I had the immense pleasure of getting to ask Jeannie Ni Hua some questions about her incredible collages. To see Jeannie's work you can visit her website and to see the other half of the interview where Jeannie asks questions about my work, you can visit Jeannie's blog.
Rebecca: When looking at your collages, I am drawn to and somewhat obsessed with the places where you left the naturally torn edges. These spaces somehow give me the sensation that light is leaking through. What do you think of these remnants of your process? Do you include them intentionally and, if so, what role do you intend for them to inhabit?
Jeannie: I love the materiality of magazine paper and its reaction to medium. Some magazine colors and patterns I instinctively tear and shred instead of cut. It gives a bit of a gorilla stain glass effect to my collages. If you were to see my collages in person, you could also see the layering and the wrinkling of the paper. All these visual elements produce a Frankenstein effect. It’s obvious that the colors were torn or cut from another source, had a previous meaning, effect, purpose, and significance. But now it’s been surgically, albeit cursorily reassembled to another image that is unnatural and awkward but still recognizable. And the viewer is invited to interact with the awkwardness to either accept it or reject it, either way, to process that cut and pasted together image.
R: I am interested in the ways you choose to orient and shape the paper. I noticed while looking at your series, Depression, that you used chunky, layered blocks of paper to replicate an all too familiar feeling of sedimentation, a sense of being trapped. Meanwhile, in your Sanctuary series you seem to prioritize color dynamics and dimensionality. How do you negotiate between these aspects of working with paper, particularly when they may conflict?
J: By the way thank you for noticing that. My Sanctuary series is more painterly because in some of the images, I wanted to mimic stained glass effect because it's a medium associated with established religions. With the Depression series, I wanted to convey a sense of weight and submersion. While the images were pretty, I’m not sure my usual medium conveyed the weight that I wanted. My collages are light by weight. It’s all paper. How to convey weight and a sense of breathlessness has been a struggle through my usual medium of collage. I had wanted to make my Depression series a performative installation piece where the audience consents to be weighed down by the chest with layers of fabric, matting, or pillows. But that would be Battery which is punishable in Nevada up to six months in jail :)
R: While scrolling through your Instagram I came across your graphite drawings and I am interested to know what your relationship is to your drawings. Your style is evident in both, but the difference in materiality makes them almost feel like they come from a Jeannie in a different dimension. What aspects of drawing do you enjoy and what ways do you see your drawings influencing your collages and vise versa?
J: You chanced upon the drawing I made during my residency at Chateau d’ Orquevaux in France last summer. The place is ridiculously beautiful and I had a raging case of impostor syndrome. I thought that the foundation for every artist was to conquer the rigours of drawing. But I didn’t just want to sketch my immediate surroundings, as beautiful as it was. I wanted to draw images meaningful to me. I also found what occupied my mind was my family. I missed them terribly. So for each family member, I thought of one thing that made them stand out for me. I also work in pastel and oil. I was surprised by the reception of very kind people surprised with my range. I had assumed that all artists gain proficiency in all mediums and they choose the medium and subjects that best conveyed the concepts or messages they wanted to send out to the world. I didn’t realize that it may be the reverse. I don’t know. I’m very new to the art world and I’m discovering it with the glee of a loud little kid.
R: In describing your transition from ‘pre’ to ‘post’ pandemic you said, “My use of collage was how I made sense of the “thems” of the world.” I would love it if you could describe this idea more deeply and, perhaps, the idea of how collage allows you to relate to and empathize with “them.”
J: Before covid 19, my first focus for my collage work was on the natural world. I collaged many animals but mostly horses. I was fascinated by anthropomorphism and how we need to get over ourselves. Then I did a series on the October 1 shooting at Mandalay Bay in 2017. That was my first series with religious overtones because one commonality amongst the survivors when describing that night was that it was hell on earth. So I used medieval imagery for that series. The series after that was in conjunction with Asian Community Development Council that focused on areas of society the nonprofit assisted minorities in. So in all the subjects in all the series, the focus was on things that happened to someone or something else other than me. The way I tried to connect with “Thems,” is to depict them in a beautiful and relatable way. To devote time, to think about them, to construct beautiful images for different purposes, for example, horses are pretty aren’t they? Well they’re not for your viewing enjoyment, they’re autonomous living beings. Ironically beautiful horses versus beautiful depictions of nonprofit services in almost a propaganda light is how I manipulate the idea of beauty to suit my message. It’s in the manipulation of the images are my odes to the “Thems.”
R: I appreciate how you state, “It’s because I covet. I inhabit one of the seven deadly sins because I’m a collage artist.” It makes me consider the ways in which artists in Western art traditions were often labeled as excessively passionate and therefore ‘sinful.’ Do you think of your ‘covetousness’ as a weakness or as a necessary and even virtuous aspect of who you are as an artist?
J: What a wonderful question. Am I a color slut or a pigment saint? Just kidding! I love my greed. When you get to be my age. You either accept yourself or disintegrate into a wrinkled heap of self denial. I want to be a color hoarder, never enough colors! I can’t get tired of light to medium hues of blue juxtaposed with vibrant reds. It lifts my spirits whenever I see that combination. Makes me think that all’s right in the world when that world is red and light blue.