Saturday, May 07, 2016

Fun in the Unknown

The artist plays the role of a strange kind of bridge between class structures.”
Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann

The Taiwanese-American painter Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann had travelled much of the world, the United States, Asia and the Middle East before she started on her career as an artist. It was a life that saw her mostly as the outsider looking in.

As she told East City Art’s Wade Carey “When I was a kid moving around, I was very bad at making friends. I was not social, really, at all.

And it is an aesthetic that has found its way into her work.

About which she says in a statement about painting “I think of my work as baroque abstract: a celebration of the abundance of connections and clashes that can be found in the disparate mess of matter in the world.

Mann’s abstract paintings start from a chance encounter of pigment and paper upon which she builds a complex mixed-media expression of western abstraction influenced by Chinese and Japanese traditional ink painting techniques.

As she explains “I begin each piece with a stain of color, the product of chance evaporation of ink and water from the paper as it lies on the floor of the studio. From this shape, I nourish the landscape of each painting, coaxing from this organic foundation the development of diverse, decorative forms: braids of hair, details from Beijing opera costuming, lattice-work, sequined patterns. Although founded in adornment, these elements are repeated until they too appear organic, even cancerous... and they at once highlight and suffocate the underlying ink stained foundation.”

Mann developed this process after receiving a critique from the Abstract Expressionist artist Grace Hartigan whilst studying for her Master of Fine Art at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

As Mann recalls “She came into my studio and said, “You’re not a painter, you’re a draftsman.” At the time, I thought of myself as a painter but I was making these pieces that were very graphic and very controlled. I was interested in the control. She was the person that I would completely credit with the idea of the stain, the idea of bringing in the physicality and the spontaneity of paint. It is all because of Grace Hartigan’s kind-of mean crit to me during those first couple weeks of grad school.

Mann now revels in her process.

As she told the Carroll County Times “It’s fun to make something when you don’t know how it will end.”

Mann’s current exhibition Empire Builder is on show at New York’s Gallery nine 5 until the 12th of June.

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