‘ZERO’ is a new exhibition of art by Yu-Whuan Wang that will be presented at The Garage Art Center in New York during the month of June. Yu-Whuan studied with Shimamoto Shozo, a pioneer of the Gutai group, while attending Kyoto University of Education, where she also studied sculpture with Yamazaki Masayoshi and Kishiro Yoshiji, as well as painting with Abe sensei. She also studied with painters Shen Zhe Zai and Zeng Pei Yao, separately studied sculpture with sculptor Yamamoto Kakuzi, and went on to win a “MURASAKI” award at the 47th Kyoto Exposition.
Known for her sculptural installations, Yu-Whuan has exhibited her artwork all over the world including at world-famous venues such as the New York Historical Society, the Taller Boricua Gallery, and the Kyoto Art Museum. She also served as a director of design in Taiwan and director of Philosophy Box gallery in New York; she is currently a member of the Kyoto Sculptor Association.
Yu-Whuan’s art explores the relationship between nature and culture and she frequently uses twigs and branches in her pieces. Each installation is treated like a dance with a balanced process of consciousness and unconsciousness. She recently discussed her artwork via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in becoming an artist?
Yu-Whuan Wang (YW): I love to sing, and I thought I could be a singer. But, when I was 9 or 10, I surprised myself by drawing my fist rather well. That’s when I started thinking about art and getting involved with it. After a while, I realized, when I thought about music or art, that it would be easier for me, given my family circumstances, to become an artist rather than a singer. Very soon, then, I discovered an artist who had a column about art for a newspaper, and I found his studio. I brought my Bamboo Tube Money to pay him, but he started giving me lessons in exchange for proofreading his column and cleaning his studio, and so I began to learn art from him.
MM: Why does the relationship between nature and art so appeal to you?
YW: I used to focus on my knowledge to complete my work, especially as a director of design. Then, I quit my job and went back to school, letting go, stepping on a new path, and re-seeing myself. By luck, then, I met a willow tree in Kyoto. I walked back to see this tree, and I had a conversation with a willow tree for the very first time in my life. I took in her real color, surprised by her elegant gestures and dynamic but tender spirit. That kind of impact or meeting has continued to shape my making of art.
MM: When did you start using twigs and how do you find the exact right ones to use?
YW: When I was young, I liked to paint mountains and trees. At university in Japan, I started using natural materials, like straw and twigs, mixing them with sand, plaster or cement. I continue to love these natural materials in my installations here in the United States, too. For this show, I work with some small sizes to balance with the space of The Garage Art Center. It’s not about picking as much as listening. Many of the sticks or twigs for this show tend toward being straight, following a kind of zero line. But not too straight—the simple includes the complex.
MM: You have a background in art education, so how does that influence your fine art work?
YW: Even before I went to school, I was influenced by my father’s broad heart, his humane spirit. Later, my experiences in Japan, and with art education at university, focused me again on this kind of caring—directly and indirectly shaping my art and thinking in many ways, developing my sense of flexibility and my process of problem solving. This process for me is an aesthetic of graceful recognition and understanding, which continues to bring life to my work.
MM: How have you secured opportunities to travel so much for your artwork and attain prestigious awards?
YW: I think for me it has been about finding the balance of the times. In 1996, for instance, there was an economic crisis in Japan. We had a hard time managing our studio. I suggested we use that economic downtime to travel and encounter other countries and cultures. I have been fortunate to earn some honors, which for me is an opportunity to share appreciation, to give thanks to all my teachers in Taiwan and Japan. My intention is to make art freely wherever I go, and simply to do what I can do.
MM: How did you find out about The Garage Art Center and secure a show with them?
YW: I was glad to learn about The Garage Art Center from Stephanie. Stephanie saw some of my earlier work at a group exhibit at Flushing Town Hall, where we met and where she told me she was starting this Center. Later, when she mentioned my work with branches, which she had seen on Instagram, I liked her way of seeing and sincere attention. She invited artists over for tea, and I liked the space, very welcoming and just right for solo shows. It will definitely bring people, culture together for the community. That is very much my spirit.
MM: How many pieces are in the show and do you have any personal favorites? If so, which pieces are your favorites and why?
YW: There are eight pieces in the show, counting small works to assembled groups. I like how “Missed” is a record of our sunrise and sunset days during this last crisis year. Something profound welled up with this work. I don’t have a favorite, but I did pay a lot of attention to “Deep Ocean,” which is about the many stories of Central Park; each branch, each moment is its own story. The park has been an inspiration for many of my artworks, especially this piece. In this work, branches were wrapped in 2015, 2016, and 2021; the work has mixed their various stories and times, beyond one moment. It also includes three different ways of making: painted, wrapped, wrapped and painted.
MM: How did you decide to plan a live painting session as part of this upcoming exhibition?
YW: “Create art from the found object” is the title of this workshop, continuing from the idea of this exhibition, but to do it together with others. Finding objects or materials for work involves digging through layers of understanding, problem solving, finding connections, not just forms. It is a very social process, from meeting the trees to making art to working with others, and now is a good time for us to make new connections.
MM: What has been the highlight of your artistic career so far?
YW: I appreciate the whole process, the journey from painting to photography to sculpture to installation. Recently, the highlight for me is my working on freeing boundaries, on conversations between 2-D and 3-D in the same work, together with light and sometimes photography, between the field of view and the embodied space, between the work and where it is. I’m bringing together visual languages, in harmony and contradiction.
MM: What events, projects, or other exhibitions are coming up soon and is there anything else that you would like to discuss?
YW: There will be an art book for my drawings, along with selected poems, curated by Dr. Sheldon Hurst. The drawings will come from “Skin Time | ConsciousnessUnconscious,” a show I had at ArtReach Gallery in Portland, Oregon.