas, I may handle administrative work or clean brushes, and finally wrap up by 11pm to bed.

Who are your favorite artists?

There are so many artists out there that I learn about every day, and the list just keeps growing and changing all the time.

One artist I will always mention is Cecily Brown. I admire the gestures, movements, and painterly quality of her works. Fascinated by the duality of her image, walking a fine line between abstraction and narrative, I realized that I can spend a long time looking at her works and never get tired of them.

Marlene Dumas is another artist whose work has been a part of my life since early on. Every time I see her work, there’s an aura about it. The simplicity in her brush strokes and images conveys incredible weight and meaning.

As for Francis Bacon, while his works are often seen as dark, I perceive him as an artist with an endless urge and energy to express himself on the canvas. Surprisingly thin-layered, he creates a sense of space that seems larger than the constraints of the canvas, always in motion.

Typically, I’m drawn to painters because that’s the field I seek to develop in. However, I am equally inspired by artists such as Sarah Zhe, Julie Mehretu, Dorothea Tanning, Hilma Af Klint and Wangechi Mutu and many more for various reasons.

Where do you go to discover new artists?

Apart from discovering through word of mouth, museum exhibitions or running through catalogs, Instagram is really a great way to discover up and coming new artists. I spend a lot of time browsing online and frequently get impressed by many new discoveries. However, I’ve also learned not to rush to conclusions, not to completely trust images, and not to be instantly captivated. I always aim to see the work in real life.

I usually mark the ones that appear interesting and try to visit them in person if they’re within my physical reach. I believe it’s important to see it in person because an artist’s process and decision making are much more evident in real life, and there’s so much to learn from it.

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