Jocelyn Tsaih, creates with the intention to engage her audience through introspection and each piece is applicable to a wide variety of individuals and interpretations. This is made possible by Tsaih’s, unique amorphous character who is continuously the focal point of her work. Drawing upon our curiosity and her memories each piece encourages us all to see ourselves. The artist works in California.
The recurring amorphous figures across your work seemingly allow your audience to reflect themselves into your work and interpret or understand your work as it fits them individually. Could you tell us a bit about yourself and what led you to an artistically driven career?
I’ve always been a sensitive person that easily absorbs the energy around me. I can’t help but constantly observe, analyse, and reflect on whatever is going on in my surroundings. I think all of this started at a young age because I was born in Taipei, raised in Shanghai, and simultaneously immersed in American culture due to attending an international school. Being part of multiple cultures with conflicting values and perspectives led me to question everything, including aspects of my identity. While I wasn’t necessarily expressing these concepts through making my own art when I was younger, I found comfort in movies, music, and art that reflected the state of mind I was in.
As someone who grew up relatively reserved, I think I became drawn to art because it allowed me to feel more free. Even still, I questioned my own interest in the arts because there weren’t many others around me that felt similarly. I thought maybe I could force myself to fit into a career that was more conventional and conservative. It wasn’t until I got to spend some time at summer art programs in America that I realised there were so many like-minded people. It was really eye-opening to be surrounded by people with similar interests and I realised that’s the environment I’d like to be in.
In what ways do you stay energetically aligned and motivated with your work? And do you find that this process has changed over the course of the last year or so due to being isolated and or unable to conduct your work in a typical setting?
Feeling connected to others and having a community are really important to me. Having safe spaces with people I’m comfortable with to discuss the big and little things in life typically keeps me inspired. The past year has definitely been difficult not only because of the physical stillness but because I had only moved to the Bay Area from New York two years before the pandemic began. It takes time to build a community and unfortunately not having that foundation during a time when I couldn’t physically be with my communities made me feel a lot more alone than before. My family is pretty spread out, with my parents being in Shanghai and my sister in New York, so not being able to spend some grounding time with them has caused emotional distress. I’ve been trying to channel these feelings into the work I’ve been making instead of letting it paralyse me.
Your work ranges from paintings, murals and various illustrations. Are there any artistic mediums that you would like to incorporate into your future projects that you haven’t already?
I would love to do more three-dimensional projects. I love collecting sculptures, ceramics, and interesting objects made by others, which makes me want to make more of my own. This past year, I collaborated with a manufacturer to create a limited edition of sculptures of my figure. It was really exciting to witness the process and hold the final product in my hands. I hope I get to do more projects like this and hopefully even on a larger, public scale too someday. I can see my figure in so many 3D forms - a balloon float, a magazine stand, a bike rack, etc!
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Many of your pieces share similar figures, shapes and themes yet they use a wide range of color palettes and provoke different thoughts and ideas among each piece. What does your creative process look and feel like?
I personally enjoy the challenge of utilising a limited visual language to convey a wide variety of moods and messages. I find beauty in simplicity, so that’s what I strive for when I’m creating an image. When I think of an idea for an illustration or painting, I usually write down a list of related words that initially come to mind. This is my way of narrowing down the concept into just a few words or symbols. I think this part of my process is very logical, but there is also an emotional component that’s harder to articulate. The emotional side is perhaps where the colors and composition come into play. During this part of the process, I’m thinking about things like how the color palette or the use of scale can help me achieve what I’m aiming for.
I find the majority of your work brings forth curiosity and allows me to see myself reflected in the given characters. What is the importance of the amorphous figure and where or how were they created?
I’m glad you feel that way! I started drawing the amorphous figure during college as a way to express certain emotions I couldn’t quite grasp. At the time I was feeling a lot of confusion and sadness due to a falling out I had with a friend. The feelings I was experiencing felt like they were deeply affecting my psyche or my soul. Because of this, I didn’t want to depict my actual self or body in these drawings, so I opted for a blob-like figure that I imagined my soul to be like. I started posting these drawings on Instagram, back when it wasn’t really used as a platform for sharing art, and a lot of people reached out or commented saying that they could relate to the work. I realised that being able to emotionally connect with others through my drawings was one of the most fulfilling feelings because it made me feel less alone.
Who and or what are some of your major inspirations throughout your work and are there any specific artists that you would like to work with in future projects?
Subconsciously, I feel like I’ve always been influenced by the cartoons and animations I watched growing up. There is a lot of Japanese influence within Taiwanese culture, so I grew up being enamored with the likes of Sanrio characters and Studio Ghibli films. I’ve always loved how intricate and imaginative these made-up worlds could be, and I think I carry some of that surrealism into my work.
