Xiao, welcome to Reprehensible Digest. Tell the audience about yourself – your background, where you're from, what you specialize in as an artist...
I came from China. Growing up, I was more of a writer than a visual artist. I spent the first years of my life building stories and weaving dreams, for myself and for others. Gradually, depression made it impossible for me to write. After I came to the States, I realized that visual symbolism is far more efficient and powerful in conveying my understandings of the world than letters. Visual symbols transcend beyond language and cultural barriers.
As an artist, I specialize in what I call "narratives on paper" – because my work doesn't necessarily count as illustrations, drawings, or paintings. I mostly work with watercolor and some mixed media. Occasionally, I dive into acrylic painting for either a change of mood or for specific subject matter. Years of writing experience taught me how to blend different mythologies, symbols, and philosophies into harmonious presentations. It's definitely made my art more unique and communicative than I ever thought it would be.
How long have you been an artist and when did you realize this was your calling?
If you include writing as art form, then ever since I was in elementary school. As far as visual art goes, I didn't quite consider myself a visual artist until my college years in the States, which was when I was 21. I took a long break due to life and mental conditions and only recently resumed painting regularly. It was during my darkest period when I realized that if I couldn't get back to painting, I would be destroyed, physically and mentally. I finally understood how much painting meant to me. I've always been a loner. I have no eagerness in settling down and building a family, at least not soon. Therefore, I consider art my legacy. Someone I highly respect often bring up the term "planting seeds." I think that's what I'm doing with my art. I'm planting seeds in the viewers' hearts, hoping one day they will grow into beautiful trees.
What mediums do you prefer working with? What are your favorite brands of supply?
As far as watercolor goes, I typically go with Winsor Newton or Daniel Smith. For brushes and other media, I'm actually a Michael's and Hobby Lobby person. When you've researched enough, you realize there are ways to go around without buying expensive supplies. I do put some good investment on the paper I use though. Typically Arches hand-crafted paper for actual projects. I don't care as much for quick sketches and practices.
What brought you to the Midwest and what is the art scene like in Kansas City?
I came over for school. I'm actually a UMKC alum. The art scene is interesting. Diversity is definitely growing and people are becoming more open-minded and accepting every day. However, there is a heavy emphasis on political discussion when it comes to art. While it is understandable, it sometimes becomes so strong that people evaluate the pieces more for their "voices" instead of technique. I'm still an old-school artist, so I personally think a piece of art should speak for itself. If you need a 2-hour long interview, or if being "provoking and provocative politically" is the only highlight you could think of about your art, then sorry, but not sorry – that's not enough for me. That aside, art collecting is still very limited. Most people don't want to spend on purchasing art, but that's an issue everywhere.
Where did you live in China and what is the art culture like in your native land?
I was from Shanghai. Being an international metropolis, it was pretty much the same as New York. Shanghai has a powerful contemporary art scene, a lot of avant-garde art. It is also a modern art hub that often showcases foreign artists. However, when it comes to traditional and local artists, it was lacking to say the least. Being an artist is still considered a "fail in life" in general, LOL. People expect you to grow up and be a teacher, or an office lady, things like that.
There is a mixture of traditional Chinese values and mythology in your work. Do you feel America has changed or influenced your values toward art in any way?
America influenced me more on how I approach the medium. So, on a technical level, yes. On a value-level… not really. I am more influenced by Buddhism (Hindu and China), wiccan culture and witchcraft, astrology, Anglo-Saxon folklores, etc… I'll stop here, LOL. I'd even say I have European influences, but not much American influence.
Some of your works have been exhibited in New York? Tell us a about this experience. Were you able to participate directly, or was this exhibit exclusively online?
