Yanjun Li

Yanjun Li (b. 1998, China) is a New York City-based painter. She holds a BFA from the School of Visual Arts and recently completed a Post-Baccalaureate program at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University. She is currently a candidate in the MFA program at the School of Visual Arts, further expanding her artistic practice.
July 18, 2023
Tell us a bit about your practice
I find inspiration in various aspects of life, such as personal experiences, the knowledge I acquire, and music. My paintings are not just abstract records of my life; they carry meanings beyond myself. Viewing myself as an observer of humanity, I aim to contribute something meaningful through my art. I devote a month to each painting, concentrating my thoughts and energy during that period. This focused approach creates a connection between the artwork and the specific moments of its creation, transmuting each piece into a tangible capsule of treasured memory.
Can you tell us about your approach to creating a body of work?
Instead of forcing myself to create a body of work, I allow my life experiences, both joyful and challenging, to shape and guide my artistic journey. While creating work, I immerse myself in the present moment and fully experience it. When I engage with music or art, it evokes a transcendent state where all my senses connect. It is within this realm of heightened awareness that I find beauty and significance, as each moment, unique and fleeting, cannot be revisited or replicated. This indescribable feeling serves as my inspiration. I allow these emotions to guide me, often looping a piece of music that deeply resonates with me and creating sketches for future paintings when I’m in a creative flow, using synesthesia as a tool for inspiration.
You mentioned that your work straddles between abstraction and material phenomena, can you expand on that notion?
Transparent materials evoke reflections and distortions. I find these materials to be symbolic representations of both myself and the world around me. The interplay between abstraction and material phenomena allows me to explore the deeper connections between my inner experiences and the external reality. By incorporating these elements into my work, I aim to create a visual language that blurs the boundaries between the tangible and intangible, inviting viewers to reflect on their perceptions and interpretations.
Your work produces an uncanny feeling of something hidden beneath a transparent layer, can you talk a little about that? How did you arrive at this approach in your practice?
The uncanny feeling of something hidden beneath a transparent layer in my work is a deliberate exploration of distortion and transparency. These elements serve as a means for me to delve into the concepts of coexistence and validation. In our society, we often find ourselves needing to be flexible and adaptable to fit into social norms. This can lead to certain senses and truths being actively suppressed or obscured, either by external pressures or as a result of compromises made for coexistence. I arrived at this approach through personal experiences and introspection. My struggles with communication and the quest for authenticity have deeply influenced my artistic journey. Many of my pieces reflect stages of my life where I grappled with self-examination and questioned the masks I wore, as well as how I found my place within society. This exploration of hidden truths and the tension between transparency and distortion became a central theme in my practice, allowing me to convey the complexities of our human experience.
What has been inspiring you lately?
Lately, having my family visit me after four years has deepened my desire for a more profound form of connection. As someone whose second language is English, I’ve always recognized the importance of communication. Introducing my family to my American friends has reinforced the idea that communication is what truly bridges people together. While there may be untranslatable aspects, emotions can transcend language through body language, smiles, and glances. Love, especially, motivates people to overcome the limitations of language and forge meaningful connections.
What is next for you?
I want to further investigate the language of painting and music, and understand how they function in our perceptual and emotional worlds, like how Rothko achieves poignancy through the music of Mozart. I am inspired by the idea of creating a space where individuals can connect on a deeper level, finding common ground and a shared sense of beauty and meaning that transcends the limitations of language and culture, where we can celebrate the enchantment of our differences while recognizing the underlying unity of all things.

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