In Conversation with Jiemei Lin: Finding Inspiration in Tradition
In this One + One interview, curator and writer Veronica Elizabeth Thomas speaks to artist Jiemei Lin, painter, and designer based in Inland Northwest, Washington State.
VT: It was interesting to read that you were born in Hangzhou, China. Does your cultural upbringing inform your art at all?
JML: Yes, I was born and raised in Hangzhou, Hangzhou is a pretty old city, used to be the captain of one of the dynasties in the history of China (the land). I try not to call the dynasties of China as “China” because I believe that they are different nations. Hangzhou has a lake, which is kinda famous, now it is just another futuristic looking modern Asian city.
My cultural definitely influenced my art, not in a way that people except. I am making “Chinese-looking” art, but the way I think, create and understand things and the world.
VT: Are the main characters in your work a direct reflection of yourself?
JML: Yes and no, you are the person to give her an identity, so she could be me if you think so.
VT: I noticed that your newer work uses different shades of blue? Could you explain the thought process behind that and how it came to be?
JML: My grandfather was an activist in both The Republic of China and the early People’s Republic of China. He was arrested twice and had to change his name due to safety concerns. For his new identity, my grandfather chose the name “Qin”, which means Indigo. My grandfather’s younger brother, who went through the same trauma, became “Bai”, which means white.
“Indigo and white” is a phrase in classical Chinese creative writing that is used to mean clear, open-minded and transparent. These names were a reflection of my grandfather’s core values--clear-mindedness, openness, honesty and transparency.
My full name is Lin Jie Mei (林介眉), Lin (林) is my family name. Jie (介) is my generation character, as well as a symbol of the first feminist move of my life; girls are usually not given generation characters as women are expected to marry and become members of other families. However, I was given a generational character, because my grandfather believed in gender equality.
"All my artworks are implicitly or explicitly feminist. They create conversations, identify issues and critique social injustice."
All my artworks are implicitly or explicitly feminist. They create conversations, identify issues and critique social injustice. That my grandfather fought against thousands of years of tradition in order to name his youngest granddaughter was very encouraging and surreal at the same time.
Since the moment I was given my own generational character, as a woman, artist, immigrant, and minority, there have been many moments I felt deeply connected with my grandfather, his brother and their decision. Somehow, we all live through lives to lives to give each other new identities for hiding, while reminding each other that we still live with open minds, honesty, and transparency. There is nothing to hide.
VT: Your recent work also explores more nudity than in your previous work. Could you tell why and how that decision came about?
JML: My recent work is a reaction to my previews works, as well as the whole contemporary art world. I have spent years at school, thinking of conceptual art, postmodernism. I decided to go back to paint bodies finally since it was also always my favorite thing to do. I have learned about myself by making drawings and paintings of girls.
During my MFA and post MFA time, I always ask myself why do people stop making figure paintings. Body image is always a big part of my concept, my paintings are the result of the process of creating body image, also creating a conversation of body images. For my paintings, I also want to have a conversation about media, it can be a critique to the art world right now, it can also be a critique to all those nudity painted by male artists.
"Body image is always a big part of my concept, my paintings are the result of the process of creating body image, also creating a conversation of body images."
VT: Your work goes beyond just paintings, you also work in embroidery, photography, and graphic design. Which medium allows you the most creative expression?
JML: For expressing myself, probably still drawing and painting. I love to be a designer, that’s my full-time job. I do believe that I am a good one, doing design is about communicating visually, I love communicating, as well as making other people’s idea happen.
VT: What’s next for you and your career?
JML: I am working full-time as a designer. I am still making art and applying for shows, working on a couple of children’s books, and teach a digital media class in college.