In the Studio with Yage Guo

London based artist Yage Guo's work explores the nature of time, by capturing sentimental moments that are fading and contemplative and even uncanny. We met with Yage to find out about her practise, major influences, and plans for the future.

When did you first begin to see yourself as an artist? 

I never intentionally planned to become an artist actually. I simply have the desire to create and make stuff, which is a natural process in my eyes.

In my youth I was always fascinated by manga, because the drawn lines basically build up the story of everything. I see drawing as something really powerful and beautiful and looking at every manga artist’s unique style is like viewing their identity. I guess from the beginning I just wanted to draw a lot… and at some point I wanted to create my own style, which is a more complex representation of me within this world of imagery.

Later when I visited Slade for my interview, I had a school mate who told me that at this place the people will treat you like an ‘artist’. That was when I realised the concrete definition of the word artist, and that I was going to be one.

Where are you from and what was your upbringing like? How has this impacted your work?
I was born in Inner Mongolia and moved to Shanghai at a young age. Mixed cultures have always been very central to my life, since I was raised in a Northern Chinese family within a Southern Chinese context. I never carried the obligation of belonging somewhere and I never pigeonholed myself into any of these cultures which made me feel free and independent to just be me. When I moved to the UK at 17, I felt like an outsider and encountered a further flooding of cultures. This instability made me more conscious about time and how the past and present connect. This melancholic spirit is crucial in my work and has affected my subject matters and perspectives. My approach to painting is to capture a sense of time, oriented by the idea of “moment”. A slice of time that holds the transition from one state to its counterpart. From stillness to movement, presence to void, from connected to disconnected.
Paint us a picture of your artistic journey. Have you gone through the traditional route of art school and what was your experience?  

I think the whole journey is about learning how to take your time and find your own way of working. I remembered my first month at the Slade, the overload of freedom scared me a little. There would always be some people who seemed so busy and who knew exactly what they were doing. I felt very confused because I was so fresh to it all. Later I found fine art schools to have this interesting vibe of not talking, crediting money or commercialism, turning into a fantasy art bubble. But this is not negative per se. I was fuelled into productivity and injected with momentum because of the struggle and self-doubt. And now looking back, the busy period of production did take me to somewhere. At this moment I am about to start my MA, I have more ideas about what I want, and “you can do whatever you want in art school” makes more sense to me. I guess I am a more experienced sailor now and can navigate the waves of the sea more freely.

What’s the message of your work? How would you describe your aesthetic?

I perceive sentimental moments from specific subject matters: the melancholic adolescents concerned about the future, cars, the life of flowers, forest, screenshots of films… they all carry a sense of fragility and imperfectness. To be precise, it is not the object or creature itself that attracts me, but the image of the specific moment when the object evoked my emotions. I perceive these fading contemplated moments as non-interactive. The distanced way of seeing is similar to the observation in the act of painting.

Are your works planned? What do you want people to take from your work when they view it? 

Most of my paintings are not planned. In the process of painting there is always something unknown, the accidents could never be planned. I like the fact that there is a part in my work that is provocative to the audience, whether it is the energy or the subject matter. But they are not to be considered or to be satisfied during my making process. When I am curating shows, however, I am much more aware of the viewers, as I believe curation has to deal with the relationship between architecture and people within it. As a show, there is a specific concept/atmosphere I want to present, to recontextualise the artwork means to take into account the way viewers observe.

Who and what are your greatest influences?

There are many artists in my mind, Nan Goldin, Luc Tuymans, Elizabeth Peyton… Fashion designers like Vivienne Westwood…

Films have impacted my artistic practice in multiple ways. Their narratives, old poster design, compositions of movie themes, characters’ personae, movement and human interactions. I was recently addicted to the 80s/90s Hong Kong gangster films, and recalling all of Stephen Chow’s comedies. I suppose what intrigued me was the sincere companionship between the lonely individuals, a strong spirit and willingness towards life, and Chow’s bittersweet humour. 

The Conversation, 1995, by Luc Tuymans

What are your ideal conditions or catalyst for creating a “good” piece of work?

Walking alone for a while and working in a private space with good lighting and enough space. In Slade I enjoy working after dinner time, when less people are in the studio.

What events in your life have mobilised change in your practise? How has your art evolved? 

My practise alters every year depending on my inspirations at the time. I have always been painting, printing and drawing. Since quarantine I researched and reflected a bit more on digitalisation. I guess it is the future. I think it is exciting to try out a new technology in my practise during this period of time.

CAR SHOW Collaboration show with Aaron Roth, February 2020

What are your goals for the future?

I want to try something new. Experiment with different media other than painting. And I am desperate for shows. I like the idea of it, having a show concept that allows me to make new works, explore other people’s practise and collaborate with them. Basically just keep making stuff.

How have you been keeping creative during isolation?

I haven’t been painting much, as in actually creating and completing one physical piece, and then another and another… like how I worked in my school studio. During quarantine, I mostly watched stuff, gamed, read, phoned people, and did some self-reflecting. It’s like recharging a device on low battery. Once a tutor told me Summer is not for making, it’s for vacations, and you produce in all the other seasons. I can relate to that a lot now. But I kept my brain active, thinking about what to make in the future. 

I also cooked a lot. It’s a lot of fun.


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