MUSEUM

OF

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EST. 2018

In Conversation with Yuqiu (Jennifer) Dong

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"Jill and the Beanstalk" by Yuqiu (Jennifer) Dong.

Gouache.

Cover Art for the Canvas Winter 2019 issue.

Below is discussion between Canvas Editor-in-Chief Lindsay Herko and winter 2019 cover artist Yuqiu (Jennifer) Dong.

Opening Reflections:

 

Looking back, curating art for our January 2019 issue was steeped in wondering what winter IS after the new year—I think on some level we were intuitively hoping for pieces that created a sense of slip-away into otherworldly and hard to access locations of inner lives; the sweet primary feeding drip of imagination during a season much of the world writes off as a period of "waiting". Winter has always attracted me for its privately gestating properties. While others are at odds with what activities are absent, complaining about the lack of light, change in heat and roll away of certain plants and birds—I think there is great promise to gorge on, growing things within our mind, and being a reverent audience for what little light there is and a appreciator of the dark.  I think this possibility especially opens up after the reset of the year—when the climb to the holidays have passed away—and the atmosphere feels a bit too thin at night.  In those times, daylight plays out unpredictably and strikingly and emptied of expectation we can accidentally wander into magic.  I was deeply attracted to "Jill in the Beanstalk" as it seemed to capture a liminal space of hazy wan winter light like one would might find in the hours that cup a January or February noon, on either side of the clock.  Light summons a feeling of levitation from downcast energies, from our heavier clothes and we can dare to see how bare we wish to be amongst the temperature—do we want to go without hood or hat—just because the summoner of light makes us feel hopeful and like we can move with speed?  Amongst "Jill and the Beanstalk" there is a very real feeling the palette may appear blossomingly bleached by the brightness of silver light that belongs to the  realm of daydreams and fairy tales loading into our soul, at the specific point of discovering a new world. . .  yet I can also recognize colors that pair with the alchemy of winter—it feels as if chimney ash, road salt,  and March-waiting valleys all asked to temporarily winter work as water colors to have purpose conjuring this world.  Supporting my intuition that a little winter light can make us feel energetically lifted and ready to transcend our barriers to the cold of the natural world— we see "Jill" bare armed as she continues to follow the beanstalk.  I like that Jill is wearing a dress we can interpret as red or brown, one color being of the earth the other color being of blood.  We could say Jill is becoming more alive as she is lifted beyond the veil of the world she knows and her dress is "livening" to red.  That the garment is paler on the edges shows the color is conjured from the center—as if the warmth of Jill's core (heated by activity) is spreading color outward.  Is there a chance in time— Jill will populate color into the world beyond her form? 

The beanstalk itself is thick and twisting—it's shape strengthening its ability to float—and also resembling a human spine in the optimal performance of a cathartic yoga twist. At the end it is leading to a castle or palace—perhaps the desired outcome of all folk tale wish-lists and young explorers; an ornate interior different from what one has access to on Earth—that allows exploration and dreaming to not be too overwhelming, amongst a strange new world.  A magic I see here is how the expanse below could be literal hills or light-colored clouds. We don't know for sure if Jill is seeing the world below and getting a taste for something new, or if she's ascended into a world where structures stay stable on clouds—perhaps changing her concept of what is possible forever.  The walk ways to each house or church could easily double as shadows cast by vines above them. Also—each building at such a distance seems a tender as a leaf; giving the piece a unique reminder of interdependence. Looking at this through the lens of linkage to winter, this interdependence gives us a trace of nature when nature is more absent. Again through the lens of winter; the plant that co-exists with harsher conditions is an outlier, plump for a story's repurposing.  What grows against the odds are watered by imagination, and Jill's cooperation and openness lend to her to finding momentary transcendence.  Will the beanstalk shiver and shrink on Jill with the early setting of the sun?

LINDSAY​

 

What compelled you to render an entry to an aerial world via a beanstalk?  What was your first exposure to this story?  Do you remember what parts made you most curious? What has lingered in your mind as something that could be elaborated on or changed in the work?  Were there things you'd would have liked to have happened differently?   Did you name this piece after "Jack in the Beanstalk" altering Jack to Jill based on the cultural trope of Jack and Jill's adventuring together and Jill being an alternative gendering of the tale or do you have experience with the "Jill and the Beanstalk" stories I am seeing as I Google (I wasn't sure if there were published Jill versions).   My Jill and the Beanstalk research shows me Jill and the Beanstalk is also the name of an organic baby food store in Toronto.  Does that sound well named to you?

