Xinyi Cheng was born in Wuhan, a river city in the south of China, in 1989. When she was six and a half, her family moved to Beijing. She was a confused teenager. She decided she wanted to study art when she was at high school. She was admitted as the last candidate of a fine art school in the most prestigious university. She studied sculpture at the very prestigious school. She moved to the U.S. right after she graduated from college and is currently an MFA candidate at Maryland Institute College of Art. She paints about her fears and desires, combining symbolic content with ambiguous narrative and unique color understanding. We discuss a variety of topics. Read below for the full Q&A…
I’d like to talk a bit about you as a person before I dive into your art. What has it been like moving from river cities, to Beijing, then to the U.S. Would you describe yourself as a nomad or you just want to experience as much as you can?
Xinyi: I was born in Wuhan, a big river city in the south of China. When I was six and a half my father had a good job offer in Beijing, so my family moved because of the job. I was so bothered by my southern accent and coming from elsewhere when we first moved there. Later on, I got rid of my accent and grew up just like a local Beijing kid. Then, after studying art in Beijing, I decided that I wanted to go to graduate school in the U.S. I guess I was looking for a different life.
Did these transition mold you into being a creative person?
Xinyi: Yes, definitely. Living in a foreign country is very inspiring. I am having American experiences and new observations all the time, and it has nurtured my work in numerous ways: I use new color palettes and new subject matter, I paint “exotic” white males.
Why did you decide to study sculpting first and foremost?
Xinyi: I was admitted as the last candidate in the art program of a very prestigious university in China. Because of this, I didn’t get my first choice – which was painting. Later on, I realized that getting into the sculpture program actually gave me lots of freedom to develop my paintings.
Ultimately, your popularity has risen through your work on canvas. How did you find your niche through oils?
Xinyi: I love oil paints. It’s nice and solid. I like to mix colors; it gives me satisfaction. It feels like spreading cream cheese on a bagel.
I especially like expensive paints, having them is like owning jewelry.
How do you think a masters degree in art will help further you in your career? How has formal education guided you thus far?
Xinyi: I am trying to figure out what I want to do with my MFA too, so we’ll see…I am really happy to be in my program at MICA. I am exposed to a group of very talented peers and visiting artists. More importantly, people care about art at art school.
Your work has a slight muted tone to it. Very quiet…even melancholy. Where do your personal desires enter the picture? How would you describe your work?
Xinyi: I started my journey from the painting Tension 1. Ever since then I’ve been constructing non-linear narrative in my paintings by piecing together my personal memories.
What are some of your favorite Chinese films?
What is it about drawing the human form that you enjoy the most?
Xinyi: I like naked people; I think white males are pink; I like hairy naked people!
Body hair from different parts of the body has very different texture: some are very soft and some are tougher; I feel so satisfied when I draw figures.
Do you have any exhibits or gallery showings coming up or is your time consumed with studies?
Xinyi: My MFA program is currently having a show, and my friend and I are proposing something and hopefully we will show in a gallery in Baltimore. Yeah, I would love to show my work more actively.
Lastly, can you please give some advice to any struggling artists out there, whether they might be facing cultural identity issues or experiencing roadblocks in their career?
Xinyi: [Laughs] I struggle a lot!! So I guess… deal with the pain, and keep painting — [that’s] what really matters.
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