illustrator, painter and sculptor
Interview by email on July 20th
AL: The first thing one notices when looking at your work is the monsters. What do your monsters mean to you? Are there any specific sources of influence? Basically, how did you get into the wonderful world of demons and the fantastically grotesque?
GL: I’ve always known that I love to draw, but I realized pretty early on that drawing from life was not my strong suit. Even when directly observing something, my drawings would always end up slightly skewed or disproportionate, which drove me nuts. Instead of trying to force that kind of work, I began drawing more from my imagination. I think this was a good move for me, but I sort of wish I’d forced myself to learn perspective and proportion. It’s never too late though! I will eventually dedicate some time to improving those skills. I was also very into drawing animals as a kid, so I think the monsters and demons sort of evolved from that. Drawing animals while disregarding reality eventually lead to my demons, many of which I think slightly resemble animals or at least have some familiar animal features. Watching a lot of cartoons (go Nickelodeon!) and listening to certain types of music definitely helped too.
AL: You have, apart from the demons and little monsters, anthropomorphic figures in some of your drawings. What happens when your monsters are personified? Do the fears and struggles they represent come ‘alive’ when you add legs and arms to them?
GL: I honestly don’t see a huge distinction between the creatures that do and do not have limbs…or at least not a distinction that I can claim as a conscious one. We are all constantly evolving, so I guess the various creatures just exist at different stages of their own personal evolution. I suppose a beast that has become a warrior babe’s headdress might be seen as dead, while one that stands up is not, or a beast that carries babes on its back is different than one that interacts in a more “human-like” way…but that isn’t to say the differing beasts won’t eventually switch places or evolve even further into entirely different beings. I’m not sure if that makes complete sense, but a lot of what I draw doesn’t make complete sense to me! Much of the time, themes aren’t totally apparent to me until the work is done. I don’t always know what I am doing or what exactly I’m trying to say.
AL: So you’re wrapping up your Red Gate Residency here in Beijing at the moment. How has the experience been for you? It’d be so cool if you made a drawing of China-influenced demons hanging out at a temple ( I saw your Red Gate Open Studio poster)!
GL: I can’t say enough good things about this experience. It is such an overused expression, but it really has been life changing. For one thing, I got to experience living alone in an apartment for the first time. I’ve always had roommates and lived in the same city, which I love and wouldn’t change, but this has been a nice little taste of what it’s like to live alone and in a place where you don’t know a single person. On a very basic level, simply doing that has made me proud of myself, a, elusive feeling that I think all artists crave. Plus, my studio here is about 10 times the size of my Brooklyn studio, so I’ve been able to explore a bunch of different projects at one time, which I can’t do as well back home. But all of that could have been accomplished in a lot of places, so what is it about Beijing that has been so great? Probably the historical sites, like the temples and statues. And the food, although I can’t say that’s had much of an effect on my art. I’ve been inspired by the demons associated with Chinese and Buddhist mythology for a while, but most of that came from images I’d seen either on google or in American museums, like the Met in New York. That stuff just can’t compare with visiting the actual sites. I was particularly inspired by the Yonghe Lama Temple and the Dongyue Temple, both of which have incredible statues and tapestries of powerful deities. You are totally right, you can definitely see this inspiration in my Red Gate Open Studios poster! For that drawing, I was especially inspired by the statues inside the Hall of Heavenly Kings at the Yonghe Lama Temple, which have amazing facial features and postures. This inspiration is also obvious in the composition of the poster, something I hope to bring into larger paintings or sculptures, without directly mimicking the relics. The line between being inspired by something and copying something can be a tough one, but I try to be as vigilant as I can and hope that my attempts aren’t construed as anything other than a reflection of my admiration for these works of art.
AL: You cite music as a primary influence for your art. Does inspiration from genres of music other than metal or rock ever carry over to your art? Like classical music. Babes in gowns dancing around in a ballroom in a pile of pink blood?