 

 

JENNIFER

 

I was inspired to create this scene when I first discovered the medium gouache and fell in love with it. It was the perfect mixture between watercolor and acrylic. I felt like I found something powerful and could create anything. With this newfound power and freedom, I wanted to render something equally liberating and imaginative. I have always wanted to illustrate something from fantasy, especially from fairy tales and children’s stories. My first exposure to Jack and the Beanstalk was in elementary school during story time. I remember being delighted when Jack found all those treasures from something as absurd as a beanstalk growing into the sky. I was most curious about the moral of the story. How Jack unfairly stole from the giant and lived happily ever after with the stolen goods. I named the piece “Jill and the Beanstalk” with Jill being the same Jill from Jack and Jill. The organic baby food store named Jill does sound well-named to me, as Jill sounds tender and full of life, much like the imagery a baby would bring to mind.

 


LINDSAY​


 

Do fairy or folk stories often inspire your work?  As an artist I am sure you were often exposed to the accompanying illustrations or visual equivalencies created in film--was there ever a rendering that artistically moved you?  Did you have a desire early on, to render these images in your own visual language?  Were those other renditions ever frustrating to you?

JENNIFER

 

Fairy tales do often inspire my work. There were many illustrations and film equivalences that have moved me. One of the most prominent would be the illustrations found in the Hayao Miyazaki movies. One unforgettable scene was an image of hundreds of flying contraptions in the sky. The concept seemed so imaginative yet detailed enough that you felt drawn in to believe it were real. I have often desired to render images that are imaginative yet full of detail myself. There have been countless frustrating renditions when I couldn’t get what I pictured in my mind to appear right on paper. But when I do render something beyond my own expectations, there is a vast feeling of possibilities that pushes me forward. I am filled with a curiosity at what more is possible to render.

LINDSAY​

 

What was your own entry way into art?  And to what expanse does your art carry a continued story beyond the image's scene selection?  Do you know a lot about your Jill as you've created her?  Do you have a sense of what she'd find most aesthetically beautiful during her adventure or what her favorite  internal detail of her house below would be? Do you feel there are similarities to the childhood play in conjuring worlds through pieces of visual art?

JENNIFER

 

My own entry way into art was doodling on the walls and furniture of my house as a child. Unintentionally, this embodies my belief that art frees the mind and is not limited to paper only. My art beyond this image’s scene selection is often imaginative yet full of detail. I like to render dragons and otherworldly characters and locations. I derive great enjoyment from imagining and creating each minute detail. The Jill I created in this scene is a young girl taking a walk in the morning. She enjoys feeling the cool morning air on her bare skin and the occasional breeze that travels from the hills afar gives her a sense that the world is really very vast. She does not need much for her day to day subsistence as a simple dress made from pressed leaves and a twig for her braid is enough for her outfit. She also carries a large leaf that doubles as a fan and as an umbrella to block out the rain or sun. She prefers to derive what she needs from nature, as she believes nature at its purest is in its most beautiful form. What she would find most aesthetically beautiful during her adventure is the sun rising beyond the hills that is casting a gentle glow over the hills, the forest, and her village. Her favorite detail of the houses below would be the points on the roofs. From above she sees the houses as so small, and she would imagine being able to pinch each of them with her very fingers.

 

 

LINDSAY​

 

If you were personally presented with logic-defying magic seeds that could grow you access to any place real or imagined, during any time, what would be enticing enough to trust a climbing a plant for that access?  What would then be the turning point to come home?

JENNIFER

 

A place enticing enough would have to be somewhere I can feel like I have escaped into another world. A place where I can gain something I can’t gain in this world, be it new knowledge, new abilities, or new experiences. The turning point to come home would be when I feel like I have completed my story in that world, which may take any span of time.

LINDSAY​

 

Light seems just as much a presence in this piece as Jill, or the ornate travel-propelling curl of the beanstalk— what is your relationship like with light on a day to day basis? Are you attracted to light at particular times of day, in concert with certain locations or times of year?  In contrast, in what ways is light absent in your overall body of work? Are you just as comfortable curating darkness?

JENNIFER

 

This is an interesting question to reflect upon. My relationship with light on a day to day basis is a complex one. I tend to shy away from light--preferring to associate with darker aesthetics. However, I am attracted to light when my mood is low. I am also most attracted to light at night and during the colder months, when light is scarce. Light is absent in my overall body of work in the shadows that accentuate the beanstalk and dwellings. I believe I am comfortable curating darkness as well, as it appeals to me in a different way than light does.

