The MoCA presents
an interview with
The MoCA conducts interviews with prominent artists who have gained wide recognition, as well as emerging artists who have shown exceptional potential in their fields. The published interviews help our readers learn about some of the most promising artistic voices of our times.
The MoCA recently sat down with artist Youyou Hu to conduct an extensive interview in which the artist shares the link between her cultural background and the mythology that pervades her exquisite creations. While the conversational nature of the interview has been upheld, it has been lightly edited for relevance and continuity.
I conceive myths in my mind, and I want to tell those stories through my sculptures.
The MoCA > Hello, and welcome to THE MAGAZINE OF CONTEMPORARY ART! Before we begin our conversation, we invite all our readers to check out the website to view your works to be familiarized with your art.
The MoCA > Let’s start at the top! Describe for our viewers who you are and what you do.
I am a Chinese artist. The sculpture is the main focus of my art, and the ball-jointed doll is the compositional element within my sculptures. When I was a small child, I was really into hand craftworks and dolls. I played with my dolls and made clothes for them. It was a memorable and fun period, even though I never considered that dolls would inspire my career. Fortunately, I gradually realized that creating art is the thing I always enjoyed. Initially, I went to college to study oil painting. However, during the four years of study, I found out that oil painting was not my art language. Thus, I tried to discover my potential by building sculptures at the same time. Besides, I got in touch with ball-jointed dolls through a friend. Those dolls so attracted me that seeing them rekindled my childhood obsession for dolls. After graduating from college and making my dolls, I decided to study sculpture, which can express my thoughts and stories. My art style is deeply affected by Chinese culture, and I hope to find my way to inherit my culture. The ancient statues and murals of Chinese Buddha and traditional imagery of Chinese deities, ghosts, and monsters inspire my dolls' appearances. Those classic characters from those ancient Chinese myths affect me and my concept. Based on my beliefs and concerns, I conceive myths in my mind, and I want to tell those stories through my sculptures. I hope these hand-sculpted dolls express the ideas from my experiences, imagination, and my own culture, and that they also inspire viewers to experience aspects of their own life story-- of Day and Night.
Day N’ Night-burying time (Daylight and Night)
Art is like a tool and medium for artists to sell their emotions.
The MoCA > Can you give us a little bit of your background? What made you consider life as an artist?
I was born and raised in Chongqing, China. No one in my family is engaged in the art industry, but I have been passionate about art since I was a little child. When I was about six years old, my parents sent me to an art interest class at a local elementary school to study drawing. Of course, I didn't draw well at that time, but I persisted with my parents' support. Gradually, I showed my talent in sculpture, and even my teachers realized my potential. After studying drawing and painting for nearly seven years, I decided to enter the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute (one of the eight significant art academies in China, by chance, was located in my hometown) to study oil painting. However, after two more years of oil painting, I found that I could not resonate with that craft. Thus, I began to explore sculpture by myself, and I realized that creating sculptures was what I want to do in my life. After graduating from college, I came to the United States to deeply investigate my sculpture's artistic expression. After years of focused hard work at the Academy of Art University, I became determined to become an expert sculptor. I know that I still have a long way to pursue my art, but making sculpture is where I belong. I am home.
The MoCA > All artists continue to evolve throughout their careers. In what way have you done that? What factors have influenced your evolution as an artist?
In my artistic creation process, I, like many artists, keep my artistic creation style while continually looking for breakthroughs. For me, artistic creation is a way of telling stories, so I continuously look at previous works and think about telling my story better in my search for evolution. Several factors have had the most significant impact on my artistic career. The first is Chinese culture; since I can read those ancient Chinese myths and stories, I am addicted to the storyline and the images of those deities and ghosts. The second factor is my passion for dolls; dolls are also something I have been interested in since I was a child. Therefore, my creative path is using my dolls as characters to tell my stories.
Creating sculptures based on stories from my imagination has become the main form of my creation.
Day N’ Night - burying time (Daylight deity)
The MoCA > When we consider the history of art, one way to assume it is from art's perspective for art’s sake. When doing so, we find that the technique and the entire philosophy of art have continuously changed over time. How have you kept up with those changes?
