Canadian artist Mandy Tsung creates enchanting surrealistic portraits of feminine spirit by personifying elements of her existence such as emotions, dreams, fantasies, delicacy and sensuality. Her figures are drawn in an exaggerated symbolic and lavish style using ink and acrylics on paper or oil on panel. Her subjects are painted amidst a conceptual landscape with brush strokes that suggest a dynamic passion. Mandy has mastered the art of portraying human emotions in her work focusing solely on feminine world and we’re looking forward to her working on other themes as well. Those living in or around Portland can see her work in a 3-person show opening at Hellion Gallery on July 3, 2014. Here’s our simple but detailed interview with this wonderful artist:
Please tell us about yourself, Mandy:
I was born in Banff, Canada but moved to Calgary at a young age and went to ACAD, where I majored in Sculpture. I didn’t encounter a lot of fine art where I grew up so my first influences came from comics, book covers, and fashion magazines. At ACAD, I gained some knowledge of Art History but it wasn’t until I started travelling to see art in person that I truly appreciated what I had been learning about. Now I live in Vancouver, Canada and work as a full-time artist doing commissions and showing in galleries.
I’ve always made art and I’ve always felt like this was my path, though I did go to art school simply to avoid regular university and please my dad. My milestones would include every show I’ve ever participated in, moving to Vancouver to pursue art full-time, and connecting with artists whom I admire. Honestly, though, every time someone emails me or buys a painting it is a milestone because this job is very hard and inconsistent, every small success makes a big difference in whether I can continue doing this. It’s both uplifting and terrifying to be so much at the mercy of luck and people’s whims.
Where do you place art in your life? What does it mean to you?
My art is a lifeline for me. Without it I wouldn’t be a happy, functioning individual (I’ve tried working normal jobs and they make me go crazy). It’s how I connect with other people, meaning I don’t have a personal life outside of art. I used to have other interests but having to focus on my career and make a living has meant letting go of any distractions or financial burdens. It is also how I express the things that are important to me, such as feminism, and has given me a louder voice from which to present my views and experiences.
Yes. My work revolves around the female figure. Ever since I was a young girl, surrounded by literature, magazines, and comics which depicted captivating women, I’ve felt the desire to both emulate and override the imagery that informs my view of what it is to be a woman. As I become more aware of the world around me, I feel a responsibility to present the viewer with something new and, possibly, challenging. The characters in my paintings are meant to be emotive, to communicate personal stories that are open to interpretation by the viewer in whatever way speaks to them. My hope is that they will come away with a new understanding of themselves and the people around them.
What else do you do besides drawing and painting?
I’ve begun taking tattoo design commissions. I have a lot of tattoos myself, but I used to shy away from designing for others until I realized that tattoos are a way for people, especially young people, to collect art. It’s really interesting that, for many people, tattoos are more approachable, interesting, or valuable than fine art; they would never think to spend thousands on a painting for their wall, but spending thousands on tattoos is acceptable.
It can take anywhere from 2 weeks to many months to do a painting. The longer I have the better, because it allows it to develop organically instead of having to force things along due to deadlines. Sometimes, things just fall into place right away and a painting is finished in a day – though there would have been a lot of time spent in preparation, researching, doing sketches, etc.
What is your method of creating your artwork? What are the stimuli that send you on a creative trip?
My process changes all the time because I’m always experimenting in order to keep myself engaged with my work. Lately, it starts by taking photos of friends or looking at photos that they’ve taken. When I see a photo that strikes me somehow – perhaps I can envision some surreal elements or maybe it’s just the expression on a face – I then do a drawing to work out composition. I try not to let the drawings get too detailed because it will sap all the inspiration out of it and then I will have trouble doing a bigger painting. I also try to have a few ideas waiting and ready because inspiration never comes when I need it to – like when I’m ready to start a new painting. I used to paint in a lot of glaze layers, similar to Flemish style painting, but I find it too tedious and methodical. Now I’m trying to be more direct with my paint and experiment with bolder, less realistic colour, which is a much more satisfying process.
I do have other things that I like to paint or sculpt, but nothing holds my attention the way painting a portrait does. I love abstract art, and I go through phases where it’s the only thing I can do because I need a break from portraits. I’ve begun doing animal spirit paintings which I plan to incorporate abstract and textural elements into.
Tell us about your life as an artist and related challenges:
Being a full-time artist is a huge challenge. It’s not just about making a lot of art. There’s the necessity to make art that people want to buy while still being true to yourself. On top of that you have to be a good business person and PR person. I’m an introvert so it’s very hard for me to make connections with new people at openings and things. Thank goodness for social media and email! If I can connect with someone that way first, then I have a much easier time talking to them in person.
How did you arrive at your specific painting style? Do you prefer to stick to it or experiment?
As far as style, I can say that the big eyes come naturally, and without a reference photo they get really big, so it’s not an affectation that I consciously apply to the work. A student who was emulating my work for a school project actually photoshopped her reference photo to have bigger eyes, which I thought was interesting because it had never occurred to me to do that. In fact I’m trying more now to keep my portraits more realistic. I also use a lot of colour and have found it’s more interesting to use unusual colours than to spend all my time perfecting realistic skin tones. I actually prefer dark, muted, monochromatic art myself, but it’s really hard to for me to paint that way.
What kind of art materials do you mostly use?
I use a lot of different materials and I want to incorporate more, but I tend to mostly use oils, acrylics, and watercolour on paper, canvas, or wood. I’m currently looking into more tools with which to create real textures rather than spending a lot of time recreating/simulating them.
Tell us about your achievements and similar things that matter to you most:
Everything is an achievement – every show I’ve participated in, every commission I’ve done. I try not to compare what I’ve achieved to other artists because it leads to a lot of unhappiness and self-doubt, which is destructive and totally avoidable. I haven’t had any famous clients or solo shows with big-name galleries yet, but simply making a living through art is an achievement in itself. I try to remember that success comes in many more forms than what society tells us it is – owning a house, car, vacations, fancy toys.
What are your future plans, projects, ambitions etc:
I’m in a 3-person show opening at Hellion Gallery on July 3. As far as the future, I want to pursue a bit of schooling or mentoring, perhaps a residency in Europe. I’m feeling like I’m too caught up in my own thoughts and could benefit from an outside perspective or new environment. I’d also like to become more directly involved in my community, to do more to make a difference in the world, rather than just spending all my time in my studio.
Tell us what inspires and motivates you to go on and on:
I am inspired by photography, nature, music, art, and social issues. Going out for long walks in the forest or beach is really valuable for gathering my wits and not getting overwhelmed by work. My favorite living artists right now are Kent Williams, Andrew Hem, Amy Sol, Nomi Chi, James Jean and Gerhard Richter, though there are many more. You can see how many people I follow in Instagram!
I keep myself motivated by setting lots of small goals, like using a specific colour or subject. Whenever I feel like I’m becoming complacent I try to switch gears. There’s always something that my creative brain finds exciting, so it’s just a matter of giving myself the space to explore it and staying disciplined with getting to work every day.