We met up with the artist Faye Wei Wei who is currently taking part in her first solo show at The Cob Gallery in Camden until 29th April. Read all about her artwork, inspiration and her personal jewellery inspirations.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m having my first solo show at The Cob Gallery in Camden. Since I graduated last summer from Slade, I’ve been working on a body of new work for the show. I met them at a party once and we got talking, and then it just happened coincidentally. I really like meeting new people so I was talking to the curators there and that’s how it came about.
As it’s your first solo show, I imagine it’s quite a daunting prospect. How do you begin to fill that kind of space?
I have to trust that everything I have been making since the start will feel coherent because I’m the vehicle that it goes through. This process – it goes through me and my hand.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
The way I start is by thinking about a feeling, a line of poetry, something that I’ve watched in a film or about certain people in my life. Then I’ll go from there by doing a drawing with these symbols or the people who I want in the paintings. These will come from an initial sketch, usually. Sometimes, I have a blank canvas that I’ll want to just attack. I’ll start with a lot of symbolism that I’ve collected over the course of just painting…
And you’re inspired by poems and objects?
Yes, and myths and memories I have from when I was little. I remember when I was in Hong Kong once, and when you’re in Hong Kong you eat outside as it’s so hot. I remember eating this gigantic fish and it had the most amazing jaw bone, with all these jagged edges. I remember thinking my mum would never let me keep it so I hid it in my mouth, and when I got home I spat it out and kept it in my precious box. I still remember what it looks like so sometimes I’ll paint that. I also have a lot of sea shells that I’ll paint, or people… boys and girls, and the relationship between male and female, and what this means.
I believe you’re quite drawn to the sea?
Yes, I am. It’s hard to paint the sea; I’ve not tried that yet. I think sea shells are a way into that feeling of the ocean.
Tell me more about the colours you use in your work
I think the colours that I tend to use are quite jewel-toned lately. I used to be really drawn to pastel colours, but recently I like those really deep reds and really vibrant blues and greens. I feel like jewels have that kind of quality – they have a real depth in the way that the stones are. Like a deep ruby that I wish I could crush up and make it into a pigment. That’s what they used to do with blue and that’s why blue is so precious. With Old Master religious paintings, the blue was always reserved for Mary because lapis lazuli was the most expensive pigment you could get as it was a precious jewel. They would literally crush it up and mix it with the oil. If you go to the National Gallery and look at paintings of Madonna, they’re all still really vibrant and I love that – sacrificing this precious jewel to make a holy painting.
In the change from pastels to the new colours, is that something that just happened organically?
Yes. I think from when I left school I was then able to work every day, and on my own. It was when I had a lot more time to think and not have to perform to other people; it was just what I wanted to do. Looking at Old Master paintings and Francis Bacon and Piero della Francesca, those kind of people. I naturally wanted to make the palette more mature as I have grown up. Those are now the colours that I am more drawn to.
Would you that say that the way you take one colour and explore its depth, is in some way similar to jewellery?
Yes and the way it’s cut is really important. They say that rough diamonds are really dull, but you have to cut it right and then it will sparkle. I think the one colour that I use, olive green, can be really versatile because it can be so dark if you use it just as it is, but if you thin it out with some liquin, it can go really pale. It’s kinder than using just black. It’s very freeing because I wanted to learn more about painting and brush strokes, focusing on mark-making and using just one colour was really liberating. Colour is so difficult because of the way they sit next to each other. They vibrate and the light vibrates into your eyes, in a way. There’s a lot to think about when you’re composing a picture and making it feel right.
Do you find it challenging just using one colour in a piece of artwork?
It’s like going back to drawing, I guess. When you draw with charcoal, it gives different tones. I use charcoal a lot, I love willow charcoal and how it looks like a tree still – like a really burnt tree. I believe the old way of creating a picture is with charcoal. When you’re at school you do a lot of life drawing. In New York I went to a school for a semester where I did life classes five times and week. I learnt about the material and how it moves just using charcoal or using one colour all the time. I learnt how the pigment works and how the material can work for me. It’s really good to simplify it in this way.
What type of jewellery do you typically wear?
I wear a lot of rings. I really love old Victorian rings and Edwardian ones. For my 18th birthday, my Dad took me to Portobello at 5am and I found these Victorian flower rings. They had turquoises with rubies in the middle, and they were gold. I prefer gold jewellery. Then for my 21st, we did the same and I got an Edwardian flower one instead with turquoise and pearls. They were really dainty. I love it when jewellery feels really precious and I do wear them every day, even if that means that they get paint on or the stones fall out. I just think you should wear your most precious things all the time.
Where do you see yourself going next?
I just want to be a painter and do it forever. I take it really seriously. It’s the one thing that I just really love.
Feeling inspired? Shop Faye’s Look!