Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann

Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann

Absolutely gorgeous, acrylic and sumi ink pieces by Katherine Mann are veritable explosions of color and pattern on paper. We chat about her influences as well as the challenge of balancing a painting practice with motherhood.

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First, I'd love to know a bit about you -- can you introduce yourself?

I'm a painter and installation artist. I make cinematically scaled paintings on paper that riff on traditions of landscape painting, decorative arts, and Abstract Expressionism. They're maximalist and immersive, suffocating and fabulous. I'm also the mother of a 2 year old and a 3 month old.

What first interested you in making art, or in painting specifically? 

I've been a picture-maker since childhood, and I'm still interested in the same things I was interested in when I was a little kid: making immersive fantasy worlds. I used to do it with porcelain toys and my little brother, now I do it with paint and collage and printmaking. 

What has your art education been like, whether formally or informally?

I double majored in studio art and human development at Brown University, then got my MFA in painting at the Maryland Institute College of Art. My original training as a painter, in high school, was traditional sumi ink painting. I'm half Taiwanese, and would go back to Taiwan every summer to visit family and study traditional Chinese landscape and bird-and-flower painting. It involved summers of copying the teacher's work, mark for mark. 

You work across painting and installation, usually with very detailed, abstract, layered compositions. Can you tell me about your practice? 

I begin each piece by laying paper on the floor of the studio and haphazardly pouring highly dilluted paint. Once the water evaporates from the paper, leaving the pigment behind, I use that mark as the first step of the work. So the painting is very process oriented, one step or one problem leading to the next. I'm interested in hybridity, so I like combining detailed, minute drawing with ham handed swathes of color and the chance operation of the pour. I'm also very into the physicality of paper; I cut it, weave it, collage it, fold it, so the substrate is a really important aspect of the work. 

Your pieces often incorporate a variety of sprawling patterns. Do you do any research of any kind in preparation?

Sometimes, the patterns refer to the natural world--flowers or leaves repeated so many times that they become cancerous and biomorphic. Or they refer to traditionally feminine or decorative symbols, like ribbons, baubles from Beijing Opera costuming, bows, braids, once again repeated ad nauseum. In my most recent work, the patterning comes from Buddhist cave painting in Dunhuang, China. I got a grant to visit those caves, on the edge of the Gobi desert, last summer, and my sketches from that time are still appearing in my paintings.

What is your studio like?

I just moved to a new live work space. With two little kids, commuting to my studio became too difficult. So my studio is also my living room. It's a weird mix of giant paintings and baby toys. 

What do you consider the most challenging part of pursuing an artistic practice, whether creatively or professionally?

The hardest thing right now is balancing motherhood with my painting practice, not letting one swallow the other. I've had phases where motherhood eclipses painting, and times when painting eclipses motherhood. It's not a good feeling when either of those things happen, and I'm still figuring out how to walk the line between them. 

What is the best advice you've ever received?

Contaminate the system.

What do you need most, or value most, as an artist?

Time. This wasn't always felt as deeply as it does now, and certainly every artist  feels this. But now that I have a toddler and a newborn, that need is sharp. Relatedly, support from family. They're babysitting, transporting paintings around, helping move, showing up to openings. I'd be lost without that. 

What does "success" mean to you?

Getting to spend the days doing what you want and making what you want. 

What are you working on right now?

Public art. I'm just beginning to figure out how complex it is to make ten 20 foot long exterior wall pieces. 

Anything else you would like to add?

Thank you for the existence of this site! 

Find more at katherinemann.net and on Instagram @ktzulan!

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Ronan Bowes

Ronan Bowes

Ian Miller

Ian Miller