LINDSAY​

 

Viewers of this piece may look at it in awe of your talent, rather than recalling being an artist is a long story, full of self-revelations and lessons learned.  Can you speak to us about any challenges you encountered working on this piece or in a larger sense during your development as an artist?  How do confront challenges, hardships, or hiccups? What does it feel like when you transcend—be it past a creative block or to a new skill level, or getting to a new point with your art, you didn't see coming.  Have there been any revelations or epic epiphanies that you treasure and would like to share with us?

JENNIFER

 

A challenge I encountered during this piece was getting the sun to look just right. The sun was an important point because it is the source of the hazy glow that is cast on the rest of the landscape. I wanted the sun to have the illusion of being defined and bright enough to cause the viewer to not want to look at it directly. However the yellow color and the white of the canvas were too similar and the sun seemed to be barely present. I was able to add a darker ring around the sun and liked the effect, but this occurred more on accident than on deliberation. This speaks to my challenges as an artist in general. Solutions are not always planned in advance. A lot of it is trial and error and risk taking. I confront challenges, hardships, and hiccups by trying something new. When I get past a creative block, skill level, or new point in my art, I feel liberated. I imagine a new branch leading to many more unexplored branches has sprung out in the realm of possibilities. I’m not sure if I have had any profound revelations or epic epiphanies. However, oftentimes I focus for a very long time on working minutely on the details, and when I step back to look at the piece as a whole, it all seems to fit together better than I expected. I have learned from these experiences to focus on my work one small piece at a time and let the bigger picture come together naturally.

LINDSAY​

 

Who is making art in a genre that you feel is kindred with your own? Is there someone you feel we should know about? Who may we never meet in your own world, that's left a lasting impact on you and your art?

JENNIFER

 

Aaron Becker is a prominent illustrator for children's story books, and his art has greatly inspired my own work. The quality of his art is imaginative and detailed yet has a dreamlike quality through the effect of using watercolor and pen. Moreover, Yuumei’s art has moved and left a lasting impact on me, and I strive to reach her immense level of imagination and detail.

LINDSAY​

 

What aesthetics and rituals do you curate in your own life, to nourish your art?  Do you have to conjure a certain mood-space to create?  Is location important? 

 

 

 

JENNIFER

 

Recently I have begun to value aesthetics as a daily part of life. I like to decorate and organize my room as a means of exploring my own tastes. I do believe a certain mood space contributes to creation. I like quiet places that are expansive and open. However, I think a common basement works fine as well.

LINDSAY​

 

What kind of magic exists in this world that we are not paying attention to?

JENNIFER

 

When I really think about it, I feel like there are endless examples of magic in this world. Like the feeling a certain piece of art or music can create. That’s magic right there. An example of magic we are not paying attention to day to day is the state of existing and living. We don’t often realize consciously how wondrous it is to be conscious in this world and able to do so many things.

LINDSAY​

 

What do you think winter can offer art?

JENNIFER

 

Winter can offer art themes of contemplation and stillness. Whereas the more vibrant seasons offer themes of vitality and life, winter is like a calmer resting stop where the viewer can feel a gentle peace much like the feeling one feels as they watch snow falling and covering up all the blemishes and worries of the world.

LINDSAY​

 

Do you have any questions you'd like to ask the viewers and readers of Canvas?

JENNIFER

 

I’d like to ask the viewers and readers of Canvas where in the image they feel most enticed to explore first. I am also curious if they would like to appear there magically or get there themselves on a sort of journey.

LINDSAY​

 

What are you looking forward to exploring with your art  . . . and/or current projects?

JENNIFER

 

I am looking forward to creating more scenes that are fairy tale-inspired. The medium I am most looking forward to exploring is gouache.

 

When I really think about it, I feel like there are endless examples of magic in this world. Like the feeling a certain piece of art or music can create. That’s magic right there. An example of magic we are not paying attention to day to day is the state of existing and living. We don’t often realize consciously how wondrous it is to be conscious in this world and able to do so many things.

At the time of publication (Winter 2019) Yuqiu Dong attended Cherry Hill East High School in New Jersey. Originally born in China, she has also lived in Houston and Philadelphia. She usually enjoys painting with acrylic and oil paints but also likes to experiment with new media. She believes there are no limits in art and is always eagerly learning new techniques.