Jia Sung

Jia Sung (b. Minnesota) is a Brooklyn-based artist and educator. Her paintings and artist books have been exhibited across North America, including the RISD Museum, Lincoln Center, Yale University, MOMA PS1, and more. Her work has been collected by the Met, SFMOMA, and the Special Collections at Yale, SAIC, and RISD. She was a 2018-2019 Smack Mellon Studio Artist and Van Lier Fellow and is currently an adjunct professor at RISD, where she received her BFA in 2015.
November 7, 2022
Tell us about your practice.
I work across paintings, artist books, textiles, printmaking, and writing. I see my practice as reinvented cosmology, pieced together from threads of inherited story and autobiographical fragments. Drawing on motifs from Chinese mythology and Buddhist iconography, I use the familiar visual language of folklore to examine and subvert conventional archetypes of femininity, queerness, and otherness.
Your work has long been intertwined with book-making, literature, and poetry. Can you share how these fields inform and relate to your overall artistic practice?
Well, for me reading has always been a space of agency, where you participate in cocreating the world of the text. In some ways, it provides a pure space where my own visions come more clearly.  The symbiotic relationship between verbal and visual artists fascinates me as an act of continuous mutual translation, as seen in the tradition of ekphrastic poetry. (What is the opposite of ekphrastic? Do we just call a painting based on a poem an illustration — or fanart?)
I’m drawn to translation as an activating force. It has a slowness and pedantry, which is distilled by a path of selection into something flowing, even lyrical. Translating feels not dissimilar to drawing to me, in that it is also an act of meticulous observation and reproduction.
Your relationship with materiality has shifted and changed throughout your practice. Can you tell us about your relationship to textiles and textiles as paintings?
I first came to embroidery and beadwork as a form of slow drawing. It was a way to interrupt the surfaces of my paintings, as well as my habits of making and resolving work — forcing myself to be present and attentive to materiality in a way that doesn’t always come naturally but feels productive. I’ve recently learned to weave, which felt like the next logical step; in weaving, the surface is structure and structure is surface.
What has been inspiring you lately?
I’ve been looking into the past lives of contemporary words! So like mythic antecedents, which often reveal a wildly divergent point of view to the versions we are familiar with, but also in the sense of etymologies. Lately, I’ve been fascinated by the lineages of Chinese pictograms, from oracle bones to the tidy characters of today. Their earliest forms reveal instructions and intricate painterly scenes.
What’s next for you?
I am publishing a tarot deck, Trickster’s Journey, in the spring — my first publishing experience outside of my beloved zine and self-publishing sphere. It’s a Chinese mythic reimagining of the tarot which translates the traditional Fool’s Journey through the lens of trickster Monkey, and the classic suits of Cups/Coins/Wands/Swords through the ancient constellation guardians, the Four Symbols.

Watch Instagram Live

Stay in the loop