GL: That’s a good question! I guess the influence of metal/punk/grunge is pretty apparent in the work, so I don’t really even need to state it, hehehe. I’ve never really been into classical music, but I like your idea about gowns! Maybe I’ll try diving into that a bit. I listen to a lot of doo-wop too, which is funny since a lot of those songs are pretty sexist and convey women that these days might be considered somewhat backwards, like they live solely for their men. Maybe I’m ingesting it in a sort of cheeky way though, like these sad teenagers in love are the ones I’m trying to empower with my tough warrior babes. Plus, even though I consider myself fairly empowered now, I was once a sad teenager in love, so maybe the messages in those tunes aren’t as alien as I want to believe. I think I just love that type of music because it’s catchy as hell, plus it gives me something to sing with my parents. Oddly enough, they aren’t really into Slayer.
AL: I see you’ve done a few sculptures of your trademark babes and demons. How did you get into making sculptures of them? I must say it’s a really fucking cool idea - little demon figures come to live!
GL: I started making sculptures about two years ago because I was inspired by taxidermy and thought it would be cool to make taxidermy style pieces of my babes and demons. Once I started sculpting, I quickly found a real love for it, as it allowed me to see different angles of the creatures I’d only ever imagined from one perspective. I had never really drawn one of my babes in profile, but once I’d sculpted one and turned her to the side, I was like “ooooooh, so that’s how she looks from the side!” Then, I was able to bring those realizations back into my two-dimensional work. Sculpting also utilizes your hands and your brain in a really different way, which provides an often-needed break from drawing or painting. I love all the media I work with, but go through phases of loving certain ones more than others. While I’ve been here, it’s been all about the sculpting. I had my first piece cast in bronze (by the awesome Liao at 天目造 － Tian Mu casting) and I’m thrilled with the final product. I’ve also did a little series of black and gold babe busts, which I like and think will lead to more interesting projects. For this last week, I’m working on some other sculptures that I plan on finishing back home for an upcoming show in Brooklyn this fall.
AL:How do the visuals for your monster creations come together? Do you have a concept for how a monster is going to feel and look and execute it on paper or is it a more impromptu process of feeling the specific demon vibes your monster gives off as you go?
GL: About 90% of what I make is a result of a sort of “stream of consciousness” type approach. Even when I try to plan something out, it almost never ends up following that plan. With drawings, I usually do a pencil sketch to just map out the composition and some basic shapes, but the features just come out as I’m drawing. This can be annoying because halfway through drawing something I’ll realize that I totally forgot to include the thing that inspired the drawing in the first place, but then I will just make a note of it and hope to include it in a future piece. I keep a lot of notes. Most of my brainstorming happens in words, rather than pictures. You’d think that my brain would work in pictures, but it is almost always talking to me rather than showing me things. I think that is because I love reading and found this love around the same time I discovered drawing. My sculptures are almost entirely improvised. Even when I make a sketch, it doesn’t serve much of a purpose other than to give me some direction in the very beginning. Since I’m still pretty new to sculpting, a lot of it is trial and error and I mask my mistakes by changing my idea of what the final piece should look like. The results are usually good though and I learn something new with each attempt. My paintings are definitely more planned out than my drawings, but much of that is still impromptu too. I’d actually really like to alter this way of working, at least when it comes to color. I never know how I’m going to use color until I start and it often doesn’t feel right, so I’ll paint over certain sections and waste a lot of time. I know I could solve this problem by messing with a sketch in photoshop to plan it out better, so I’m working on that right now, but who knows. While it seems like the bright colors are a key part of my work, I actually feel a lot more comfortable with black and white. I’d like to refine my palette more. Seems like there is always something to improve on! I hope never to lose that feeling, since it pushes me to work harder. Plus, I’m really young so it’d be a bummer if I already felt like I had everything figured out. I don’t ever want to get lazy or bored.
AL: There’s an adorably sick sense of humor in your work. For example, the drawing of a babe getting her boob punched (stabbed?). Is this a good example of what you meant when you said, “visual manifestations of those dark little thoughts that are at once frightening and sort of funny” ?