It was actually an in-person show and we had a full-house on the opening night! Of course, it was safe and distanced. No Covid for me! I would say it was an unforgettable experience and showed me a glimpse of where I could reach with my art. The atmosphere was quite different compared to any local openings I've participated. The audience was more passionate and engaging. They asked amazing questions. I was overwhelmed by the curiosity and attention my work received. I felt like I was talking throughout the entire two hours. At one point I had to go hide outside and get some fresh air. By the way, I will also be participating with my gallery in Red Dot Miami in December 2021. Really excited!
Has your experience here in America been rewarding and positive? Have you been received or treated well here?
Like everything else, it's partial positive and partial negative. I consider myself lucky, however. Due to my business identity, I have a vast network. People I know can range from a Trump-supporter to a far-left liberal. They may be witches living in the woods or business elites walking in suits all day closing thousands of deals. The majority of them have been nothing but supportive, compassionate, and welcoming. We may differ in opinions, experience, age, background, and culture – but that doesn't mean they are bad people. We are just… different. Of course, I've had people coming straight at me with adversity. I don't think those individuals can represent any social group, however. They are probably just sad and dissatisfied in their own life.
Your paintings are very organic and loose, yet they retain a whimsical, childlike quality. I get the impression you could be a very technical if needed. An accurate statement?
I am technical. My mentor said I did a lot of planning with my painting. I start with loose and free, then gradually go deeper and become more calculated. I'm actually trying to change or evolve from this. "Draw accurately, paint loosely like a child." That's how I was taught. I want to be like that, eventually. I've seen the products of that philosophy and they were breathtaking.
Your artist statement indicates you are a survivor of an abusive relationship. Has art been therapeutic for you in the healing process?
Art has been therapeutic, definitely. It's also an important way that I communicate with myself. Just like how visual symbols can transcend beyond cultural limitations and help others understand my heritage without having to learn a new language or have 300 hours of history class. They have the same effect on myself when I need to dissect and reflect on things I don't quite understand. Humans are driven by feelings and emotions, but it is only when we can separate ourselves from those impulses that we can reach our best self. Instead of breaking down, crying, and playing the victim, I use art to reflect on the decisions I've made and the experiences I've had. That's why my recent pieces are less emotional but more powerful, because I'm getting better at translating emotions and feelings into higher meanings. At least a little bit.
Your statement also suggests that you would like to raise mental health awareness. How can art play a role in this process?
Art is mental health awareness, at least my art is... because it derives from my soul, my learnings, my exploration, and what I believe in. Honestly, I can't raise awareness. You guys listening need to do that. You guys listening need to tell yourself you need to research, investigate, and learn those things. All I can do is, like I said earlier, plant a seed. All I can do is use my art to make you go, "Wait, this makes me feel things." "Wait, I'm kinda sad looking at this." "I want to know the story behind this." That right there, is awareness. If the viewers refuse to respond to those emotions, then all I get (which I do, often) is "Your stuff is weird." And I'll say, move on and have a good day.
You are also a blossoming marketing expert. Tell us a little about your endeavors in this field and how challenging it is to juggle two different agendas on social media.
Ha-ha, yes. I think art feeds back into my approach to marketing. That aside, I do admire the power of marketing. It communicates, and on some level, controls the way the human mind works. A certain color triggers a certain emotion. A certain sentence makes you more acceptable… I use similar concepts in my art, too. I guess I should say they both feed into each other. As for the social media agenda… well as you could see, there are no more separate agendas. I have separate pages, of course, that's about it. The business side is more automated, the art side is natural and spontaneous, but that's about the only difference. At the end of the day, it's still me you are talking to, you know?
Do you implement your marketing strategies to promote your art?
For sure. Not so much on marketing, but more my sales and business development skills. Network, grab those PR opportunities, etc… I mean, that's why I'm looking for interview opportunities. I think if artists are taught more that it's not only okay, but smart and beneficial to approach their art with a business mindset, there would be less "starving artists" – and I'm talking about some really good artists. Wouldn't that be nice?
You are a very business-oriented professional. How do you separate the creative mindset from the driven corporate?
