The eXTra finGer

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Interview with Fay Ku

Q)So, can you tell me a little about yourself? Full name, age, somebackground info, etc?

A)My full but very short name is Fay Ku. I am 32 years old. I was born in Taipei, Taiwan, and lived with my grandmother until I was three years old and joined my parents who were already in America. My family was small, just me and my parents, until my brother was born when I was seven. We moved to a suburban neighbourhood in Maryland with a pretty substantial Chinese-American population by my teen years, however, before then, we moved alot and because my parents were shy and felt awkward in a mostly white population of Oklahoma, Texas, etc, we kept to ourselves. We also didn't have any family nearby. It was a fairly isolated childhood, so I think my upbringing was something not typically American or even typically Chinese-American; instead it was its own unique hermetic world.

Q)How did you get started making art?

A)Because I was an only child for so long, and because of the relative social isolation of my family, I had to learn to amuse myself from an early age. I became good at things that I could do alone, including painting and drawing. As a child of immigrants who pushed me to become a doctor or engineer, etc., I didn't realize that becoming an artist could be a legitimate (albeit difficult) career choice until high school when I signed up for an arts magnate program.

Q)How would you describe your art?

A)Psychological, narrative, figurative. There is a term in psychoanalysis that I find very apt: "the unthought known."

Q)Where do you get the inspiration for your art?

A)Imagination, stories I have heard, myths and folklore -- and often just by looking around. I like the instant when I am looking at something or hearing something and it hits me on a deep intuitive or emotional level, but without realizing intellectually why, or even the meaning. The art then is the working out of why that story or event we saw or heard has resonance.

Q)What are you working on now?

A)I like to have a couple to a few things going simultaneously, in case I get stuck on one thing. Right now I am working on a series inspired by East Asian screen and hand scroll paintings. The images are related to the idea of war - of people at war with one another, the elements, even animals. I wanted to create one series made up of individual large pieces: each piece is its own independent work, yet area also part of a larger context. Right now there is about several "panels" or episodes, and I imagine I could go one and make a total of a dozen or so. I'll attach the first few so you can see. I am also trying to work very small, create little jewel-like miniatures. Finally, I have started to think about creating a large, three-dimensional paper scupltures.

Q)Are there some web sites that you would like to recomend? Artists, art communities, xxx,...!?

A)Alas, ironically, since I used to work in the Internet industry, I know little about art websites. I could recommend a really great local artist community of great, inspiring group of artists. Their website is Also, a few years ago, I co-founded a women's art group, The Exhibitionists. I left the group when I started graduate school in 2003, but I think there is still a core group who are continuing the group, though I don't think the website has been updated in a while:

Q) What's your favorite medium to work in, and why?

A)Well, paper is the most familiar and the most intimate, because it has a memory -- much more so than any other support. Conceptually, it serves my own work best, at least for now. But really, I like everything, actually. I would like to eventually have the luxury of being able to explore other mediums more fully.

Q) What advice would you give to younger up and coming artist?

A)Ha ha, I thought I was a younger, up and coming artist. However, let me try to answer anyways.

First, if you really do not have to be (and I mean HAVE to be) an artist, don't.

Second, if you find that this is really what you must do, then focus on your work. Focus on finding your own arena, your own vision. Do not think about exhibiting until you are ready. There is too much of an emphasis, at least in America, on the young, emerging superstar. That should not be why you are making art.

Third, learn all you can about the world. Whether you consciously decide, everything will go into your art. So the more you know and think about, the richer your work will become.

Q) What is your personal definition of life and art and everything else in between?

A)I like what Rainer Maria Rilke said, and I take the liberty of paraphrasing him: leave the world a little better than you found it, whether it be by a poem, a child or a garden. I suppose that is not exactly a definition, but I do hold it as a kind of mantra. Let me try again... I am an atheist, and I have a very non-anthropomorphic (which is actually very Eastern though I do not ascribe particularly to any Asian religion or philosophy) view of the universe as something inscrutable. Therefore, I don't see the point to having any sort of meaning or definition. Other than that, I find it valuable and necessary for myself to pursue an experience (not meaning) of life.

Q) Take us inside your process a little bit. How do you begin a piece?What inspires the concept?

A)Certain experiences stick uneasily long after they happen, because some part of it has not been yet reconciled. I call this quality "having residue." I usually have little mental notes of these "residues," though, it may take a while before I find the proper visual component. Usually the problem is "solved" for me by looking around or reading or watching film.

Q) What are your artistic influences?

A)Goodness, I'm pretty omnivorous -- we artists like to "steal" from everybody. Let me try to narrow it down ... I love alot of folk art. Henry Darger, of course, comes to mind. I love the intensity of concentration, despite the lack of skill or training. I love the will behind much of that art. Although I am Chinese, and have much affinity with their tendency towards the symbolic and the refined, sinuous line, I actually prefer the wildness Japanese art, as well as their refinement. I love the encapsulated world of the Indian and Persian miniatures, and the almost whimsical, schematic drawings of native Pacific Northwest art and Native American drawings of around the 19th century. I love the generalized, simple forms of La Tour, and the icy strangeness of Bronzino.

