On Orbs, Blobs, Communities and Movements with Artist, Yunhan ‘Han’ Wang

From rug-tufting to illustration and clay, a quick glimpse of Vancouver-based artist Yunhan Wang’s Instagram feed reveals that she has so far covered a lot of territory – all whilst maintaining a distinct colourful, playful, cartoonish bent, which we love. Another common denominator: all of her work makes us smile or laugh.

Han’s new series of ceramic sculptures will be on display in the Slice of Life Gallery from September 21st to 26th. Drop in during gallery hours, or plan ahead and meet the artist in-person by attending the opening reception (Thursday, Sept. 21st), a casual artist talk (Saturday, Sept. 23rd) and/or the closing night “drink & draw” (Tuesday, Sept. 26th).

First of all, please introduce yourself! Who are you? What’s your background? How are you currently spending your time? I’m Yunhan Wang, but you can call me Han! I grew up in Qingdao, China, and completed my BFA at Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing. In the last few years, I moved to Baltimore to attend Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) for my MFA in Illustration, and spent a year living in Brooklyn, New York. Since moving back to Vancouver, I spend my time teaching art to young students while making time afterwards to pinch clay at the studio.

Your new show opening at SOL in September is a ceramics show – but, I assume from peeping your IG feed, not a “typical” one… please give us a teaser of what visitors can expect. I’m excited to share works created at different stages of my ceramic journey over the last few years, encompassing different methodologies and styles. Most of the works on display will be my ceramic sculptures, such as a collection of ceramic lighters that I began working on while at grad school and have continued since. There will also be a section featuring “market stuff” like cups, mugs, and dishes that will be available for purchase on-site, ready to take home and use!

Recently I’ve been working on a series of ceramic trees that resemble orbs and blobs. Together, they become a constellation of the different trees that I’ve encountered ever since moving back to Vancouver. It is the living, enduring, and protective qualities of trees that I admire. During the winter I snowboard in the woods, riding between trees. I like hugging the snow pillows that form on rocks and the top of trees and terrain; I like the quiet and calm of the wilderness. When I snowboard with my friends, I feel protected and taken care of. They are always around – not too far away.

“While art and culture are deeply important to the health of any society, artists should feel free and have fun while making it. I don’t take those two things for granted. I’m very grateful to be able to do what I do every day.”

What inspires you to create? What was going through your mind when you were making the pieces included in this show? Learning new things, being experimental, and having fun in the studio are very important to me. How I make my work or “my inspiration” always comes from daily life, what I see and think about the most. A lot of what I know is because of the things my friends and the people in my life have shared with me over time. In a way, the work I make is an ongoing dialogue with my friends, my surroundings, my family, and responses to art I admire. I’m deeply inspired by the works of Alice Mackler, Matthew Ronay, Misaki Kawai, Stefan Marx, and Josh Cochran, who gave me the opportunity to assist on his large mural projects in New York.

While art and culture are deeply important to the health of any society, artists should feel free and have fun while making it. I don’t take those two things for granted. I’m very grateful to be able to do what I do every day.

When did you first get your hands dirty using clay? How has your process changed/evolved over time and what’s your favourite thing about using this medium? While at MICA, there was a handbuild ceramic workshop with my professor, Whitney Sherman. I’ve always wanted to try this medium, and I was immediately hooked. Then I took a class in the ceramic department to continue learning the basics. I choose to handbuild all my pieces because it gives me the freedom to build anything, with no two being the same.

While I don’t draw as much today, I still enjoy it. Every ceramic sculpture starts with a drawing from my sketchbook. For me, drawing is merely a starting point, a first draft, an outline. But then I feel the need to get out, move, use my hands and body to create. When working with clay, it’s about the tactile feeling, the smell of fresh clay, the ways in which chemicals react, the process as a form of therapy.

The show’s closing reception includes a drink & draw: tell me more! Tuesday, September 26, is the last day of the show! On Saturday, September 23, I’ll be hosting a meet-up at the gallery from noon to 4pm. I’ll be sharing my favourite local ice cream (until I run out) to those who visit, so be sure to drop by, savour some sweet treats, chat, and enjoy the art.

With so much art so easily accessible to view online, why do you think it’s important for artists to continue showing in-person at galleries like SOL? And, inversely: why do you think it’s important for Vancouverites to get their butts out to art shows? I think it’s not so much the choice of showing in person, but rather to emphasize how important spaces like SOL are for artists. Living in Brooklyn or any major city that is overwhelmed by art galleries and museums, you realize how much of a privilege it is to be near so much art, to see your favorite works in person, and, most importantly, to be around artists themselves. Most people think of culture in terms of big museums and big art installations, with many rooms and corridors, but we tend to overlook the communities artists have created for themselves — the underground and unmarked galleries that pop up in underappreciated neighborhoods. That is what’s important, that’s where we should be looking, that’s where experiments occur, that’s where artists get their start, and that’s where communities and movements begin.

Lastly, what was the last art show that you went out to? Any local artists/makers doing cool things that you want to shout out, that you think we should know about? Jeremy Shaw, who was born in North Vancouver, has a show at Polygon right now (Phase Shifting Index), and I highly recommend everyone to see it before it closes on September 24th. Another show I recently visited was Sol Hashemi’s solo show, Testing Notes, at Western Front. Qingdao, where I grew up, is most famous for their Tsingtao beer. It was interesting to see Sol’s installation that unfolds the processes of brewing beer and how the gallery itself used to be a speakeasy in the past. I look forward to learning more about local artists in Vancouver and seeing their work!

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