We had the good fortune of connecting with Gigi Chen and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Gigi, do you have any habits that you feel contribute to your effectiveness?
As a fine artist, I do not always have deadlines. This was especially true at the very beginning of my Art Life before I started showing my work in galleries and taking on commissions. I would start a painting and think “I have all the time in the world!!!” That is not realistic if the ultimate goal is to create a full and coherent body of work. I had to learn to treat being a painter as an actual JOB. I had to learn to put in my hours and make sure I was working as much as I could to complete a piece and to plan ahead for other works that would be in a series. Creating artificial deadlines, even with some wiggle room built in, was really good practice for when Real Life showed up and I actually had to meet Real Goals.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Like all artists, I am the sum of my own history. Growing up as a precocious artist, I wanted to be Da Vinci and I drew and drew and drew everyday. When it was time for college, I thought I should be something more practical and I enrolled in Traditional Animation. I was also working as an assistant to a several artists. Seeing how paintings were conceived and created, really spoke to me. I was learning all the Old Master techniques and getting paid to do so. Putting in all those full time hours painting and drawing, really allowed me to sharpen and expand my own skills. Choosing to be a Fine Artist was a very natural, yet challenging choice. I had to build up my own body of work over the years. It was always a difficult at the beginning to work and to not be consumed with the issue of money. In my 20’s, sales were few and far between and I continued my job as an artist assistant. Luckily, I was idealistic enough to continue grinding and making work almost everyday. I just wanted to make things.
Along the way, I have learned a ton of lessons. Mostly I have had to learn to tune out the rest of the art world and not worry about what is perceived as the “hot thing.” I love going to museums and seeing new gallery shows but then I go back to my studio and keep working. Every artist has to make their own rules and reset their goals. Otherwise you get consumed by all the Art Noise and get sick from insecurity.
Today, my own painting style has evolved into a clear mix of my education animating cartoons, storytelling and my love of old Master styles. I strive to have each piece tell a clear narrative. Also I love bright colors and creating different dimensions in my work. I want everything to feel yummy and vibrant.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I grew up in New York City and have been living in West Harlem for 15 years. I looooove West Harlem. It’s an old neighborhood with gorgeous buildings and lovely people. I would take my friends to eat at my favorite restaurants. Either Mumbai Masala, an amazing Indian Restaurant, or the super trendy and loud Harlem Public. I would usher them over to Riverside Park right along the Hudson River and we would take a long walk toward the underside of the George Washington Bridge. This bridge connects New York to New Jersey and it is massive and glorious. Sitting right under the bridge is the Little Red Lighthouse. She has been there since before the bridge was built and is the only lighthouse in Manhattan. I like to sit on the rocks underneath and look down the river to a great view of Downtown Manhattan. Or look up the river where you can only see trees, water and the Jersey Palisades and pretend like I am no longer in the city. Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Kathleen Gilje has been my Yoda and Dr. Frankenstein for my entire career. I have always joked that she made me into the Art Monster that I am today. She has taught me everything about Painting and how to navigate my Art Career. I would never have felt comfortable diving into the Art World if not for her.