Q) How are the reactions on your work in general?

A)I don't know! I laugh because I don't think there are that many people familiar with my work yet. In any case, I only get to hear the nice compliments. No one has emailed me or come up to me during my opening and told me that they hated my work -- though I would be very interested in hearing what criticism he/she could give me. The truth is, there hasn't been that much writing on my work, so I don't know.

Q) What are you doing when you are not creating art?

A)I have to admit that I am pretty obsessed; I am constantly thinking about what I am working on, how to make it better, what will I do next. That takes up a lot of time.But I do like to read, though probably I don't dedicate enough time to that. I have a boyfriend who lives in Connecticut, a couple hours away. Though we don't see each other every weekend, still quite a lot of my spare time has been spent maintaining this long-distance relationship, being on the phone, etc. Mostly, I find myself alone often. I love walking around the city, going to museums, book stores - I've dreamt of living in New York since I was five years old, and even after living here over ten years, I am still very much in love with the city. I take African dance class a couple times a week, and I try to make it to yoga once a week. One thing I don't do enough is spending time with good friends. I love having dinner or drinks and good conversation.

Q)What are some of the greatest challenges that you think artistsface today?


Q) What is freedom to you as an artist?

A)I don't think I like the way this question is phrased ... because artists do experience freedom, in our studios. At least, that's how it should be -- if you don't feel free, then something's not right. For me, everything else, how financially precarious I am living, how lonely and alone I have to be, everything else is the price paid for this very unique and privileged freedom that I have to be completely myself, and to follow as far as I can my own vision. I don't think many others can say they have this.

Q) Are there any particular works you've done that stand out as yourfavorites?

A)Yes, She's Out to Get You was the very first of my mature body of work. Kiss (2004) Part-Reptile (2005), the preparatory sketch for Parade (2005), and Tiger Girls (2005). And I always think, though not necessarily in hindsight, that whatever I am working on presently may be the bests. However, I think, though it may be too early to tell, that the current War Series may be the strongest so far.

Q) Last Books you read?

A)I am currently in the middle of Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain. I had been reading Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, but had to take a break. Before that, I think it was Iris Murdoch's The Nice and the Good. Also, I just finished my Master's thesis (my second, in Art History - I have another in Studio Arts), so I had to do quite a lot of academic reading on Chinese history, religion and traditional paintings.

Q) Last records you bought?

A)I am not an avid music person; I cannot remember the last time I bought music. In fact, I don't like listening to music while working. I listen to either NPR or baseball. However, I do know I want to buy the latest Ali Farka Toure's album that just came out. Also, I want to find some good Mongolian or Central Asian traditional music.

Q) Who are your favourite artists & Your favourite galleries?

A)I adore Amy Cutler's work, and I know that our work is very similar. It was a bit of a shock to discover her. She's represented by Leslie Tonkanow + Projects, which is my favorite Chelsea gallery in terms of the artists being represented. Another interesting gallery is The Proposition, which represents my friend Shinique Smith, who is amazing, as well as Kyoung Jeon whom I've met before. I also love Cai Guo Qiang, Wangechi Mutu, Sarah Sze. and fifty other artists whom I cannot think of right this moment.

Q) Which do you think make good art good? originality, or style? And,why?

A)I don't feel comfortable with such general qualifications. Neither alone, definitely. What I look for is that the person really wants to say something, and something real, and then a certain vulnerability and intensity in the way he/she says it. Usually, both originality and a certain style will come out of this concentrated and personal effort.

Q) Do you get emotionally attached to your work and do you miss yourwork when it is sold?

A)I have to be ready to part with the work, but usually, I tend to be pretty ruthless. As a "starving" artist, I need to sell work for practical reasons.

Q)Your contacts..E-mail.links

A)I don't mind giving out my cell phone , which is 917.701.3782, but I will not pick up unless I recognize the number. Also, I don't have the ability to call internationally. So email is best:


Blogger Unknown said...

Actually, I didn't know that I had a "blogger name", so it was a strange surprize to see my name, Brendon, indicated as my "blogger name" when I clicked to post a comment. I must have signed up for something in the past, probably to gain access to a website and now there it is, my "blogger name" out there for all eternity! But I suppose there is no harm in having my name shown with my comment. Just a little unerving to wonder how it got there...

This is a very good interview; I'm not sure if this is because of the depth of the person being interviewed or the questions posed. I'm already a big fan of Fay's work, and these answers basicially confirm what I already knew intuitively.

I publish a monthly magazine (in print and on-line), and although most of the editoril has been in the form of art reviews, I'm looking into publishing more interviews. Perhaps someone could let me know your policy on reprinting interviews that appear here. Here is the website for my magazine:
Most people simply know the publicaton by its short name: "M".

11:09 PM  

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