The development of art is inevitably affected by the progress of human civilization. As artists, their cultural background, life experience, and social environment are the main factors that affect their creation. Therefore, art is like a tool and medium for artists to sell their emotions. Hence, on the path of my artistic pursuit, my spirit and concepts are constantly changing, but I will also consider changes in market demand. But in fact, contemporary art is very tolerant, and there is a very diverse desire for art forms. I believe the key to be a creative artist is to find the art form I love that keeps my passion for creation while considering the needs of the contemporary art market at the same time.
The MoCA > It’s remarkable that you’re the first person in your family to have indulged in art. Even though you now identify yourself as a sculptor, you first started off as a painter. How has painting influenced your current work as a sculptor?
As the first person in my family to work in the art industry, I was fortunate. Because my mother was also interested in art when she was young, but she was not in a situation to pursue her hobbies. That's why she supported me so much in my art career. When I decided to study oil painting in college, I was deeply affected by my teacher. However, I could not resonate with that craft. Even though I don’t create oil painting currently, my oil painting skills are still practical for my sculpture—for instance, The Daylight and The Night, made of bronze. Oil paint and coloring skills helped me create a gradually varied color on the bronze's surface. As for my future creation, I am considering to do a little bit more oil painting as the background of my sculptures.
Day N’ Night - burying time (Night Deity)
Increasing the possibility of completing a sculpture project, especially those more massive sculptures, must consider the piece's weight and robustness to find the right materials.
The MoCA > We find that your body of works is largely based on mythological characters and imaginary figures. Has this been purposeful? Or is it accidental? Why have you followed this path?
The initial connection between my work with mythological characters and imaginary figures was accidental. Although I've always loved ancient myths, I never thought it would impact my art. One time, my friend asked me to help her draw some illustrations for her book design assignment. Her book's subject was Darkness, so I imagined it as a character to create the drawing. Although my friend didn't use my illustration eventually, I suddenly had the urge to create an entire story. Therefore, there is the later Day N Night. Creating sculptures based on stories from my imagination has become the main form of my creation, but I also hope that my later works will tell my story more effectively.
The MoCA > The level of details you’ve used throughout your works is quite noteworthy. For instance, in “Day N’ Night-burying time: Daylight and Night,” even the characters’ clothing has been immaculately constructed. Do you always depict your characters in such great detail?
Yes, actually, I am better at creating figurative projects, and I've always been more detail-oriented in my work. I focus on details because I hope my work is worthy of careful taste and appreciation that they can give a impressive image at the same time also worth viewers to take a closer look.
The MoCA > Sculptures, by definition, need a lot more planning than two-dimensional artworks. What’s the usual manner in which you create these works? Can you describe this entire process?
Sure, creating sculptures is more complicated than making paintings, so that I would do more plans before I start building. Inspiration collecting: Inspiration gathering is an approach of creating artworks throughout my whole creative process, instead of just crucial at the beginning. It is necessary because my concepts might change during the creating process. Inspiration usually comes from something I am interested in, such as culture, nature, or other artists' artworks. Ideas and Sketching: I would sketch when I come up with ideas. While sketching, I would consider the approximate size of my projects. The size of the sculpture is a little more complicated than painting. Increasing the possibility of completing a sculpture project, especially those more massive sculptures, must consider the piece's weight and robustness to find the right materials. Sculpting: There might be problems coming out while building a sculpture. I think the process of art creating is very much like a problem-solving approach. Thus, I would just do what I have considered and see how I can solve the problems.
The MoCA > What inspires you when you create art?
The ancient statues and murals of Chinese Buddha and traditional imagery of Chinese deities, ghosts, and monsters inspire my dolls’ appearances. Those classic characters from those ancient Chinese myths affect my spirit and my concept. Also, sometimes I go to the museum looking for inspiration from those artworks, especially those antiques I admired. They effectively inspire me in creating details.
I believe to be successful an artist needs excellent artworks and continuous output of works.
