May is Asian Pacific American Heritage, an occasion I marked by seeking interviews with several Asian-American artists (like Roommate‘s Ken Lambert) and blogging about Asian neighborhoods and such… One interview I attempted to land was Chinese-American artist Xu Darocha, now giving a whole new meaning to the concept of “Asian time” by getting her responses to me in time for National Cat Fish Month… To be fair, she’s been occupied with more pressing business, working on her amazing artwork.
Eric Brightwell: Hello Xu, thanks for letting me profile you. Happy Asian American Heritage Month. Have you done anything in recognition or celebration?
Xu Darocha: Not yet. I will make myself some dumplings soon. Will that count?
EB: Not really, unless you weren’t going to otherwise make them… plus it’s a little late! When I mention your name, almost everyone asks, “Is that her real name?” Do you get that a lot?
XD: Most of the people I meet are usually more confused about how to read “Xu.” I was born and raised in China. Xu is pronounced “zoo.” “DaRocha” is the last name I took from my ex-husband when I was married. So yes – it’s my real name.
EB: When did you get into art?
XD: The year after I graduated from high school. The serious academic studying in [my] Chinese high school was overwhelming and suffocating me. The future it was leading to was even more depressing and suffocating. So I promised myself I would try this “painting” thing as soon as I could. And I got into art school a year later, for fashion design.
EB: How many arts are you involved in? I know of pottery, photography and painting. Anything else, or is that all?
XD: I want to think of myself as an artist that just makes things as I go. Painting, photography and pottery are just different forms of creation. I hope I will have time to try more things. I am also a part time stylist and an occasional translator. I think putting my own words or thoughts into anything I work on is a form of creation.
EB: Your Folds series depicts the light, shadows and textures of fabric in an almost fetishistic way that reminds me of the art of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres and Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Are you a fan of them? Can you talk a bit about your inspirations?
XD: Thanks. I like the word” fetishistic,” sounds really sexy. I like Ingres. In addition [to] the fact [that] I love his style and craft, what really got me was a story about him. When I read his biography years ago there was a story about when he was in his 80s, already famous and established, he would go check on his paintings at night after a long day of working and start to cry because it wouldn’t be as good as he wanted. There was something childish and sincere about that and it comforted me. One of the reasons I started the Folds series was because I missed painting a lot. I was doing photography for a few years prior to that, and some pottery stuff, but hadn’t worked on any serious paintings for at least three or four years. Plus, I needed a good subject matter that would hold my attention for a long period of time.
At the same time I started to notice the fabrics. They’re often just background subjects and always seem to have this really random and casual look to them – but if you look closer, every wrinkle and crease is caused by something and in return causes something else to happen. The casualness is superficial to me. There is also a tension between all the elements: surface, causality and so on. It reminds me of the complexity of other things that seem to exist without reasons or any cause, much like our emotions. Because of this we are often drawn to the surface level of the story, and that is what I am trying to create here. I was also looking for a certain image quality – something somewhat intense, layers over layers of the painting, lots of color and detail, so I can just have a good solid reason to just paint, to OD on painting for a bit, because I hadn’t really painted for a while, and I missed it very much. So, for now, I will have my good dose of heavy oil painting. The next series will be very different.
XU: Yes, I was working as an art director’s assistant for a TV show called The Love Letters. After that I worked as a freelancer making props and murals for movies and TV shows in China.
(I I looked up The Love Letter and ?? but only found the Peter Chan comedy, a K-Drama, ???? , and the Shunji Iwai film,????? –all available on DVD at Amoeba, and yet none involving Xu’s contributions.)
EB: So what does your current work entail?
XD: Usually I go around looking for fabric without knowing what I am looking for. Most of the time I don’t know what will catch my eye. Then I usually spend a long time playing with them, folding them, wrinkling them, taking pictures of them, leaving them alone for a while, printing the plans out and trying to forget about them, before starting the process all over again. Sometimes it takes days or weeks to finalize a plan, and lots of those plans never become finalized into an actual painting. Or I will tell myself, “I am going to make a light, happy painting this time or a painting that reminds me of a certain person or event.” Then I go around looking for a fabric that somehow echoes that voice inside of me and I go from there. I did Fin this way. I knew I wanted something dark, fragile and lively.
EB: Do you listen to music when you paint?
EB: Did you ever get a record player?
XD: Yes, I did.
EB: Good. Finally, why, when you were told to “Bring Your Own Sauce” to fellow Asian-American artist Cindi Kusuda’s pasta party, did you think “sauce” meant “booze”?
XD: I think that was you.
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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