conversations – Interview by Nora Partl – 01.12.2022
RUOHAN WANG'S SURREAL WORLDS
COLORS AND CONTRASTS
Interview by Nora Partl
Ruohan Wang’s work comes from the ingenious interweaving of contrasting and pure colors. The artist’s multicultural background, from China to Germany, has established the individuality of the surreal world in her works, where abstract figures meet real-life characters. She focuses on the theme of "movement and coexistence" and brings her approach to life in the form of illustrations and paintings, as well as installations and improvisational aesthetics. In conversation with Nora Partl, Online Editor, Wang discusses her development as an artist, her place within the art world and the importance of social media.
Born in Beijing, Ruohan Wang moved to Berlin to study at the University of the Arts (UdK). After her studies, she founded her studio, where she works on painting, visual art, print, public art, installation and fashion design. Wang has participated in group exhibitions in Berlin, New York, and Shanghai, amongst other cities, as well as collaborated with brands like Nike, Apple, or The New York Times.
Nora Partl: Ruohan Wang, you studied at UdK Berlin and have been working as an artist and freelance designer for some years now. How have you as an artist evolved and how has the art market changed?
RW: I started doing commission work when I was in college, and those early practical experiences helped me a lot in my further process. I didn't have long-term plans at the time, because I still wanted to try out different things. Focusing on one thing at a time has always led me to new opportunities.
I studied visual communication and illustration, which for me is a discipline between design and fine art, and I could always choose between the two. There are a lot of opportunities to combine those disciplines, and I really like switching back and forth between design and art. I think social media has made the field between those disciplines popular and, therefore, blurs the line between fine art and design. It makes the art market more inclusive and diverse.
NP: How has your artistic language evolved?
RW: When I first started studying, I wanted to create a signature character, which I could then use in various scenes and designs. The first thing I thought of was my father's retro hairstyle from the early 2000s: an Asian man with a slicked back hairstyle. For some time, I experimented with some animation and video art, and I've since fallen in love with animation on 90s RGB TVs and giant projected screens. They have some lovely clumsiness and roughness to them, but that's exactly the sense of color and texture I like. I was also fascinated by traditional screen-printing techniques. I tried various ways to produce similar effects on computer displays, wall projections, art prints, and paintings to make them look like a sequence.
Since I graduated, I have taken on various commissions and done a lot of personal projects, and I found that all the works could be merged without a clear demarcation. They are both social and personal. So, this has naturally formed the tone of my work, from the big cosmic space and time to the small details of life, all about co-existence and the inner being of individuals.
NP: You work in-between the fields of illustration, painting, sculpture, visual art, and art NFTs. How does your process differ from each medium?
RW: To me, shifting through different media makes work fun and dynamic. I aim to connect all of my work, so you can often find recurring elements in my work. Whether it's illustration, painting, sculpture, visual art, or NFTs, my process always starts with a manual sketch.
When doing an illustration, I transfer it into digital, where I make the final touches. My painting process is also based on a sketch and various color combinations that I try out before bringing it onto the canvas. During coloring, I test the possibility of overlaying many different fluorescent colors, so that the final picture looks dazzling, with the color relationship remaining harmonious. In general, I want to maintain a balance between female and male, strong and weak, bitter and sweet, serious and humorous.
Visual art and NFTs offer lots of possibilities to explore and experiment with me. For visual art, I like combining animations with sound, light, and temperature sensors, while for NFTs, animation with bright colors is my first choice. I like doing cross-disciplinary experiments and extending the possibilities of painting art to new media.
NP: The topics of movement and coexistence, contrasts, and vibrant colors are ever-present in your work. Can you tell us more about the idea that you follow using these elements?
RW: I wanted a running person at my work, but not a full human being – just the legs were enough. I started subtracting for my characters and started "dismantling" people. It seems that artists are always trapping themselves in their roles, trying to avoid making art easy to understand. In my perception, those instinctive acts of human behavior like walking, smiling, or touching each other should be praised more by art.
Generally, I’m influenced by Chinese, German, and world culture. I sometimes get a little confused, so I take stock after observing what is right, what is the best way, and what is the universal language. I want to explore the commonality of human beings beyond culture and language and stand in the perspective of the universe to see the relationship between the individual and the universe, the world, nature, and the relationship between you and me. This is often seen in ancient Chinese paintings, with big mountains, big rivers, big trees, and tiny individuals looking up at the sun, moon, and stars.
When studying at Udk Berlin, I learned various traditional printing techniques and principles at Klasse Wagenbreth, such as screen printing, woodblock printing, etc. What makes them special is the possibility to experiment with different color and texture overlays. For example, fluorescent colors make the overlays more effective, so I started to try to apply the traditional printing techniques and principles of color usage to my digital works and paintings, making them transparent, luminous, and harmonious.
NP: In your work, abstract elements and real characters meet. Do you take your inspiration from the world around you or mostly from your internal world?
RW: In my images, I’m trying to find the balance between those two poles. I want to build a door between the reality we live in and surreal worlds, thereby building a connection between the external and the internal world. I’m aiming to not be bored by the external reality surrounding me but also not to be completely lost in surrealism.
NP: Creating is oftentimes accompanied by self-doubt. Do you think these doubts are necessary in some way in order to keep on pushing?
RW: When self-doubts arise, it means I need to upgrade my abilities to create. I then find relief in my practice. The process of creating a painting is unpredictable, but I have trust that it will look good in the end.
NP: We’re experiencing challenging times. How can art make a difference in society?
RW: I believe when art triggers any kind of emotion within the viewer, then it has achieved its goal – no matter what level of understanding it is based on. With my work, I want to increase the viewer’s dopamine with the bright scenes shown in my pieces. In a world full of uncertainty, art can play a very important role by inviting the viewer to escape the everyday.
NP: You have over 50.000 followers on Instagram, one of the most important social media channels to share art. What role does social media play for you? Does it have any influence on your work?
RW: Social media, for me, is all about output and input. I enjoy sharing my creative process, finished works, and nonsense. It’s a place where we, as artists, can share our work and increase our visibility. Social media expands the groups I follow, the topics I care about, and it makes me more inclusive and deepens my understanding of individuals. All of this influences the content of my artworks in the end, as there are many commonalities worth exploring on social media.
NP: What are your goals for the future?
RW: I have big personal dreams to fulfill that are best left unsaid right now. In the near future, I wish for more efficiency in my work and that I can devote more time to creating rather than being busy with things I am not good at. I’m dreaming of a big solo exhibition in Berlin soon.
Ruohan Wang is a Chinese-German artist and designer based in Berlin, Germany. After graduating from the Berlin University of Arts in 2017, she founded her studio in Berlin and worked as an illustrator and artist of art prints, public art, installation and fashion. Her solo and group exhibitions have been held in Berlin, New York, Antwerp, Beijing, Shanghai and other cities. She has created visual projects for public institutions from all over the world, including the Goethe Institute, Humboldt University, Bauhaus University, the German Ministry of Labor. Her cooperative commercial brands include: Nike, UGG, Off- White, The New York Times and The New Yorker etc. Ruohan's work focuses on experimental illustrations with the theme of "movement", installations and improvisational aesthetics. Her work comes from the ingenious interweaving of contrasting and pure colors. The growth and practice in a multicultural background has established the rationality of the surreal world in her works.