Raymond Hwang

Raymond Hwang

Tell me a little bit about you!

I'm originally from the San Gabriel Valley, a sort of suburban area just east of LA but I'm currently living and working out of New York City. Before I transferred to and graduated from the School of Visual Arts with a BFA in Illustration I attended a community college in Pasadena, CA. It was a really great chance to spend my first few years out of high school trying out a bunch of stuff from design to sculpture and learning about art before moving to NYC. Fun fact: I totally bombed my first class in college! It was a beginning architecture class that I ended up dropping out halfway through. I used to go to the park and shoot hoops alone instead of going to class because I was so anxious that whole semester. The rigidity of it was just not for me. So much respect for architects now though!

When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?

I think my first discovery of my interest in art was really just late night and saturday morning cartoons growing up. I have very fond memories watching anime late at night on Cartoon Network and trying to draw the characters while making up my own stories and comics to go with it. I didn't really take an art class where the teacher cared until high school and I think it was then, along with my teacher, that made me realize I wanted a career making art. There was one class when I was a kid that I went to but I only lasted 5 minutes before I quit. I refused to draw animals using triangles and other geometric shapes.

What ideas are you exploring in your practice?

In my current practice, I'm exploring the potential connections between my current surroundings, my personal and cultural upbringing, and the strange attraction I have towards particular recurring motifs in my everyday life. I imagine itโ€™s similar to being in a crowded room and hearing snippets of conversations, all the while interpreting and misinterpreting phrases to create a union between potentially unrelated thoughts. I don't pretend to understand everything about the work I'm making but I believe that it pushes me to keep going.

What is your process like?

I don't really do any specific research or planning. I don't thumbnail or sketch for my paintings. The only type of preparation I do is I like to take notes throughout my days regarding things that catch my interests that don't really make sense as to why (examples include fire hydrants, piles of trash bags, bell peppers, brown paper bags, etc.). I utilize painting and drawing to bring forth, push back, to obscure and to layer images. I do a lot of layering and drawing with graphite sticks onto the canvas. In between waiting for paint to dry I like to work on smaller canvases or I make smaller watercolor/gouache paintings.

How do you use your sketchbooks in your process?

My sketchbooks are useful in my process in that it lets me to go back and literally see, day by day, how my thoughts and ideas have evolved to see if they are worth pursuing. The sketches aren't always that great or even good really; occasionally I'll just sketch something funny that came up or a random thought walking down the street. But every once in a while, because the sketchbooks are largely unfiltered, there's something worth exploring and I'll think more about how it can be applied.

Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?

Back in California, a professor I had encouraged me to move to New York when I was deciding on schools to transfer to. It was one of the best decisions I had made. A piece of advice I always try to keep in mind is to always question everything and everyone. Question your teachers, your peers, and most importantly your motives. It's important to be truthful with yourself as to your intentions in making art.

What have you been looking at lately?

I don't think I've really looked at anything that would influence my work, but I'm constantly reading stuff. I usually alternate between novels and then some sort of art theory, otherwise it's just too much for me. I just finished "War and Turpentine" by Stefan Hertmans; it's a really good read.

Describe your studio.

It is compact, and by compact I mean I have a small table piled with paint tubes and brushes. I have about a 3 foot by 3 foot area of standing room next to it and I pin my canvases on the wall and I paint. You make do with what you have!

What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?

I think one of the most challenging things is that there isn't really any proven or direct path to success. Everyone's path is different it's a daunting thing to think about. I feel like I'm just fumbling around looking for a way up while trying to pay rent just like everyone else in the art world. It's hard to network and get to know people when all you want to do is stay in sometimes.

If you could sit down for dinner or a drink with anyone, who would it be and what would you chat about?

Aw man, I don't know. I'm really nervous about meeting new people!

What do you do when you find yourself in a creative rut?

I like to work my way through it by making a lot of smaller works very quickly, not worrying about anything. It's sort of an exercise I learned in school and it gets the juices flowing.

What do you love most about your medium? What challenges or surprises you most about it?

I think for me I love painting because it grew as a natural extension from drawing. But the more I paint the more I realize how different it is with the obstacles that arise. It has a mysterious quality to it that I believe has to do with the way we see images in conjunction with our knowledge of the history of painting.

What do you need or value most as an artist?

Personally, I think that having a healthy personal / work life balance is really important to maintaining a consistent practice. The less stress I have about things in my personal life allows me to really focus when I'm working on art stuff.

What keeps you creating?

I'm not really sure to be honest. It's always felt more like a need than a conscious decision. I've always done it in some form or other for as long as I remember. I think that making art helps me understand myself and my connection to other things in my life.

What are you working on right now?

There isn't a specific project I'm working on. I'm taking some of my old student work and riffing off of them to try to make some new stuff; mostly to recycle canvases. I'm playing with text in the paintings a lot at the moment as well.

How has the play with text in your paintings come about, and how is that going?

It started a couple years back when I was having a lot of trouble with my work. I decided to put down everything that I came to me in a painting, like visual vomit. The most direct way for some of it was just writing it all down. After that I started to think about writing and text a bit more visually, about its applications as pattern and form, and how if in different contexts it can create something new. Its been a long process and I'm still trying to figure it out! 

Find more at rayhwangart.com and on Instagram @rayhwangart!

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