GL: Yes, that is a perfect example! While personal struggles and difficult experiences are not actually funny at all, there’s something to be said for finding sparks of humor in the dark places. I don’t mean we should ever make light of our pain, but I do think that laughing at the more ridiculous elements of our pain can make it more digestible. I also think this makes it easier for us to relate to other people, as some people have a really hard time talking about pain, but putting a darkly humorous spin on it, even if that spin is masking something really awful, can at least get the conversation going so that you can eventually get more serious. I’ve seen this with so many people in my life that have gone through traumatic things and think it’s a very helpful coping mechanism. It is never a question of whether or not the pain is a joke. It obviously isn’t. BUT forcing a joke in the wake of something painful is a small example of finding the strength to move forward, which seems impossible when you’re in the midst of depression. Just like people all over the world might find the same youtube video funny, people all over the world probably find heartache in similar places too. Both humor and sadness are unifying emotions. When it comes to using those ideas in my art, I guess I just realized that drawing sad people being sad wasn’t helping me get over anything, so I tried to subvert my own feelings and ended up making work that feels much more authentic than anything I’d made previously.
AL: What’s next for you? Projects, collabs, more sculptures? Tell me!
GL: About a year ago, I applied to a bunch of different residencies with hopes that I’d at least get one. I actually got two! So, after China, I’ll be back home in New York for a month and am then spending September in Berlin. I’m very excited about that. I’ve been to Berlin before and was blown away by the murals. I’m looking forward to seeing how the public art has evolved in the city and maybe I’ll have a chance to assist an artist on something large scale. I’ve done small murals in Brooklyn, but think learning from or watching a master would be extremely valuable. At the end of October, I have a solo show at Gristle Gallery in Brooklyn, so I’ll be working towards that for the next two months. I haven’t fully figured out my plan for that show yet, but already have a lot of cool work started, so feel confident that it’s going to be a good one. Then I’ll be focusing on compiling black and white drawings for my first limited edition art book, Babylon, which I am collaborating on with my good friend Simon Vasta, who will write some stuff, edit and produce. We will be releasing the book at the Los Angeles Book Fair in February. I can’t wait! Hopefully I will be able to come back to China within the next year or so, as I’ve loved studying the language and want to make that a serious part of my life. I’ll definitely get some more sculptures cast too, since it’s waaaaaay too expensive to do that in New York. I want to go BIG. So far, I’ve never done any life-sized sculptures and I’d really like to change that. Maybe I’ll come back to Red Gate. This program is excellent and I love being in China. I’ll definitely be back.
Grace Lang is an illustrator and sculptor preoccupied with the concept of personal ‘demons’ and creator of awesome monsters that “reflects the internal struggles that plague us all". Based in Brooklyn, Grace is wrapping up her residency at Red Gate Gallery in Beijing, an international artist residency program providing creatives with the opportunity to live and create work in China. She has an upcoming solo exhibition at Gristle Gallery in Brooklyn this coming October and is heading to Berlin for her next residency. Check out her work at grooseling.com and @grooseling on Instagram, or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Interview by email on July 20th
AL: I think the first question anyone who’s seen your work is likely to ask is, 'why cats?' Why not dogs, or horses, or even fish? What do cats mean to you?
BO: A while ago I saw a ‘one drawing a day' trending topic on Weibo called: another drawing pops up in the universe every day. I didn’t have a specific theme or character in mind until the day my cat passed away. Due to the loss I felt I couldn’t stop drawing that big cat, and gradually I became the little boy next to him in the drawings. They keep each other company in the fictional world of this medium.
AL: What is your artistic background? Have you always been an illustrator?
BO: I’ve worked at a few A4 advertising firms such as Ogilvy in Beijing. Illustration was a hobby that I’ve never stopped pursuing, so naturally I was over the moon to have the opportunity to become a professional illustrator. Even though there are problems that come with mixing my hobby and work, I’m just ecstatic to be able to keep drawing.
AL: I found and bought your book of illustrations, “宇宙再大大不过我和你” (The Universe is No Bigger than You and I) at the Loreli Affordable Art Market! Although it’s labeled as a book of illustrations, it is not so much a book as it is a collection of illustrations stacked together. Is there a reason for choosing this form of presentation?
