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The colorful, darkly humorous paintings by Hai-Hsin Huang have our attention. We visited her Williamsburg studio that she shares with another Non-Native New Yorker, Yuhi Hasegawa.
Hai-Hsin paints quickly, basing the compositions on images she finds on institutional websites: government, schools, hospitals, and news outlets. The photographs she uses are vaguely propagandist, and her resulting paintings both poke fun at and reveal the horror in such images.
NNNY: Describe your studio practice.
Hai-Hsin: I'm interested in public images, which I get from news and especially government websites. The information they broadcast is "correct", and I feel something between humor and horror when I see these images, so I paint what I feel from that contemporary atmosphere.
I spend a lot of time collecting images on the internet, looking at online news, government websites, schools and hospital websites. I spend more time searching the internet than painting!
I feel that in contemporary life, people are basically happy and healthy, but there is something weird behind it all. We just trust what we see, government tells us what to trust, but there is something strange and humorous and scary behind it all. In the very beginning of this series, I started with the safety instructions on the airplane, and I developed the idea more from there.
I paint a lot of small-scale paintings, using images from the news and surveillance cameras. You can tell what's going on, but you cannot see the details. I paint them very fast, just like how people see the news to understand what's going on in the world. The bigger paintings, I use images that I feel tells a story.
NNNY: What was the evolution of you becoming an artist?
Hai-Hsin: When I was in high school, my dream was to work for an advertising company and be part of a creative team. To get into college in Taiwan, all high school students have to take a huge exam, and I could only enter certain schools, but not one with an advertising program. So I chose a school with an art program. I was still trying to be practical and thought I would enter the advertising world. But I found advertising was not what I thought; it's really stressful and heavy on the team-work, and requires long office hours, so I thought I wanted to be more individual and free. So I decided to be an artist.
I went to undergrad in Taiwan, and we didn't study painting in particular, then I went to grad school at SVA, and we didn't study anything technical there either - but I like to paint. I never learned how to paint, I just liked to paint on my own.
NNNY: What successes and difficulties have you had as a foreign-born artist in New York?
Hai-Hsin: New York has not been as idyllic as I thought - it has a dark side. After undergrad I was so young and naive, so I wanted to come to New York. But I don't regret it! It's very difficult to survive as an individual because of the language, and getting a job is kind of impossible. Plus the cultural difference is hard. People are aggressive; I don't feel safe staying here. But I feel I learn more and become stronger living here.
NNNY: How has moving to the United States influenced your art?
Hai-Hsin: When I was in my country, I could see what's the mainstream, and people like to follow that. Here, I feel that whatever you do, people want to support you. I feel more freedom here as an artist.
NNNY: What are your upcoming shows, projects, etc?
Hai-Hsin: I have my first solo show next March in Taiwan.