3 Questions Digital Series

Stephen Zhang

An interview from Art in Embassies 3 Questions Digital Series with Stephen Zhang, who speaks about his creative process and photography.

Read more about the Artist

Full Transcript

My name is Stephen Zhang. I’m an artist, specializing in watercolor. I’m also a professor. I teach design at the University of Texas. One of the things in my painting of nature.

There is no manmade object. I deliberately not to do that. I feel like nature is better to be left the way it is. And we’ve, you know, we’ve kind of encroached in process territory enough. So in my painting, not it as one side, but most of them is inside an environment.

So you’re actually immersed, surrounded by that thing. And so my landscape painting doesn’t necessarily have a foreground and background is only immediate. It’s all surrounding you. So you’re bombarded by the richness. There’s definitely layers and depths in there, but there’s not like, you know, hazy, know this things and fog and the ground and the foreground

So it’s it’s more abstract in the sense that there’s a lot of marks, there’s a lot of movements. And it’s also, to some degree, a design because it’s more about shapes and colors. You know, my approach to watercolor is I follow what happens.

It’s a sort of a relationship, best of both worlds. And I take a lot of pictures. I think it is very important to to look at all the angles. I also do some on site sketches, but the sketches are not meant to create a final work for me.

On site sketches are for me to try to study and capture the essence. What I see there, because that, you know, as you said, your memory is deepened. And then so I’m coming home with hundreds, if not thousands of photographs and with some sketches, and it’ll refresh my memory a lot of time.

It takes a long period before I think something that the process of taking photography only is the beginning. And then there’s a process of trying to figure out which one of the things where, what to stay out of.

And because watercolor is such a spontaneous material, a painting or medium, I know something’s going to happen. That’s that’s going to go beyond the pencil lines. So if I’m doing some sketches there, it’s good to try to work out the composition and work out some details that you don’t want the spontaneous process to mess up.

And then once you start putting your paint on invested in some kind of game, you know, it started to go anywhere. So when I put the paint down, it’s a it’s quite an intense situation because things are happening.

The paint the color moving around is, you know, is things on fire. And at first, when you put the paint down, there’s a lot of them, a lot of liquid, a lot of moving around, making quick decisions.

You don’t think. You just kind of react. And so it’s a very intuitive process and that will drain your energy. So I tend to stop and come back later to to see what actually happened, you know, the next day or two days later and assess and evaluate and then decide to how to move forward next.

And so the painting process is focus of fine. I feel extremely honored to be accepted and be representing the United States. I feel humble. I literally didn’t expect that I would be one of those. And the two works.

One is over the pond. It is in the tropical rainforest in Hawaii and on the big island. The other the other one is called Breeze, which is a vertical painting that is about Lotus growing out of the pond.

That’s a typical Chinese thing. It has this kind of thing has been depicted in poems in the ancient time, and people have painted with Chinese painting, ink and brush, just kind of scenes. And I think Chinese have a particular feeling or a special feeling toward this kind of thing for what it symbolizes in one of the well-known

poems. It says that Lotus coming from mud because it’s coming from the pond on the bottom is the mud, but it stays clean. So it means, you know, it sort of symbolizes spirit or a person who might be surrounded by the environment, but the person with integrity could stay out of that kind of a situation.