BO: I’m also a collector of illustrations. Most of these collection are bound into book form for the reader to flip through. Even when I see a drawing that I love, I can’t bring myself to cut that drawing out of the book. This is very painful for someone like me who enjoys hanging paintings and drawings. So when I had the chance to publish a collection of illustrations, I chose to present them in the form of unbound pages. I really hope that whoever purchases them can use my drawings to decorate their spaces and lives. I once gave a little kid a drawing, and afterwards she told me that when she gets sad, she’d take a look at the drawing on her table, the heartfelt warmth of its content, and feel a bit better.
AL: 你的插画集《宇宙再大大不过我和你》我在 ’Loreli 买得起的艺术市集’ 买到了！虽说是插画集，可这本却不是装订在一起的，而是一副副叠在一起的画。你选择这种方式有什么原因吗？
AL: Your book of illustrations depicts the life of a human and a cat and their day-to-day interactions. Sometimes their roles seem to reverse, giving us the sense that the cat is observing the human, joking and playing with the human as if we’re looking at life through the perspective of a cat, unlike our usual attitude towards cats. How did this idea come to you and why did you decide to show it in your drawings? Or, maybe you had a totally different origin of thought?
BO: The original relationship between he Big Blue Cat and the Little Boy is simply that of me and my cat who passed away. As time went on, I gradually projected a lot of my emotions onto these two characters. Their perspectives on life and their way of companionship are dynamic and complex. Sometimes the cat bullies the little boy, and other times he provides comfort for the boy, and once in a while they simultaneously fall deep into an emotion, unable to escape. I want the reader to see the drawing, read the caption, and recall their own lives - a familiar place or emotion. Whether it’s the cat or the reader might’ve experienced the same characters and emotions as they have.
AL: 在你的插画集里能看到猫与人一起生活，做生活中平凡的事情。有时候甚至猫咪跟人的角色交换了 - 给我们一种猫在观察人，在笑人，或者跟人玩儿的一种感觉，好像我们再通过猫的角度看生活，而不是像生活中我们对猫的态度。你是怎么有这个想法并且把它展示在画里的呢？或者你根本不这么觉得，有其他的初衷？
AL: In your book, every illustration comes with a caption. What’s your creative process for this? Do you have a phrase in mind before making a drawing or do you supplement your illustrations with a caption afterwards?
BO: It’s similar to creating music. Sometimes the melody comes first, sometimes the process is reversed. This depends on the state I’m in at the time. This form of putting a phrase next to an illustration might have something to do with my experience with working in the advertising industry. A complete print ad is just graphics plus a few words of copy, so I always think an illustration with an added layer of meaning is more fun and interesting.
AL: Apart from illustrating kitties, have you done any other work? Tell us!
BO: Because of my advertising background, I do a few commercial projects. The one everyone’s most familiar with is probably the dog from Sogou, the cartoon character on the Mirinda soda packaging, etc. I’ve also done illustration collaborations with JD.com and Kindle. Publishing wise, Dongdongqiang (writer) and I came out with an illustrated poetry book called “拿不动的世界” (Immovable World) in 2014; last year, I did all of the illustration for actor Chen Kun’s book “鬼水瓶录” (Record of a Quaint Aquarius).
AL: What's your next project? Any upcoming plans? Do you have anything else you’d like to tell us?
BO: Right now I’m working on some commercial collaborations while continuing to illustrate the story of the Big Blue Cat and the Little Boy. I plan on doing some art accessible to the general public. Lately I’ve been doing some illustration workshops both online and offline. A lot of people are interested and passionate about drawing but are always plagued by the concept of “knowing how to draw and not knowing how to draw”. Mainstream opinion suggest that only sketches or paintings can be considered drawing; this attitude continues to affect a lot of people’s opinion of drawing and appreciation of art. I want to loosen this rigid standard for art and the methods and attitudes through which people see art by hosting a series of exhibitions, planning some books, and opening art workshops.
Big Orange worked in the advertising industry and is now an independent illustrator. He’s had exhibitions of his illustration in Beijing, Tianjin, and other areas. In 2014 he collaborated with Dondongqiang on an illustrated book of poetry, “拿不动的世界” (Immovable World). In 2016 his book of illustrations, “宇宙再大大不过我和你” (The Universe is No Bigger than You and Me) was published. He illustrated actor Chen Kun’s new book, “鬼水瓶录” (Record of a Quaint Aquarius).
