We had the good fortune of connecting with Renqian Yang and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Renqian, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
I grew up in Xiangtan city (Hunan Province), China. My parents were usually busy with work, so I stayed home by myself a lot and started drawing every day. My mom sent me to study traditional Chinese calligraphy and painting because she knew I had a strong interest in drawing. We thought Art school might be a good option, so my mom supported me to take some art courses from a local art studio. Drawing and painting were all I want to do when I was in high school. I spent my entire senior year practicing drawing in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province. Some childhood friends also trained with me in the same studio. Soon I was 18 years old and living away from home for the first time. I was determined to be an artist even though I didn’t know what that meant. I got accepted to one of the best art schools in China: The Sichuan fine art institute (in Chongqing). Here, I studied ceramics for my BFA. Even though I had no idea what most of the ceramic terminology meant, I did my best to learn. Although I still wanted to be a painter, clay as a material was fascinating and challenging. I had a strong interest in contemporary ceramics, and how the abstract expressionists influenced some of the greatest ceramic artists. Expressing ideas with not just a flat surface, but a three-dimensional object was something I wanted to study. I decided to attend graduate school at Syracuse University (New York, United States), where I found my interest in installation art. I also took as many painting courses as I could. After I graduated from Syracuse University, I worked in various Chinese interior design companies. Typically, my work schedule was 9-hour days, 6 days a week (known in China as “996”). I was bored at work and missed spending time creating. I think curiosity and passion keep me going as an artist.
Please tell us more about your work. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
Curiosity and passion bring me to Art. I genuinely believe art makes everybody “equal”- everybody has the freedom to create. I came from a social realism-influenced art background, during my early works, I was mostly exploring social commentary work themes like immigration and survival. Later, I started transitioning from the outside to the inside world, and how human emotions deeply affect our everyday activities. My work is about binaries. The opposition is not always just black and white, there is a big gray area in-between to explore. I am very interested in oppositional ideas, ideas that are contradicting each other, for example, pessimistic and optimistic, happiness and sadness, there is just a fine line between extreme oppositions. I explore clay, form, texture color, and how these elements fit in my artwork.
I believe it’s very important to accept failure as part of the learning process. I have had more failures than successes ever since I started my art journey. When I teach, I always emphasize not being afraid of failure, and getting out of the “comfort zone”. The more times you fail, the more times you learn, and that’s part of the growth.
I started a local event called “Empty Bowls”, which is a part of a national clay event, in my community to raise money for a local food pantry -The Human Concerns. Students and Locals were invited to create and decorate handmade bowls to be sold at a large beneficiary. When the bowls were fired and finished, we displayed the bowls for sale, and numerous bands played a variety of live music. The community came together to enjoy live entertainment, while the artists who created their bowls watched people buy their works and take them home. Donating all the proceeds to a food pantry made me feel I also contributing to our community. Empty Bowl is a great example of art bringing community members together. Community to me feels like not just the people around you, but the world, in a sense. There is a global community that we are all part of, so if we can think more like that, we are connected, and all in the same community. If we can all contribute a positive voice in the community where we live, that might be a good start.
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.
There is a lot to do in upstate New York, especially during the summer! Upstate has many museums, my favorite is the Everson Museum of Art. Perhaps I would bring my friend here to catch up. and the MOST (Museum of science and tech) would be another one to go. Downtown Syracuse has much to offer, with local food places and record stores. After window shopping and browsing records, we can go for authentic Chinese food at a local restaurant, also some bubble tea. In Syracuse, the Green Lakes and the Onondaga Lake Park are great ideas for a fun bike ride.
Another option is the New York State Fair, Downtown Syracuse, and Good Food. The New York State Fair is an event I attend every summer. I would love to bring my friend to the Fair, where we would pet animals, watch magic shows, and enjoy a concert at the grandstand.
New York is home to the finger lakes, lakes that look like fingers when viewed from above. I would take my friend to lake Skaneateles where they have the Finger Lakes wine tour. We would watch the sunset while toasting future art and ideas. If we feel like an adventure, there is the Corning Museum of Glass (Corning); Going to Niagara Falls is another amazing trip.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I’m lucky to have had so many great mentors throughout my art career. Some are great professors/mentors from both my undergraduate study in China and graduate study at Syracuse University. Some are my best friends, colleagues, and galleries. The most important ones are my parents, especially my mom. She’s always encouraging me to believe in myself, which is difficult. Coming from an extremely competitive background, I don’t know where I would be without my friends and family. My mom always encouraged me to pursue a path that I love, and always believed in my choice – even if that meant living in a different country far away from them. My dad will always say: if I fail, I can always come home. My parents will always be the main foundation of my life.
Instagram: @yangrenqian @renclaystudio
Facebook: Ren Yang