Hmmm… I think you need to be professional with your art, too. Hold your work to the highest standard, you know? It's the same on both sides. I did have some useful tricks to "switch on and off" my business personality, but it has been proven more harmful than efficient. I did it that way because I was too unstable when I first started my business – and I had no choice. Now that I'm in a better place, I'm starting to rethink my business approaches. Like someone once told me, if something is toxic for you, it needs to be cut off. So I'm trying to cut off my own toxic behaviors, which are the "performances" I put on for business, or at least limit them to a somewhat healthy amount. However, I do believe you can still build genuine relationships without any bias in the business world. It's just things are so much faster and more stressful over on that side than the art side. Sometimes people get too caught up. I get caught up too... and then we just take the easy way out. That's actually not good.
Describe your creative process. How do you determine the subject matter? How long does a typical work of art take?
It could be anything. A random thought I had, a song lyric I overhear, a line of poetry – literally anything. My mind works quite differently from… Well I don't want to say normal people, but… normal people. It's constantly running, shifting through things I've ever learned, read, said, heard, or seen. I've been called crazy, or at least weird by a lot of people, especially back in China. From that initial inspiration, I begin to weave in my personal experience, relative references, and symbolisms, etc. It gradually develops into a full sketch. When I transfer the sketch on to the actual paper or canvas, there will usually be more development, because things may have happened from when the sketch was done and when I actually started transferring and working on the painting. I don't really count hours, but 30 to 40 on average for full paintings, and may 5 to 8 for studies. Smaller paintings are probably somewhere around 10 hours.
What is the biggest challenge you face as an Asian female trying to make a living in America?
People constantly think I'm still only 18 years old? LOL. Jokes aside, actually I don't think it's such a big deal. We often conclude that the adversities we experience are due to our gender, ethnicity, etc. But at least 80% of the time, that is not true. If possible, I'd rather not encourage that thought pattern. Sometimes it's not because you are an Asian woman that you are treated badly. Sometimes people just suck. Don't let them bring you down. I'm a pessimist of human nature, but a hopeless romantic when it comes to the possibilities in human beings.
We can all be great if we want to be. Forget about race.
What does being an artist mean to you? How does it define your personality on a philosophical, intellectual level?
It doesn't mean anything. It's just me being me, doing what I do. Like I said earlier, planting seeds. I'm not here to change the world. I'm no Messiah. I'm not some awesome activist advocate… You get whatever you get out of my art. I just focus on my own journey, everything else will fall into place. As for my personality, etc. I'm definitely different from most people. My brain works and is wired in a peculiar way. Yes, I see things, I hear things, I talk to myself... sometimes I can't even tell which part was reality. On a clinical level, I'm probably in the grey area of sanity, to say the least. I don't think art defines my personality, though. I think it's the other way around. I'm already like that, art just happened to be there.
What are your long-term goals as an artist? Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years? What would you like your legacy to be?
Cabin in the woods. I'm not joking. I'm planning on getting some off-grid land in a few years and build a little log cabin. That's it. From there on just paint and write – whatever work is needed to cover myself. In 5 to 10 years, I want to be traveling the world with residency programs and shows. I know it sounds ambitious, but I really think it's possible and want to give it a shot. As for my legacy… Like I said earlier, art is my legacy. I've had people tell me they want to be like me when they grew up. I've had someone tell me my paintings brought her to tears when she first saw them. I've had someone deep in depression and self-detest telling me I gave them light. I've had a girl saying my paintings show her the strength inside a female's heart. So yea, things like that. That's my legacy!
Any additional skills, hobbies, or interests you'd like to share with the audience – fascinating statements about the artist known as Xiao Faria daCunha?
I love knitting and crochet. I play guitar, just on an amateur level, because it's fun and soothing. I love music... all sorts of music. I'm an awesome chef – I think that's my Chinese talent, ha-ha! I know how to make Dim Sum, too. I read a lot, watch random movies. I'm also a video gamer, so I stream games on my Twitch channel sometimes too...