The MoCA > Seems like you put in a great amount of time and effort on each of your works. How long does a typical creation process take you?
Yes, my work usually takes a great amount of time and effort, especially in my creation's early stages. I also spend a lot of time on the details to make the work more exquisite. Thus, I don’t have a high output of artworks. I am currently trying to minimize my creation's time costs, so I am learning some new technology such as Zbrush and 3D printing. I believe to be successful an artist needs excellent artworks and continuous output of works.
The MoCA > Art, in the truest sense, is a reflection of life’s experiences. What events in your life have helped you to create your art?
The experience that had the most significant impact on my artistic career was a study on my third college years. Our class went out with the teachers to study ancient sculptures and frescoes in caves and temples throughout China. It was my happiest time in college and had a decisive impact on my creative direction. Those ancient Buddha statues deeply attracted me. Although the effect was not immediately apparent at the time, you can feel the influence in my current work.
Sketches for Day N' Night I
We often struggle with whether our time is used effectively or wasted. Do we have any regrets about reflecting on the vanity?
The MoCA > Some of your works that we find here have a strong underlying theme that binds them. For instance, take “Day N’ Night - Burying Time: Ghost & Monsters,” which also seems to be linked to the concept of the passage of time. What are you trying to say here?
The whole project is based on a mythical story from my imagination, which is about two deities: The Daylight and The Night, who control the passage of time and collect people's life stories after they die. This story is based on my own beliefs and concerns about the quick elapsing of time within our lives. I often think about what we're doing day and night, what we're after. We often struggle with whether our time is used effectively or wasted. Do we have any regrets about reflecting on the vanity? This project also explores the relationship between the individual and the world. In my view, we are just like the sand in an hourglass, but I believe each individual's life has its significance, and our stories are the proof of our existence. Even though we might not be that unique, we inherit and build upon our culture and history.
The MoCA > Several of your pieces also seem to go as a pair or as a single piece. Would you say all these sculptures are actually slices of a much greater idea?
Yes, all my current sculpture projects are based on a complete story background that I imagined. They can construct as groups or individuals, which reflect one of my concepts about exploring the relationship between the individual and the world. Day N Night – Burying time is not the end of the story; it's more like the story's beginning. My future creation will continue to be designed around this theme, and these sculptures will help me improve the story.
2020 has been a tough year for all of us. I hope that the world will return to order as soon as possible.
Sketches for Day N' Night II
The MoCA > How has art influenced your career, and what are the ways in which they’ve remained separated? Have you ever had to negotiate between them?
I've always felt that art is my career, and I've ever done it as a career. However, I realized that being a full-time artist is very difficult because it is very difficult for full-time artists to earn enough money to support themselves, especially at the beginning of their career. Artistic creation takes up a lot of time, and those artworks are usually not affordable for a lot of people. Thus, I'm going to create major artworks while doing some art by-products that most people can afford to meet people's and my own needs in the future.
The MoCA > Given the great artistic talent you’ve shown, you must have had a fruitful time showcasing your works in different galleries. What are some of the major places you’ve been able to show your art? What have been the viewers’ reactions?
Actually, my career has only just begun. Most of my artworks have only been exhibited at the school shows and social media, such as Instagram. I don't think my work is the style everyone would like, but I get a lot of praise from people who like my work. Once, a visitor saw my work and wanted to find my social media information, but I wasn't in the showroom at the time, and I didn't have a business card as a student. Now, I am more professional, and I will make sure views can easily find my contact information on shows, in the future. I appreciate the support from those people who like my art. Currently, I’m trying to get my work on display in more exhibitions and get more exposure. However, 2020 has been a tough year for all of us. I hope that the world will return to order as soon as possible.
Sketches for Day N' Night III
I want my art to bring new visual experiences to the audience.
The MoCA > We thank you for taking the time to discuss your art with us. It was great to chat with you and learn how much you’ve accomplished in your artistic pursuit. We wish you success in the future! This has been a stimulating discussion, and we thank you for taking the time to do this. Before we finish, can you share some information on the various art projects you’re working on?