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Wei Tan

The Malaysian born artist Wei Tan first started her carrer with a master’s degree in music composition, which she completed at the New York University. In summer 2015, while developing work on image-based experimental sound art, Wei Tan started to explore the world of abstract painting. Soon a number of large-scale, improvisational paintings were born in the short period of one month. This drove Wei Tan into her own experimentation, where she drew inspiration from the great Abstract Expressionists in the 1950s and the cross-disciplinary, multimedia artists of today. Since then she has worked and exhibited in New York, London, Florence, Berlin, Kuala Lumpur and Shanghai. Wei Tan’s work has been published in the Aesthetica Magazine and she has been a finalist in international art competitions such as the Royal Arts Prize and Sunny Art Prize. The artist lives in Berlin.

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When did you start working as an artist?

I started painting in summer 2015, when I was finishing my Master’s in Music Technology in New York.

Why did you start working as an artist?

Since I was a child, I always had an equal affinity to art and music. I somehow ended up choosing music for university, maybe because I took art for granted. While I was studying Music Technology in New York, I had this craving to express myself in art, in particular I craved the physical gesture of painting. I tried to bring in elements of painting in my music work - for example I designed a digital instrument that converts live painting into sound - but in the end I realized that I just wanted to paint. I started having abstract painting lessons with my teacher Gina Bonati in her beautiful East Village apartment, and from then on I fell back in love with art.

Who and what inspires you?

I am inspired by everything in my surroundings. I realize that I easily pick up visual memories such as the clothes of people walking on the street, the colour of buildings, or the shape of a beautiful vase. These visual elements then show up in my paintings during the process of automatic drawing. I also paint while listening to music and it strongly influences the flow of my work. Recently I have been inspired by interior design and vintage furniture - which are everywhere in my newer paintings.

Is there something or someone that influences you?

In the beginning of my art career, I was strongly influenced by my teacher Gina Bonati and the Abstract Expressionists such as Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler. They taught me the beauty of free, spontaneous gesture, and the subtleties of how to contain this freedom with your own version of structure. I also adore Susan Rothenberg and Pierre Bonnard - how their paintings exist between abstraction and reality.

What materials do you work with and why?

For a long time, I worked with acrylic, soft pastels and oil sticks - I like mixing these textures to create what I call “haphazard geographies”. For example, although it is not necessarily “correct” to mix acrylic with oil, I like how interesting landscapes form when they clash together. I also enjoy both painting and drawing, and so the soft pastels allow me to work with lines and shapes in the way painting does not. In the past year I have been moving to oil paintings. So far, I am enjoying it a lot as it gives me an entirely different approach of creating slower, more uniform paintings, with more emphasis on light and shadow.

What techniques do you prefer?

I prefer improvisation and spontaneity. Even with oil, or with more structured compositions, I find that the element of letting go is what makes the painting come to life. I always have to balance between control and freedom. I also like to paint wet-on-wet instead of waiting for layers to dry. This allows me to play around with textures and I even mix paint directly on the canvas, which produces very interesting colours and colour combinations.

Are there colors and shapes you prefer?

I adore all colours, and colour is probably the most important part of my work. The subject matter of the painting is almost just a container to put colour on the canvas. But if I have to pick one, red is the colour I feel closest to because it has the intensity and depth that I am looking for. No matter how much red I use I still don’t grow tired of it. For shapes - in my abstract works, I used to only like rounded, organic shapes and I rejected any form that resembles an object, but now I am increasingly moving towards defined shapes and real-life objects.

Where do you work?

I work in a shared studio in Mitte, Berlin. I share it with another mixed-media artist and an experimental musician.

Do you want to say something with your art?

Whether it is my abstract works or my Chairs series, my intention is the same and quite simple, which is to translate my current state of feeling into shapes and colours on the canvas. It is like a journaling process, where each painting is a purging of memories and reflections in my current life. I use the subject of chairs in the same way. Each chair is a character with a unique emotional signature, and it carries the memories of everyone who has sat on it before. It also invites the viewer to sit inside the painting and be part of the experience. Each painting is a room or a psychological landscape. As each viewer has a different reaction to the paintings, they act as mirrors reflecting our state of mind.

What is important to you in your work?

What is important in my work is a sense of aliveness and a certain intensity. Even though my paintings are static, I hope to create a feeling of movement and pulsation beneath the colours, textures and objects. I also want my work to feel immersive and the viewer to be “inside the painting” rather than looking from the outside. I like to create spaces that are in between the real and the imaginary, hence my paintings are usually a dreamlike combination of abstract and non-abstract elements.

What are your goals?

I would like to paint on a bigger scale. I also want to master the medium of oil, so that I can achieve the same feeling of spontaneity as I do in my mixed media works. I would love to let my art reach out to more and more people, and to find the kind of people who connect with it.

What would you like to achieve in 5 years?

I am still fairly new in Germany and relatively new in the art world, so in five years I would like to be more connected to the art scene both locally and globally, to develop a bigger following and to expand my circle of buyers.


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