an interview with someone you should know

late into the afternoon i sent these questions over to new interviewee catalina ouyang, expecting to receive a full reply in the next day or two. she pleasantly surprised me with her responses three hours later, adding on a sassy "procrastination ftw" when i commented on her quickness. catalina and i are acquaintances through a summer art camp where we were both simultaneously preparing our college portfolios. just like every other staff and student, i immediately respected her for her skill and taste work-after-work that she churned out. she now attends the washington university of st. louis. bringing her loud personality and distinct talent to the midwest, it's very clear they're just as taken with her as we are.

vivian: describe yourself in a few sentences.

catalina: I usually resort to something along the lines of “crackie on the hot mess express” or, at the other end of my personal spectrum, “brooding peripheral detail,” so instead I’ve asked for some [overly-enthused] input from Noah, a good friend of mine:
“An all American trapped in an Asian’s body, too smart for her own good trapped in a world of complexities with no audience but the world and no voice but her own.”

v: how important is fashion to you?

c: I can’t really say. I don’t read fashion publications (other than the occasional GQ to expose myself to a little biased bit of current affairs), I don’t follow fashion blogs, I’ve never been to a fashion week anywhere nor have I ever been dying to…I never really know what’s going on in that world, I don’t know how to do sophisticated makeup, I don’t really know the “rules” of, you know, how prints should be worn or what jewelry looks tacky or any of the long-standing semiotics of clothing.
That said, I have fun with what I look like. Subtlety tends not to be a part of my sartorial vocabulary. Moderation too. I think some people might call me trendy, and that’s fair, I pick up on some things I find deliciously absurd like the heelless trend, the Jeffrey Campbell craze (though I more or less hate to admit it), the camo thing, the ugly-sweater thing, and I’m sure other things. I’m definitely not up-to-date, but it’s not a big concern. I like being colorful, I like being a little hard on the eyes in terms of layering clashing patterns and colors. Parents tend to be put off by me. I’m probably often inappropriate, a little over-sexed; I like things that are tiny and see-through and tight. But at other times I love the baggy things that make me look like a boy, especially with my hair the way it is now.
Hair is fun. I don’t change it up like crazy, I tend to stick with a style for a while once I find something I like, but it’s usually kind of in-your-face and sexually ambiguous, which is funny to anyone who knows me. Sometimes I feel like I’m losing it, getting lazy or unexciting, but then I meet someone new who’s not used to me and they’re usually a little taken back, so that’s reaffirming.

v: describe your art-making process.

c: I’m in the middle of a whole bunch of things right now, which is such an art-school cliché but for once in my life it’s kind of true. I got my start in drawing photorealistically and that’s what I did for a long time until I “branched out” to painting and mixed media work. It was all kind of melancholy and highly personal, poetic stuff, all of it pretty much fell in the camp of painting in terms of creating worlds and/or narratives on a 2D canvas—usually figurative, always representational, always aesthetics first and theme second. I use “theme” instead of “concept” because none of my work was conceptual in the postmodern, progressive sense of the word; my pieces suggested some story, had an intuitive message, but in the end they were meant to be taken as a world implied inside the image, never took into account the space surrounding their physicality.
I changed a lot as a person when I left home for college and my attitude toward artmaking changed as well—became a bit more humorous, less sentimental (I hope), maybe more jarring. I came out of a year-long depressive phase plus I’m no longer thinking of ways to impress college portfolio reviewers, you know, so I’ve got this freedom to be as offensive or oblique as I want, or whatever else. So my 2D work from last year has a sort of i-don’t-give-a-fuck vibe, lots of inside jokes, self-deprecating humor.
This year I’ve finally started working in 3D, which is something I’ve been talking about for years but never had the motivation or resources to do. I’ve also taken to writing quite a bit since starting a dating blog over the summer, and it comes a lot more naturally to me than painting. Conveniently, I find that there’s a more cohesive relationship between writing and 3D/installation/performative artwork, than with the kind of painting I was doing before, so I’m exploring that boundary and cross-over right now.

v: what's important to you right now?

c: Hard to say, but maybe: staying alive, literally. I’ve had one or two close calls. I definitely had an invincibility complex last year and this semester I’ve really been feeling and coming to terms with the limitations of my own body.
Other than that, I suppose keeping busy, staying on top of three studios and three classes, trying to keep things refreshing. It’s pretty easy for me to fall into self-doubt and depressive funks, that’s where my natural momentum seems to swing (e.g. my highschool life), but as long as I’m moving fast enough it tends not to happen.

v: one significant moment in your life that changed how you made art?

c: It’s a bit anticlimactic to say that a class changed my approach toward art (as opposed to a traumatic breakup or narrow escape from death), but it would be true. I’m in a studio called Hybrid Media right now—at the time that I signed up for it, I didn’t know that it’d be all graduate students. Which was intimidating at first and I felt way out of my depth, as the class is really discussion-heavy, real esoteric stuff. But now I’ve settled into a comfortable place in the class, kind of proved my worth as a thinking individual, and it’s making me see other artwork and my own in a more analytical way, to break things down in order to make them purposeful and relevant. I’m working right now with these characters that I constructed, about 4 feet tall, placing them in different situations in “their world” and our own, addressing issues of global consumerism and discomfort with Otherness. That’s not something I’d even have imagined doing half a year ago.

v: what kind of artistic upbringing did you receive, and how does that previous education play into the work you make now?

c: I never realized until recently—by which I mean a few years—that my father is a fabulous artist, or has the potential to be. Growing up, I was pretty much the only person in my household who had an obvious enthusiasm for artmaking, though I wasn’t particularly good at it, not at all. My dad wasn’t around much but when he was, we’d doodle together. He’s an amazing draftsman, caricaturization comes really easily to him, and he sees/captures the world in unconventional abstract ways. I might sound ridiculous comparing him to Picasso, but I’m going to do it anyway. And kind of in the way that young kids don’t appreciate Picasso as a sophisticated artist, I didn’t appreciate my father as one, not until much later.
I guess that’s where the art bug came from. My dad had wanted to do art school back in the day but his parents forced him into engineering instead. I almost didn’t pursue art, either, always had it as a half-serious hobby that I happened to be nominally proficient with. That’s why I never took any art courses in school until my sophomore year of high school and even then didn’t really care about it too much. In middle school I took a night course at the community college which had more or less no effect on anything.
Over the summers when I went to China my aunt would sometimes find me a place in a university prep studio, where high school students practiced for their art school entrance exams. I did this the summers after 6th and 7th grade and I was kind of the loser of the class, completely lacked confidence and a decent skillset. But in 8th grade I suddenly experienced a sort of revolution in my photorealistic abilities (I remember it clearly, a portrait of Angelina Jolie that suddenly came alive [yes this is supposed to be funny]) and that summer I was top of the prep class despite being the youngest. So yes, this petty nonsense was a huge confidence booster.
It also made me frustrated when I came back to America and realized that none of these fools knew how to draw, not from photos and especially not from life. Later when I interviewed for my scholarship at Washu, I mentioned to the panel that I’d done courses in studios in China and one of the professors said: “So you are schooled in the Beaux-Arts tradition.” Yeah, I guess. I think that traditional ability is still hugely important in my current practice. I may not be interested anymore in doing realistic/strictly representation work, but having the ability is a crucial launching point for other directions. And it’s also kind of a self-qualifier, i.e. a gnarly ego trip. 

check out catalina's website and tumblr, you probably can't get enough of her now! 

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