Follow him on WeChat at: veryverybigorange or Weibo at: @大橘子嘿嘿
Ceramic and Installation Artist
Interview on June 7th at Más, Beixinqiao with creative partner, Drew Milligan
KL: I’m on the backfoot here as I have only seen your one piece, so could you introduce yourself and tell us a little about what you do?
JM: My name is Jeffrey Miller and I do most of my art in China. My main thing that I do here is I have a collaboration with another artist, Thomas Schmidt, we founded a design collaborative called Recycled China where we take industrial materials and waste from factories and transform that into tile and design works. So that’s sort of the main thing that I do here. I’ve been doing that for roughly six years . I then took a little bit of a diversion with this neon piece, which is a little bit different to everything that we’ve been doing. Me and Drew, it’s sort of a joke the whole thing, we were hungover one day and we were just thinking about the stages after a heavy night of drinking, the different stages of remembering. We made this flashing neon sign like that.
DM: I mean, it was after a really, really big night, you’d wake up in the morning and the first thing would be oh no what did I do? Hence we have “the fear” and then the shame after someone tells you, obviously that’s horrible. And after you’re sitting there all by yourself after everyone goes home you’re thinking what’s happening in your life. So that was it. The joke was to make them as this big flashing neon sign and, for this show, I guess it happened.
JM: It’s a different piece compared to what I usually do and what Drew does, Drew’s a writer, he recently did a radio drama.
DM: It was last summer.
KL: Just to quickly jump back to the artwork, one of my favourite things about it is the fact that it loops around. I feel that’s definitely, I guess it’s universal but particularly in Beijing, it seems that all of us seem to actually go through that cycle of feelings a little too often.
JM: There's a hidden little secret in there if you pay attention. Each light is flashing on at four-second intervals because it's bad luck. Si is death in Chinese.
DM: So it’s that doomed feeling.
JM: [laughs] So the piece is really a bit of a one-liner, I guess, but that's kind of good…
KL: Because it brings you closer to death.
JM: So it’s a little bit of a joke, I mean, it is a joke. Yeah, it’s totally like a diversion from what we both do, it’s kind of a new thing.
KL: The next obvious question is, six years ago you came and you started making things from recycled materials in China, how does that begin? Does this come from a background of art training? How do you fall into that?
JM: So I studied ceramics sculpture at Alfred University in western New York and so did my partner, Thomas Schmidt, our school has a sister programme with the ceramic design department at CAFA’s City Design School . So I came over as a visiting artist and he came over as a professor and we started this collaboration. He first went to Jingdezhen. Which is the porcelain capital of the world. There’s these mountains of discarded plates and other stuff where something has gone wrong with the firing, like cracks in the glaze or something like that. We didn’t really know what to do with it. Tom bought up 500 of these plates they were just sitting in the studio for a bit and then we got a show at UCCA, sort of a corporate thing with [Viessmann] They make boiler systems, and they hired us to make some artwork about this boiler thing. we had no idea what we were going to do with it because it was so ugly. so we decided to just melt the whole thing down because it was mostly made out of metal. At the same time we also had these plates. For some reason we decided to hire a steamroller and we crushed all these plates into tiny shards. Then we melted the aluminium from the boiler onto the ceramic. it sounds weird but from that we developed a new kind of tile. It looks like a mosaic but instead of the grout on the outside, it's silver. We developed this product and had a show. things kind of just snowballed from there really, we started making different design works, tiles and also sculptural stuff.
KL: What's the mechanics of that as far as getting it down to having the aluminum as just grout in the piece? Is it something easy to do?
JM: It's a little bit tricky because aluminum shrinks when it cools. Ceramics doesn't really do that too much so we had a lot of problems with the tiles bending so we had to cast the bend and compensate for that. The ceramic shards are put into a sand mould first and then we pour the aluminium into the mould. The molten aluminium flows and curls around the shards. It hardens around it when it cools. We use three main materials, one is brick, we scavenge demolished buildings, hutongs and things like that for brick and we use that as an aggregate. we also use glass from auto car accidents and things like that and then discarded ceramic. We take ceramic wares from factories that have some defect with them. Those are the three main surfaces we have.
