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Inside the mind of artist David Diao

Updated: 2015-09-29 18:06:06

( chinadaily.com.cn )

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David Diao presents his Tree (1988) painting at UCCA in Beijing.[Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

Diao sat down with China Daily for an exclusive interview during his exhibition at Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing’s 798 Art Zone.

Diao sat down with China Daily for an exclusive interview during his exhibition at Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing’s 798 Art Zone.As an artist, how do you feel about how your work is perceived?

I just don’t think there’s a complete congruence between making the painting and the reception. I don’t think there is ever necessarily the ideal response. It’s more like casting bread over the waters and waiting on different ripple effects to come back to you, all in the hopes of learning something new. I guess I don’t really care what they think; I’m more interested in what I can get from it all.

When you are in the process of painting, whom are you painting for?

"I think the first viewer is myself. Not a fixed version of myself. It’s always one that might contain a previous version, but in the hopes of going to the next version."

It’s never really about how I see myself perceived. I don’t even do anything until an idea is strong enough that it gets me out of bed. Mainly the work comes out of some notion of the question ‘what if’. What if, what if anything. What if that condition might take place? How might you image something? Or, how might you begin to constitute something?

Let’s talk about the Newman series, who are you painting it for?

Initially I painted it because I was surprised about the statistics on the number of his production. Normally, one thinks of somebody that is considered as major as Newman to be very productive when in fact he made so few works. That surprised me but also made me happy about the whole project because if he made more works it would be harder to image. Also, I was playing kind of a joke, and the joke was directed to the outside world. You need the audience to laugh at your joke. It’s not just for myself but also about the joke of seeing the painting as a wall text.

If someone perceives you as the artist carrying on Newman’s legacy, how does that make you feel?

That would make me feel fine. Long ago, I realized that I’m very different from your typical avant-guard artist, beginning with the idea that you begin at degree zero; you kill all the past, with a complete new start. Certainly (Kazimir) Malevich talked that way and Newman himself talked that way, but I’m very aware of what I do as carrying forth on the shoulders of those who came before.

Do you think as a Chinese-American you struggled with being acknowledged?

Probably, yes. I don’t dwell on it. I’m aware of this but I didn’t militantly work against it. I didn’t go protesting it. Life is unfair. You’re born, you live and you die. Life is never fair. I mean, I oscillate between thinking the world owes me everything and that the world owes me nothing. The idea is I try to do what I do within the work. When I’m jealous of somebody I reveal it in the work. It’s a crapshoot. That’s how I feel about this show. I can’t believe I’m having this show. It came out of nowhere. I have to thank Phil Tinari (UCCA director). He came up with the idea of doing this show. I seek to be positively viewed, but I also seek to be critically viewed. That’s how I learn something. If people are only patting you on the back, you don’t get very far. It might be fun initially but it’s kind of running in place.

Do you see yourself as a role model for young Chinese-American artists?

Oh, god forbid, no. You are really disarming me when you say that. It just never occurred to me that I am or that I would want to be. And it’s certainly not a title that I seek. I’m pretty emphatic by the ground of which I am from, and that is New York. My work is always about the specific and the particular, going away from the universal.

The David Diao exhibition at Ullens Center for Contemporary Arts in Beijing runs from through Nov 15.

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