For as long as we can remember, nearly all of the painters based in Kunming were oil painters, this was a predictable effect of the once-booming Chinese art market that threw millions of dollars per painting at Kunming artists such as Zhang Xiaogang.
In the last few years it seems that although oil painting is still popular, there are some artists around town who have taken to other media as well, be it illustrations, cloth appliqué or even ones and naughts. Kaiyuan native Yang Yang (杨旸) is part of this new wave of Kunming artists who are less concerned with how marketable their work is and instead are focusing on pushing boundaries and simply enjoying the creative process.
We sat down with the 22-year-old Yang on a rainy Thursday afternoon to find out about her recent work as a volunteer art teacher in Yunnan's impoverished countryside plus her take on Kunming's cultural future:
GoKunming: You recently went to the village of Bangdong to give schoolchildren basic art instruction, how did you find that experience?
Yang Yang: Teaching kids is wonderful. It was something I'd never done before, for me that trip was like opening a window into something new. I'd wanted to do that kind of thing out in rural areas before but had never gotten around to it.
GK: Did you learn anything about teaching?
Yang: If you want to teach kids, you can say something quite simple and it will change their lives irrevocably. Teaching is a rather dangerous profession.
GK: How would you characterize your artwork?
Yang: My earlier paintings were pretty intense, a lot of people said my paintings were dark or depressing. Now, not so much.
GK: Where does inspiration for your paintings and drawings come from?
Yang: I'll suddenly have a vision of what I want to paint, and I'll sketch it down first chance I get. Inspiration can come from anywhere, especially from everyday things like a pattern in a bathroom tile.
GK: What kind of art do you like?
Yang: I worked for a design company for four months or so. But I decided quickly that I can't take commercial design.
GK: You seem to use many different media to express yourself, do you have a favorite?
Yang: Not really, I enjoy switching from one medium to another... I generally use oil paint, watercolor, gouache, acrylic, or a computer. I also like making small drawings with markers or even crayons. But I do find playing around with technology quite fun.
GK: How do you see the Kunming art and culture scene changing in the coming two or three years?
Yang: I think the scene here a few years from now will be pretty much the same. But I hope it can change for the better.
GK: What do you want to do with the rest of this year?
Yang: I want to do a lot of things. At the moment I'd love to rent out my entire apartment and use the money to travel for a half year. I really need to travel and see more new and different things.
GK: Where would you go?
Yang: Dunhuang in Gansu, Qinghai, Xinjiang. Outside of China, I'd like to go to Nepal and Thailand.
GK: How would you describe the art environment here in Kunming?
Yang: I don't feel like there's any art environment here. [Laughs.] The scene here is quite small. Some years ago I heard someone say that making art is reciprocal loathing.
GK: What do you see yourself doing ten years from now?
Yang: Ten years is too terrifying! I don't want to think about it!