Alice Meichi Li was born at dawn one fine August morning to Chinese immigrant parents who stereotypically ran a restaurant. She not-so-stereotypically grew up in a crime-ridden Detroit neighborhood, nursed on cultural-identity confusion and comics. She earned her BFA at School of Visual Arts, and currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. We talk about a variety of topics ranging from how she got started, acrylics, and life in New York. Read below for the full interview…
Alice, tell us a bit about who you are and how you got started drawing.
Alice: I grew up in a Chinese restaurant in Detroit. Being that our East Side neighborhood was relatively dangerous, I had nothing better to do than to stay inside draw on the backs of paper Chinese Zodiac placemats in our dining room. It was at 3 years old that I decided I wanted to be an artist, though this fluctuated until I made the concrete decision to do art for a living at 15. My alternating interests between Western comics and anime during my adolescence kept me drawing as a hobby, but it wasn’t until several faculty members at high school saw my art and pretty much forced me to actually enroll in art class that I started taking it seriously. Previously my schedule was packed full of advanced math and science courses, at my parents’ urging. Of course.
You’ll be showcasing your talent at the Gamescape exhibition this summer. Are you a big gamer at all?
Alice: I’m not sure if I can be considered a “big” gamer, but I used to be really into old SNES and Sega Genesis games back in the 90s, with a subscription to GamePro and everything. My favorite games skewed toward fighting games and action-adventure games. Then I transitioned to being one of those regulars hanging out late nights at the arcade playing Dance Dance Revolution in a short skirt and platform boots, Double-Mode. These days, I occasionally rock out on Rockband or pick up a DS if I have free time, but that’s not very often!
What are the pros and cons of working with acrylics?
Alice: Acrylics are a surprisingly versatile medium, especially applied in thin glazes and built up in layers. The fact that acrylic dries relatively quickly is both a pro and a con, compared to oils. When I used to paint in oils, it was much more of a meditative experience where I felt more free to explore and return to at my leisure. In acrylics, there is an urgency that can either be freeing or frustrating. There’s not much room to be precious, and it’s that chaotic element that I feel like I need in my work at times.
It seems like New York is where the majority of creatives find themselves after moving around a bit. How was like like when you first came to New York and enrolled in the School of Visual Arts?
Alice: Honestly, it took a little over a year to adjust to the culture shock of living in New York City. Everything here was faster, more aggressively ambitious. And though the living quarters were much smaller, the overall scope of life seemed much bigger than what I was used to. Once I did acclimate though, there was no turning back. The sense of community among artists and other creative people here is absolutely necessary to both my sanity and artistic career. Of course, that’s easier to say now that I’ve already paid my shoebox-living dues.
Do you have any favorite Asian films or anime?
Alice: So many, I can’t decide! I’m a big fan of Wong Kar Wai, and absolutely love Fallen Angels and In the Mood For Love. His choice of cinematography is exceptionally inspirational to me. I also thought that Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution and Takeshi Kitano’s Fireworks were both heartachingly beautiful. In terms of anime, I’m a little old-school these days as well. My favorites are Revolutionary Girl Utena, Perfect Blue, Fullmetal Alchemist, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Serial Experiments Lain, Akira, and the gateway drug… Sailormoon. I’m not ashamed!
When you start a new piece do you usually lean towards traditional media or mixed digital? What is your preference?
Alice: I lean toward mixed digital these days, if only for the amount of flexibility and control I have over it. My personal philosophy also informs my choice of media, and a recurring theme throughout my life has been that of opposites. Chaos and order, yin and yang, dark and light, analog and digital. The ability to expressively lay down some quick color and texture in acrylic and then pore over the piece closely in Photoshop gives me both the release that I need and the control that I crave.
I noticed most of your pieces have a blue/pinkish hue to them, what is it about this color scheme that attracts you?
Alice: It actually started out subconsciously in art school, as I did a series of blue-hued pieces and then a series of pink. Naturally, my classmates started joking about how I was going through “Blue” and “Rose” periods, and it stuck. The dichotomy of coldness and warmth that I like to play with also harkens back to what I mentioned before about opposites. In a way, my entire life has been about reconciling opposites and struggling to find the elusive balance between them, if it even exists at all.
I love the Mega Man piece for Udon. Their artbooks are always awesome! Did you hear anything back from them concerning making it in?
Alice: Thanks! My piece didn’t make the cut this time, but I can understand why — Mega Man doesn’t seem to be in a very favorable position in the piece, does he? I’m sure Capcom would prefer to have him in a more heroic stance. I guess I’m just a rebel like that!
Also, any information on your own book?
Alice: Well, I have work in a few books that have come out recently or will be coming out this year. I contributed a piece to the latest GirlsDrawinGirls anthology, GirlsDrawinGirls Vol. 4: The Way Nature Made Her. It’s a hardcover compilation of pin-ups with a flora theme, and will be making its debut at San Diego Comic Con. It’s also available for pre-sale now (http://girlsdrawingirls.blogspot.com/2011/06/gdg-volume-iv-pre-sale.html). An exhibition accompanying the book’s release is set for August 6th at Vlad the Retailer in Los Angeles. And another anthology I contributed to, Reading With Pictures (http://www.readingwithpictures.org/), was recently nominated for two Harvey Awards and will be featured heavily at New York Comic Con this year complete with programming and signings. Be sure to look for me there!
Finally, any advice for any artists out there?
Alice: By now I’m assuming most aspiring artists have had the “Work hard, don’t quit” spiel. Although that’s pretty much the most important piece of advice you’ll ever hear, I’ll try to provide something a bit different: Especially at the beginning of one’s career, there’s lack of distinction between yourself and your creation. This is natural, as our work is an extension of ourselves in many ways. However, a certain amount of distance must be achieved in order to view your art objectively and not take criticism so personally that it becomes crippling. Only then can true improvement happen. This is why one of the most basic struggles that an artist will have to face is finding the balance between their inferiority complex and superiority complex.
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