Art Portfolio: FAYE WEI WEI

FAY WEI WEI creates lyrical expressions based on her perception of the world around her, letting her loose brush strokes and thinned-down layers of paint imbue the canvas with celestial musings. Her paintings often depict scenes alluding to mythical stories or pastel love scenes, with figures floating in a delicately balanced pictorial plane. I spoke to Faye about her enchantment for the trinkets of Portobello, her favourite artworks, and the duality of human nature that inspired her latest international exhibitions.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Tooting. It has a really nice little hill on the common that I used to ride my bike down, and a haberdashery warehouse full of ribbons and quilted things, and I loved it. I actually love Tooting so much.

Which art inspired you as a child? Are there particular stories, films, or artists that stand out?

As a child, I loved going to Portobello with my dad and seeing all the strange old ancient things - wandering around with all the glass cabinets filled with ancient corals and jewels and dusty carved objects, which were presented at my eye level because I was small. Lockets, jewels, old games, beaded snakes, paintings, jade vases and big fat diamonds... I wanted them all.

What is your creative process like?

I write a lot, mainly little fragments and entanglements of poetry. They exist as the titles for my paintings a lot of the time. In my book I made with Manon Lutanie, Hooker's Green Lake, we used my poems as titles and deliberately printed them on a separate pale green paper that was inserted into the book. The idea was that the reader or audience of the book would read through the titles like a poem and experience each painting in a linear, lulling, poetic way.

Who are your favourite artists?

I love Mariann Metsis. She emulates such a mood and magic in her works, they feel emotional and giving and very open, in a way... I feel very seduced by them. Ella Turner Bridger's films have elements of magic and moonlight in them, and they have a very particular atmosphere, like a silver spoon catapulting sugar cubes into a portal. I believe she likes blue, especially the kind of bright but also dark blue that gloams between tree branches, as the night pulls its duvet over you.

Your paintings emulate this loose, expressionist quality that is seemingly a contemporary embodiment of femininity and modern divinity. Is this your intention behind it at all?

It would be quite a feat to tackle if I was intentionally trying to emulate a modern divinity! I suppose I can't help but be feminine, whatever that means, but I like what I make, and I try to create with as much meaning as possible. I think what’s important is a kind of ‘letting go of emotions’ when in the ritual of making. It's often more beautiful and more meaningful if it feels good to make.

Your art is about love, and I suppose love comes in many shapes and sizes. What sort of love inspires you the most and what sort of love do you love the most? I know that I’m such a die-hard romantic for completely intoxicating, infatuated love…

Yes, it is about love, but I think more as an observation of the vibrations between people and things and colour planes. I like the tension between colours and linear mark-making against swathes of luscious cascading paint. An infatuation with painting and the people in my life come out in the work, naturally.


What projects do you have coming up? And how do you see your work expanding and growing?

I have two solo shows coming up on the same day, Sun at Isetan in Tokyo and Moon at Galerie Kandlhofer. I believe they open on March 13th, and I can't go to either for the opening, which is heartbreaking!

Why are the two exhibitions called Sun and Moon? Is there a link or duality between the exhibitions, which are in two very distant cities? Have you been to Tokyo and Vienna?

I wanted a title that connected the two moments together. I have spent more than an entire year preparing paintings for these shows, and they are really precious paintings for me. It always feels like a magical kind of pull when your paintings leave your studio, ready to be seen by strangers in other worlds - the portals to my world leave me and mirror and shimmer in other lands. The shows are in different time zones but are opening on the same day, so I liked this idea of calling them Sun and Moon; the purest and most beautiful simple symbols for poetry and love and all the heavy things that pull and tug at us.

I have been to both Tokyo and Vienna many times and adore both places. Tokyo is very close to my heart, a place where my mind can wander to and roam around the streets freely - there is nowhere else in the world that I am sadder to leave than Tokyo. Nights are endless there, hot sake flows endlessly, oolong high’s run the nights into karaoke dens and arcades, and I love the people there so much. I met my best friend there and I like to think a part of myself is always there, dancing in Ni-chōme and eating exquisite things from beautiful magic black lacquered boxes.



If you could live inside of any fantastical land, which would it be?

I don’t like fantasy, fantasy and dream worlds scare me so much. I don’t want to live anywhere that doesn’t resemble earth or London - the lovely wet grey city of my heart. I think every dreamland you experience in your sleep is often quite dark, and uncontrollable.

Do you have a favourite painting that you’ve created, and why?

I have quite a few that I love so much, which is good, I think it’s a good start to love your own work! I have a painting of myself and my best friend Leopold, and I like how easy it was to make and how free and expressive the faces are. The mark-making was effortless, and I think the colours are very beautiful and personal to me. I got something really right in that painting and I love and treasure it.

What is your process like when you are creating and curating an exhibition of your own work? Is there a definitive starting point or is it more of a loose, spontaneous process?

It is never an easy process. I suppose exhibitions have appeared in my life and they feel like different chapters. I can retrospectively track exactly how I felt in each of the paintings when I see them in photographs. I usually just work and work and work, and once you put the work in you can then start to edit and see what’s good and what isn’t working. I’m not good at planning shows around a theme or doing commissions. I need the spontaneity of the moment to be there - it propels me into that magic zone of painting where it falls away from your hands and your mind and becomes really intuitive. It is so fun to paint, make, and create these worlds, and I feel very lucky to be able to do it.