Skip to main content

Six of the Best: Part 18

When I discovered the work of artist Shu-Ju Wang (from Portland, Oregon) on Google Plus, I thought: wow, I would really love to hear her talk about her art. So I asked her, and she said yes. Don't forget to go to her website when you've read this so you can see more of her beautiful prints and artist's books.

Bamboo Mountain, Potato Hill 2012 Gouache & acrylic on paper, mounted on birch panels 12"x24

Philip Hartigan: What medium/media do you chiefly use, and why?

Shu-Ju Wang: I work mainly with gouache on paper. In the last couple of years, I've been mounting the paper on boards and finishing the pieces with acrylic so that they can hang without glass.

I find gouache to be an incredibly versatile medium -- it's reworkable and can be mixed to be more transparent or more opaque. It's also important to me that I don't use toxic cleaners or create plastic waste (unused, dried up acrylic paint). The historic aspect of the medium also plays into my work, as I'm very influenced by Medieval manuscripts, East Asian, Central Asian, Mughal and Islamic art, and gouache is the medium used. Formulation might have changed over the years, but the basic idea of 'opaque watercolor' remains.

PH: What piece are you currently working on?

SJW: I'm working on a series of diptychs called Red Bean Paste & Apple Pie. It's part of a series of projects about immigration that address public & private issues of immigration. 

Snack Attack! 2012 Gouache & acrylic on paper, mounted on birch panels 12"x24"

PH: What creative surprises are happening in the current work? 

SJW: The most recent surprise is that I can physically hurt myself by painting. I injured my painting hand due to the long hours and continuous days of painting. So now I have instituted some routines that will prevent that from happening again. As for creative surprises, there are little ones and big ones. Little ones -- finding different color combinations that work so well, and why hadn't I thought of that before. Or if I had thought of it before, how did I forget? Little surprises go on like that. Big ones -- I'm always surprised at how difficult the work is.

PH: What other artistic medium (or non-artistic activity) feeds your creative process?

SJW: I'm also a book artist. I don't typically work on books in parallel with painting, so while I'm working on this series of diptychs, the books are on hiatus. I finished a book last September before starting Red Bean Paste and Apple Pie, and I have another book in the planning stage to be started when I'm finished with the paintings. I find that there are ideas that I want to pursue that work better in the book format or in the painting format, and I love that I can do both.

I also garden. I do an hour or two everyday. I have 1/4 of an acre and it's all garden that I've put in over the last 20 years. Lots of trees, shrubs and some veggies. I don't do a lot of flowers (other than blooming shrubs), and I don't do annuals (except for veggies). I mean, what's the point, really?!

Her Love of Green Vegetables Reaches Mythical Proportions 2012 Gouache & acrylic on paper, mounted on birch panels 12"x24"

PH: What's the first ever piece of art you remember making?

SJW: Depends on what you mean by that. I spent A LOT of hours making really meticulously planned out structures with my blocks. I was maybe 3 or 4. After that, the next significant thing I remember was being the class representative for an art competition. I was maybe in the 2nd grade (non-US readers: about 7 years old). I didn't win. My drawing was an oil pastel about a field trip to the Royal Crown bottling plant (this was in Taiwan).

PH: Finally, and you can answer this in any way that's meaningful to you: why are you an artist?

SJW: I want to make things that make people ponder, like puzzles that people have to put together. I've always been a visual and hands-on person. It's not so far from the block structures I spent hours making. I could've been a gardener, too, I mean by profession. That is also not too far from the blocks. As an artist, I create work so that people have to think. 

If you liked this interview, and you'd like to keep up to date with the series, why not Subscribe, or sign-up via Google Connect, using one of the options over on the right? Thanks, and keep creating.


  1. Thanks for this interview of Shu-Ju Wang. Her work is amazing, funny, thoughtful and beautiful. I'm also glad you interviewed her because your blog looks pretty amazing too and I'm glad to have found it. Looks like I've found a great site to explore over the next few days.

  2. Great interview! I really enjoyed seeing and learning about Shu-Ju Wang's work.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

On my 300th blog post


It's my 300th blog post. And I seem to remember that in my 200th blog post I said that I would start quoting from John Ruskin's "Praeterita", after which this blog was named. Well, better late then never, so quotation number 2 is below.

First, though, some thoughts on this blog and blogging in general. I started Praeterita at the end of last year after reading a book by an art-marketing guru called Alyson Stansfield that recommended it as a means for artists to publicise their work better. But from the start I thought it would be more interesting to talk in a discursive way about my wider interest in art, and artists, and the history of art. After a desultory beginning where I only posted once a week, my blogging habit has now grown to the point where I am posting sometimes twice a day, and more than 45 times per month (helped enormously by the Blogger feature that lets you save blog posts with a post-dated timestamp, so that you can put posts in the bank to …

My worst open studio

Most open studios are notable for nothing really happening. You sit there waiting for people to come into your studio, eat all your nibbles and guzzle the free drink, and then leave after a cursory glance at your work. Usually, the worst thing that happens is that you get stuck in a boring conversation with a dull person,

But there was one time a few years ago when I got into one of these conversations, and quite quickly the person I was talking to started to make homophobic remarks about another artist in the building. After a few minutes, I decided I'd had enough and asked him to leave. He seemed genuinely surprised that I had any objection to what he was saying, which in retrospect makes me even angrier if he thought he had a sympathetic ear.

He asked me why, and I told him I didn't like people talking that way, and I said: "This conversation ended 30 seconds ago." So he left.

So, nothing dramatic like Jackson Pollock getting drunk in a fancy New York apartment a…

Brancusi in Plastic

Artist Mary Ellen Croteau is showing these columns made from recycled plastic cartons and lids in the window of the Columbia College bookstore on Michigan Avenue. They are a playful homage to Brancusi's "Endless Columns", with a serious environmental message for our times:

Mary Ellen also runs a wonderful experimental art gallery in a window space in west Chicago, called Art on Armitage. I will be exhibiting a mixed media piece there during August 2012.