KL: Are the tiles supposed to have a practical purpose or are they purely just art.
JM: Well we have two different ways we are doing it, some of the stuff we've been doing is just for art, where we're making more of these paintings with them, it's a little bit of a different process where we drip molten aluminium onto a bed of shards. sort of like a Jackson Pollock painting. and then the other part is for a design intention. so decorative tile and things like that. To make them functional as tiles for interior or exterior use those tiles are cast in a closed sand mould. It’s all recycled material, the aluminum is also recycled from aluminum cans and things like that.
KL: So the interest in it, is it largely a local Chinese inspiration?
JM: Our idea is to glean certain things from factories around China and different manufacturing processes and use that as a material that artists can be creative with. That’s the way that we’re trying to approach it. This excess from factories can then get crushed down into a creative material. So that’s kind of what our thinking is about this.
KL: You come from a ceramics background so I assume that usually, you'd be building something up whereas this process is about crushing something down and turning it into something else.
JM: Ceramics is a very material sensitive medium and it deals a lot with the mixing of materials, you know mixing clay and glaze, like building things up from elemental parts with a little bit of alchemy thrown in, so there is a kind of a parallel thinking when it comes to this. I think when we first got to China we were a bit taken aback by the amount of production and the amount of waste that comes here and we just felt like we wanted to do something with it.
KL: Definitely in Beijing now, when you've got all the hutongs being torn down, it's like a scavenger's paradise. I wish I had a truck.
JM: We did an exhibition for Beijing Design Week a few years ago where we were just in hutong houses that were half demolished, I guess, and we just installed tiles in the space in there and didn’t really change anything. It was actually quite interesting. There were all these great pigeon coops up top and stuff. It was pretty cool.
AL: I have a question about the neon piece that I wanted to ask, how does that relate to the other existentialist moments in your life? I guess it's kind of universal in a way..?
KL: That drinking is the number one route to existentialism.
JM: I’m not sure, I mean, we were in another show called Hypertext before that and we made this piece for it and that was more about using text in art and we just kind of drunkenly, actually here [at Más] proposed it to Cruz [Garcia of Intelligentsia Gallery]. And he was like yeah, yeah, yeah. And so we thought, it’s gonna be in the show so we might as well make it. We always talked about that as a thing for being drunk and just kind of the feeling that sets in after you wake up and you’ve done something horrible but you don’t really know what it is.
DM: Like vague shadowy recollections of terrible things.
AL: At that point does the sign work as a reminder?
DM: Absolutely. I should put it in the living room at my house.
JM: My original intention for this sign was to go above his bed.
KL: I honestly think it should go above the door at Temple as a warning.
DM: Does it apply to other moments in your life? I think, mostly you have these moments when you are wondering what’s really happening when something bad happens. You have those intense emotions like fear or shame or something like that. For me, anyways but I don’t really wonder too much about the world other than when something bad happens. I don’t know.
JM: I think in terms of it leading to a broader existential question and I think maybe in the show that we had the Existential Crisis, it works well with other pieces. Maybe it’s a bit more humorous take on what they’re doing, in some sense of what’s going on in that show. So it kind of works as a piece but not really solving the whole question.
KL: As an artist where materials are so important, actually shifting materials, how much does that change your outlook?
JM: I’ve never worked with neon before.
DM: It’s pretty difficult to get everything ready to go. You start taking neon signs for granted when you see them they're just flashing lights but when you see what goes into them, the craft and everything it's pretty intense.
JM: And China actually has a bit of a history with neon. Before all the LED signs there were a lot of people that were using it and it’s kind of a dying art, I guess. And it is a craft. It’s really hard to bend. I didn’t personally make it, I had someone make it for me because I don’t know how to use neon, it’s so hard. I just thought this was a nice thing to do. I guess it comes maybe from a craft sense. Kind of using a bit more of an older technique comes from ceramics a little bit. Neon is an interesting thing because it’s fading out. It’s coming back a little bit with more people liking retro stuff but everything is being replaced with LED.
