Saturday, July 21, 2007

Art Space Talk: Xiaoqing Ding

Xiaoqing Ding has been working with Egg Tempera and Silverpoint for over five years now. Currently she is working with a series of Egg Tempera paintings mixed with traditional Asian techniques and modern subject matter. Ding's images come to her when she is day dreaming or falling asleep. Her work explores the delicate nature of identity, sexuality and personal politics.

Ding's work incorporates ideas from ancient Chinese and Greek mythologies as well as European fairytales. The dark and mysterious stories from different countries and cultures all share similar formal devices and motifs in her work. These works focus on timeless decadent sentiments and the personal struggle of good and evil that people endure.

Xiaoqing Ding has had steady success in the artworld since 2000. She has been involved in major exhibits in New York and was a recipient of The Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant in 2001.

Brian Sherwin: Ding, your images often evoke childhood memories of fairy-tales upon being viewed. However, your fairy-tales often have not so happily-ever-after endings. Why have you chosen this theme in your work?

Xiaoqing Ding: I grew up with fairy-tales and I still read fairy-tales before bedtime. I watched a movie called "The Tin Drum" years a ago, I share the same feeling with the boy in that movie. I wished that time could have stopped at the last day of my childhood so that I would not have to face the ugliness of adulthood. I felt that ages 30 and 40 something are the worst in this world as far as adulthood is concerned. Adults lie, they cheat, they are greedy, they fart loudly at home while pretending to be polite in front of a group. Too bad I am one of them now, a complicated 30 something, but with an innocent child inside of me. My work is very personal, it’s about fantasy meeting reality.

BS: Your work often places females in the position of power. These women lure men and animals with ease. This is a total break from traditional fairy-tales that often portray women as weak- fragile. Is it one of your goals to show the strength of women with your art?

XD: We have a well-known old fairy-tale book in China called " Liaozhai , stories about a fox that can enchant and lure men into a chase through the woods and who, upon being caught, transform into sly and willful girls. They hunt for blood to keep their beauty and youth and only the blood of young men can do this. Not all of those foxes are bad, like vampires, some of them can be good when they fall in love. In China we call a very attractive and aggressive woman a " fox girl". This has both good and bad meanings. Secretly, lots of Chinese girls wanna be a fox, because a man won’t be able to resist a 'fox girl', he would die for her no matter what. That’s the power of a beautiful and smart woman.

I have big respect for American women. I admire those women who can drive a big truck, who can lead a group of men to fight, who can carry a big fat baby and the baby cart plus a big bag with milk and diapers and transfer from R train to F train( 100 stairs walk up at 9Av stop). These women are tigers. American women have taught me to be strong and independent. But I’m still weak, I prefer that men drive for me, it is as if I lose my eye sight when there is a piece of wind shield in front of me. The strength of women depicted in my painting are a part of my personal fantasy, of what I want to be.

BS: Ding, you recently moved to NYC. It is my understanding that you have been there for about 13 months. What do you think of the New York art scene? I assume that you enjoy the diversity of art?

XD: I enjoy NYC a lot. The art shows are great. I had an English name before when I lived in other states. Living in New York allows me to be myself. I just try to be friendly. Usually it takes a non-NewYorker 3 times a day for close to 2 weeks practicing to get my name close to what it should sound. I changed back to my real name immediately after the first night I went to a Chelsea opening. I can’t get anybody’s name right in NYC, why let them get my name right away? It is so nice to meet all the great artists with weird names from all over the world in this city.

BS: You were recently involved with the Venus exhibit at the Roq la Rue Gallery. You are showing with Lori Earley, Travis Louie, and several other artists of note. How has the exhibit been so far? Did you meet any of the other artists during the opening?

XD: I missed the Venus show’s opening. They put me in the show at the last minute. It’s a great show, I like everybody’s work there. Kirsten, Roq La Rue’s owner, has done a great job with that show. It’s a big honor to show with wonderful artist like Lori Earley and Travis. I have met them before and they are my myspace friends. Travis is such a great artist and a very nice person. Lori Earley is as beautiful as her paintings. The interesting thing is, most pop surrealism artists are kind of nice looking, I believe that makes their work even more attractive.

BS: Ding, you have been involved with several group exhibits since being in the States- including an group exhibit at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery. Based on your experience... which exhibit has had the most impact on you so far?

XD: It’s hard to say which one has the most impact on me, because they are all important to me. The nice thing about group shows is that you get to meet other artists through the show and understand galleries and gallery owners. Jonathan LeVine is a cool guy, he gave me lots of good advice and support. The same goes for Kirsten from Roq La Rue.

