American artist Phillip Hua tells us more about his contemporary take on Chinese brush painting…

What is it about Young Masters that you are most interested in?

I am very interested in the philosophy of Young Masters; the shared appreciation of the past, while putting it into a contemporary context. I’m also excited by the prospect of exposing my work to a completely new region of the world, with new and fresh viewpoints.

Can you explain to us what your work is about?

The relationship between nature and commerce, and the aesthetic boundaries of painting, collage, and digital art are themes that I explore in this series.

In my work, I contemplate nature’s role as commodity in contemporary life. Compositions of animals, flowers, and trees are digitally created in a manner reminiscent of Chinese brush painting. They are then printed, then painted onto segmented sheets of financial newspapers. These pieces are then each coated in packaging tape and assembled together like a pixelated puzzle. The tape serves as a glossy symbol of manufacturing and commodification while the paper, delicate and fragile, reminds us of its former life. The process of laboriously coating the sheets with plastic creates a metaphor of mass production. With global consumption increasing year after year, what is it that gets devoured?

Over time, the newspaper will begin to yellow and change as the acidity in the materials creates a patina of time. Rather than a static image, the work takes on a performative quality, gradually aging and degrading while the viewer becomes a witness. This process capitalizes on the materials’ fragility to serve as a metaphor for the decline of the environment.

Using technology and digital processes, I seek to navigate the digital and physical worlds of painting. My colors are mixed with numbers and values rather than with the pushing and pulling of paint, far from the spontanaeity and immediacy of brush painting. After printing directly onto the newspaper, I paint onto them with water to establish a dialog between chance and equation. The precision of the dots created by the digital processes bleeds and blooms as the water infiltrates the ink. The lines between the hand of man and machine become blurred. What does it mean to paint in a world in which we communicate more frequently with emails, texts, and tweets? Just as tube paint influenced the Impressionists, how does modern day technology affect contemporary painting? I seek to give form to the ever increasing infusion of technology into our lives through the painting process.

Which artist/s are you most inspired by?

Shen Zhou, Qi Baishi, and Chao Shao-an are some artists whose mastery of technique inspire me. While varying in style, these artists used painting as a mode to contemplate and meditate on nature. My work echoes this sentiment but contemplates the role of nature in contemporary culture.

Outside of these painters, I am also inspired by the ephemeral quality of Andy Goldsworthy’s work, the pointed voice of Barbara Kruger, and the elegant usage of light in the works of James Turrell.

Can you tell us something about your background?

While in college, I started working as a framer. One of our core duties was to preserve the artworks to be framed. This introduced me to the notion of conservation and which materials were archival. During my first trip to Beijing, I had a seminal experience with environmentalism, where I witnessed a dense layer of smog, hovvering over the bustling city. This life changing experience sparked the themes of conservation, degradation, and change that is now present in my work.

What inspired you to become an artist?

I have always loved to draw. Coming from an immigrant family, we did not have a lot of money for toys. My brother and I instead were always playing pretend and drawing games with each other. So my imagination was nourished as a child through this experience. But also coming from an Asian family, it was expected that I should be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. It was not until later in high school that I was encouraged by my teacher to pursue art.

If you weren’t an artist what would you be?

An entomologist. As a child and to this day, I love insects. I’m fascinated by their alien forms and behavior. In many ways, they can be metaphors for the human experience; from the ephemeral lives of the mayfly, to the community mindset of the ant, to the transformation of the caterpillar to the butterfly. I find these aspects beautiful and poetic, and demonstrate how parallel we are with nature.

What is your greatest achievement as an artist to date?

Earlier this year, I was selected by the art critic for the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper to be in an exhibition, Emerging Artists of the Bay Area, at the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art, along with only four other artists.

What are your plans for the future?

I have a solo exhibition in the spring of next year at E-Moderne Gallerie in Philadelphia and will be in art fairs this fall with Artered Gallery.