Vancouver artist Janice Wu's work is characterized by an astounding level of detail. Her work often meditates on the things most people don't look twice at—folded paper wrappers stuffed into pockets, receipts and bus tickets tossed onto the desk on your way out the door. Wu uses primarily pencil and gouache (and lots and lots of careful time spent) to create her contemporary still lifes, directing the viewers attention to things they take for granted, or, further, the things the viewer considers worthless. Take a gander through Wu's work and see in action the artist as anthropologist.
SAD Mag: Please tell us about yourself! What are you working on right now? Anything exciting coming up?
Janice Wu: I am a visual artist and illustrator based in Vancouver. My primary mediums are pencil and gouache on paper. Most recently, my work was exhibited in the group show 'uncommonplace' at the Back Gallery Project in Vancouver alongside artists Aimée Henny Brown and Danielle Krysa. I'm also an illustrator, and have had the privilege of working with a variety of clients including the New York Times, Canada Post, Urban Outfitters, Victionary, Montecristo Magazine, Saje, Lancome, and The Walrus. A few illustration projects I'm working on right now are several card designs for the stationary company Papyrus as well as drawings for an upcoming children's book about ASL with author Linnie von Sky titled "The American Sign Language Hipster Alphabet For Babes - A Coffee Table Book For Young Humans". In terms of my personal art practice, I am currently creating a new body of work that addresses family history, nostalgia, and the immigrant experience.
SM: How long have you been painting?
JW: For a long time! I've always wanted to be a visual artist for as long as I could remember.
SM: I notice fragmentation plays a big part in your subject matter. Can you discuss what draws you to items like torn up white rabbit wrappers, and burnt matches?
JW: Drawing for me is a way to contemplate, process, and understand the world. My practice involves an observation in to the seemingly insignificant fragments of our daily existence and create new meaning from these studies. I'm drawn to the discarded traces, artifacts, detritus, and ephemera of everyday life because I see beauty and worth in them—they reveal so much about the human experience. My work addresses material culture and the ways in which our values, memories, myths, and identities are embedded in the objects we surround ourselves with.
SM: Can you elaborate on how your work processes the accrued meaning of objects?
JW: I suppose one of the questions I present in my practice is "what information can be gathered in our present material culture that we aren’t reading or paying attention to?" For example, artifacts pulled completely out of historical and physical context which are then carefully positioned in museum displays centuries later are seen as esteemed treasures and curiosities placed on pedestals with spotlights. These objects are supposed to be representations, clues or even statements to a particular culture, tradition, and history. Yet some of these very items were once everyday, and just as familiar and banal to the people that they belonged to.
I’m interested in how our current material reality will be monumentalized in the future, and how value can shift with time. I see that even behind the most trivial mundane objects there has been a thought process in their design: whether it be planned obsolescence, signs and symbols in branding, or the mechanics of how visual aesthetics play into our memories and associations. It all says an enormous amount about our human condition, our needs and desires. A lot of my subject matter would be considered trash and overlooked traces of our daily existence, yet they are lovingly rendered as if they were precious. In a way, I am confronting the viewer with this display of labour in hopes to challenge our conventional categorizations and interpretations of worth and the ways in which we perceive symbolic and sentimental value.
SM: Still Life II reminds me of how receipts look when scanned on a flat bed scanner—how do you choose to organize your image planes? How do you decide which objects you want to depict?
Mostly intuition. A lot of how I assemble the compositions is by selecting the materials based on how their colours, forms, and textures compliment one another or form exciting, visually interesting combinations.