We had the good fortune of connecting with Melissa Wang and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Melissa, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
When I quit Facebook in 2019 to become an artist, I left a predictable career with benefits and powerful resources. In early 2020, I signed a 1-year contract for a studio – and the lockdown happened. Then the community rallied to support artists. I was accepted to my first museum exhibition at the de Young in San Francisco. In 2021, I had my first solo and showed at my second museum, Torrance Art Museum. In 2022, I’ll be curating my first show at SOMArts Gallery. Amazing people and events conspired to empower me to pursue my dreams.
I can never forget how in 1950, my father and his family fled China on one of the last planes out of Fuzhou. As a young man in the US, my father started his business after being ousted at his 9-5 due to racial discrimination. These experiences and those of so many immigrants coming to the US remind me that others took bigger risks so that I could take mine – and that taking risks can be a pathway to a world of one’s own making.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Although I’ve been drawing since I was five and won city and regional awards, I switched schools in my teens and lost my mentors. Since then, I’ve worked in many industries but found myself called back to the arts.
During the lockdown, I painted extensively – retraining my eyes, muscles and mental focus. I also read science-fiction and nature books, finding inspiration for my 2020 series, The Word For World is Forest and my 2021 series, Without the stars, there would be no us. Growing up in a coastal city constantly affected by toxic spills – and as one of the few Asian-American families – left an impression. Experiencing nature as always in peril and a sense of self delineated by othering, my deeply layered paintings and installations contemplate human relations to climate change. How does living on a damaged planet inform our understanding of nature? How do crises – wildfires, floods, melting ice caps – signify our capacity for destruction and liberation?
The career change has not been easy. I feel uncertain and make mistakes. After the resurgence in BLM protests and Georgia shooting, I’m more deliberate about who and where I work. There is incredible exploitation, as in any space without industry standards. People will dangle opportunities in place of monetary compensation or even contracts to limit creative abuse – and discard artists, especially artists of color, at the first sign of trouble.
What makes any of this worth it? My aunt is at a point in her career where she is contemplating her legacy after death. That’s the beauty of art – a book, film or painting can live on irrespective of you.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
We live half a mile from Golden Gate Park in the historic Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. I love the Academy of Sciences, which has an amazing living rainforest dome and aquarium. The leisurely hike from Sutro Baths to the Legion of Honor has lush views of the Golden Gate bridge. On the weekends, there are art talks at Minnesota Street Project and surrounding galleries like / (slash). We’d eat at Besharam or Mister Jiu’s and drink at Hotel Kabuki. A day trip to Tomales Bay for oysters and a drive to Pt. Reyes lighthouse for a quintessential view of the Pacific Ocean.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My husband has installed art, moved in and out of studios and helped me deliver commissions; he’s been a steady force throughout this emotional rollercoaster. Without him, I would not be in the Bay Area, where the cost of living is incredibly high. My aunt, an abstract painter and teacher of almost 60 years, offers long-term insight that is nourishing to my creative and spiritual growth.
An organization that brings artists across generations and disciplines is AAWAA (Asian American Women Artists Association). I also have a list of 50+ artists, mostly from the Bay Area, that I’ve worked with and/or admire on my website. Finally, I recently opened up commissions again and am booked through December. My collectors, who I see as stewards of my work, sustain my practice financially and professionally.