BS: Speaking of exhibiting... I understand that you are a loner by nature. Do you enjoy exhibiting your work or does it ever make you nervous?

XD: Exhibiting does makes me nervous, but opening night is always exciting. It is kind of like a big harvest after a long time of hard work.

BS: What artists have influenced your work?

XD: Everybody I can find from Medieval times, everybody from the Renaissance, Ingres, Boucher, George Grosz, Franz von Bayros, Hans Bellmer, Erotic art from ancient China, Japan and India, Kiki Smith, Henry Darger, George Tooker, Cindy Sherman, Lucien Freud, Balthus, Jan Saudek, Tom of Finland, Pierre & Gilles….

BS: You paint with egg tempera. Why did you decide to use that method instead of say... oils or acrylics?

XD: In 2000, I saw a piece done with Egg Tempera in someone’s home and it was love at first sight. I have tried everything else and nothing works for me. Painting is actually my weak link, I’m much better at drawing. Egg Tempera might be the only painting medium that works like drawing, so it fits me well.

BS: Can you go into detail about the process of using egg tempera? What other methods or techniques do you utilize within the context of your work?

XD: Egg tempera painting is recognized as the second oldest medium after encaustic. It was used by the ancient Egyptians and Greeks and perfected by the icon painters during the last 100 years of the old Byzantine Empire (400 AD-1202 AD). After the fall of the Byzantine Empire, egg tempera flourished for about 200 years in the hands of the early Renaissance artists.

Egg tempera painting consists of three simple ingredients: powdered pigments, egg yolk and water. The pigments are ground with water to form a paste, then mixed with the separated yolk of an egg. The yolk, like the oil in oil painting or the gum arabic in watercolor, is what binds the pigments to a surface. The surface used in egg tempera is generally a panel made of wood or hardboard that has been coated with several layers of traditional, homemade gesso (rabbit skin glue and whiting) that has been sanded to an ivory smooth finish.

Egg tempera paint is generally applied in diluted, very thin, often transparent layers of pure color. It dries to the touch within seconds; however for a painting to fully cure takes 6-12 months. Many, many layers are applied in order to build up an image. The ultimate effect of dozens of layers of interacting colors set upon the white, highly reflective, true gesso ground is rich and luminous. ( I have copied all above from, my friend Michael Bergt is the founder, a great tempera artist.)

I use silverpoint, watercolor and pastel also.

BS: Ding, where did you study art? Who were your mentors?

XD: I studied Graphic Design at Art schools in Beijing for 8 years. Not because I liked design that much, it’s very hard to get into any fine art schools in China, I couldn’t pass their test at the time, because my work was too" flat". Maybe I still won’t be able to get into any fine art school in China right at this time, my work is definitely too" Dirty" for them.

I got my MFA from Maryland Institute in 2001, Grace Hartigan was my director. She is a wonderful painter and great teacher. She helped me a lot.

I had a Mentor when I was 14. Mr. Zhang Ken, a high school art teacher at the time. He taught me all the basic drawing and painting stuff for free. My life would have been very different without him. I grew up in a jail-like university campus, with high walls and cold teachers. At school, if you are not good at math, you suck. I was very unhappy and depressed before I stepped into the art world. I’ll appreciate Mr. Zhang forever, his studio was my heaven.

BS: Finally, are you working on any projects at this time? Can you give our readers any details?

XD: I’ve been working hard for a two person show at Roq La Rue that will open on August 10th. You can find out more at I will be showing with Jason D’Aquino, wonderful work.

I have finished some large size pastel work. I’m kind of new to this medium, it is a lot of fun to work with. I’ll have those new works on myspace by the end of this month. They look different than my old work, brighter colors and bigger heads. In China we believe that a smart person has a bigger head then the average person.

I’ll be in another group show called "deep pop" in Jan 2008. It will be curated by Andrew Michael Ford, A lot of good artists will be in that show as well.

I hope that you have enjoyed my interview with Xiaoqing Ding. Feel free to leave a comment about her work.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin


Scott Allen said...

Great interview, Dings work is amazing and I'm looking forward to seeing her work in person. Also, you sold me on the egg tempera..

Anonymous said...

Hey, nice interview indeed and great art. I am so in love with Chinese artists who have lived abroad for a while, as the work shows all the technical skill that students in China develop through fairly rigorous study, but find a whole new mode of expression from being free to truly express one's self. Xiaoqing! Come and show at my gallery in Shanghai!