DM: It kind of lacks that thing because the type of piece, we came up with the idea that with a neon sign it’s like a bar.
KL: Is there a standard typography or were those the sorts of decisions you had to make as well?
JM: You can pretty much make it in pretty much any font. I decided to make it in all caps because it seemed like a warning; red in all caps. That was the idea of that.
KL: In comparison to the other work you’ve been doing lately, this is less geographically focussed on China.
JM: I think, and we are talking about larger things than this sign, but what I think is great about Beijing and is happening in Beijing is that there is a lot of foreigners that are coming over, not because they want to make work about China, but because it’s becoming an art hub and a place that you can produce art. I think that there’s a shift that’s happening and it’s a really good shift. Beijing is becoming more of an arts centre in itself. Personally, with my design collaborative we are inspired by manufacturing processes within China. I am just glad to see the arts community here being able to open up to things beyond that.
KL: Are you offered many opportunities where you can put your art out in a much more down-to-earth community way rather than a gallery?
JM: The thing in Beijing Design Week we did was kind of collaborative with the community. That was in a hutong area not in a gallery. It made it more accessible because it wasn't so daunting as the white box of the gallery so you got people coming in that might not have wanted to visit a traditional gallery before. and also we were using these crushed ceramics baijiu bottles in the tiles that people were familiar with so there was kind of a connection there. People got really excited that they were baijiu bottles. Once people got to know what it was and what the process was,, people got really excited about it.
KL: You talked about the benefits of working in China, that the materials are cheaper, how do you think Beijing works as a collaborative environment? Obviously, you came in with a collaborator but then you've formed other teams as well. Do you think that's an environmental factor?
JM: I came over separately. I didn’t start my collaboration with Tom when I first got here. Part of it was that I was really new to China. I didn’t speak the language. I didn’t really know very much, I was supposed to only be here for two months. Our collaboration started out of necessity to make work. It was quite hard for us to get into the art scene or being able to function in Beijing so we worked together to help fuel each other and give each other confidence. That just continued and build, so I think there is a lot of opportunity for collaboration with different people. China can be really amazing. There are certain things that you can do here that you can never do anywhere else but there are certain things where you will run into brick walls and collaboration helps to get over that. I never really thought I was going to collaborate before I came to China. Here I have more access to industry and manufacturing methods that I would never ever have access to or be able to afford. I work with an aluminum foundry. They use recycled aluminum and they cast our tiles. They’d never worked with artists before. It’s just been a developing relationship. When I first started working with them I didn’t speak any Chinese so it was all hand signals and things like that to get a product done. That language barrier created a really cool and interesting collaboration. Now we’re friends and the boss is actually making artwork of his own. It’s a cool experience and I don't think I'd ever get that outside of China. And the access I got to his facility, just showing up one day to an aluminum foundry and saying, can we poor metal on this? and him saying, yeah, sure, sure!
KL: It would be an OH&S nightmare.
JM: There are definite occupational health and safety issues but the workers at that factory are so skilled and seeing what they can do is really special. We were pouring too like they just handed me a bucket of some molten metal and we were pouring it. I had no idea what I was doing.
Jeffrey Stephen Miller is an artist and designer living and working in Beijing, China. He received his BFA from The New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University. He and partner Thomas Schmidt co-founded the design team “Recycled China” whose work uses industrial waste within China to create architectural tile and sculptural objects. Recently they exhibited at 8th Gyeonggi International Ceramic Biennale in South Korea where his design collaborative was awarded the the Bronze Prize.
Miller has given lectures at the New York School of Ceramics at Alfred University, The Central Academy of Fine Art, Tsing Hua University, Capital Normal University, The Art Academy of Latvia, and at the College of Arts and Architecture at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Notable exhibitions include The Zanesville Museum of Art, the Arizona State University Art Museum Ceramics Research Center, the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts, Beijing Design Week 2013, Lacoste Gallery, Mathias Kueper Gallery and the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art. He has work in the collections ofThe Victoria and Albert Museum, The Korea Ceramic Foundation, The Arizona State University Ceramics Research Center, The Viessmann Corporation and M Capital Group.