On the other hand, I’m also influenced by design principles because I actually studied Graphic Design when I went to SVA for college. I think my design education has really stuck with me and has shaped how I approach my illustration work. Learning how to use design as a tool to communicate effectively and efficiently is something that I consistently try to achieve as an illustrator. I haven’t actually done too many collaborations with other artists, but there are so many amazing illustrators and contemporary painters today that I’m really inspired by. I’m always open to collaboration if it happens to make sense, so I’m hoping that’s something I’ll explore more in the future as well.
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One of your more recent murals After The Rain commissioned by the Collision Project for their AAPI artist showcase was seemingly quite the endeavor to accomplish. Could you talk a bit about this process, what it’s like being commissioned for work in this regard and how the mass sociopolitical unrest happening around the world has affected your work?
I was really honored to be commissioned to make this mural for Collision Project. I’ve been aware of all the amazing pieces that they’ve commissioned from artists over the years and I was really excited to contribute my work. The overall theme for the AAPI artist showcase was “Home”. We were able to interpret this concept in any way that we wanted, so it was pretty open ended. It’s rare for me to be commissioned to do a mural that’s not tied to specific client requests so I wanted to use this opportunity to make something meaningful.
I settled on the idea of illustrating a group of figures gathered amongst flowers that have bloomed under the rainfall. I incorporated acrylic mirrors in the shape of flowers within the mural so that viewers could walk by and see themselves within the overall piece. There’s been a lot of grief this past year, and I feel like the AAPI community has been collectively grieving over the violent hate crimes that have taken place. By placing the mirrors within the mural, I’m trying to tell viewers that they are seen, heard, and understood. I want the image to feel like a gentle embrace for those that view it without glossing over the fact that we’ve been going through a tough time. With all the sociopolitical unrest going on in the world, I think the least I could do as an artist is to provide a sense of empathy and compassion within my work.
How do you decide what older characters and or themes to reuse or repurpose into newer projects? And does this occur as a result of wanting to showcase our growth as individuals despite our physical appearances remaining intact for long periods of time?
The characters remain fairly similar throughout my work as they are meant to represent our core as human beings, kind of like our souls as I had previously mentioned. I’d like to think our souls travel from different dimensions and times while staying intact, providing the foundation of who we are as beings when combined with our human body vessels in this lifetime. There seems to be a sense of purity associated with the concept of a soul. Knowing that at the core of each of us there’s a soul makes me think that we are really all more similar to one another than we tend to think. So in a way, the consistency of the characters and the repurposing of themes actually comes from a desire to touch on all the universal concepts that we collectively experience, even as supposedly vastly distinctive human beings.
Are there specific time periods throughout your life that are most impactful into your work as of now and do you find that your work and or influences alter depending on where you may be located at that given time?
I believe some of the toughest periods of my life are the most impactful to my work, like when I go through a big life change, feel completely out of my comfort zone, or go through an identity crisis. I’ve experienced all these things since moving to the Bay Area from New York three years ago. Not only did I go through a big culture shock moving here, I also went through a break up with an ex-long-term partner in the first year. My world was definitely shaken up, but I tried to embrace the change since change was ultimately what I was seeking. My work and aesthetic went through a bit of a shift while I was adjusting to my new environment and new life. I started including more colours, both in my work and in my wardrobe, partially because I was inspired by the abundance of nature around me but also because I wanted my work to “fit in” with the work that I saw here. For this same reason, the subject matters of my personal work became more lighthearted, even though that wasn’t aligned with how I felt emotionally. In a way, it felt like I was trying to convince myself to feel the way I was portraying my work to be, or maybe it was a coping mechanism.
Looking back, I’m really grateful I made this work while I was desperately trying to adapt. The emotional disconnect I had to the work allowed me to realise that I wasn’t being fully authentic to myself. While some of the work that came out of that time reflected one part of me, I realised I was neglecting a completely different side of the story. Without that period of time, I wouldn’t have gained the awareness that I now have on how to identify the important bits of my experience that I actually hope to share with others.
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Across many of your canvas paintings you heavily utilize negative space in order to highlight the colorful aspects and or characters at the forefront. Where does this style come from and how did you decide on this format for so many of your pieces?
When I first started illustrating I was really excited about including a lot of details. I was excited by the freedom of doing so because it was the opposite of what I was doing at design school. Over time, I’ve started to appreciate simplicity within illustration and painting just as much as I appreciate simplicity within design. Instead of cluttering an image like I initially felt inclined to do, I now prefer to have a clear focal point within the piece and have the foreground distinct from the background.
In my recent solo show, Nowhere Else To Go But Within, I pushed this distinction even further by having all the backgrounds painted black. I chose black because I wanted the paintings to have a void-like feeling, but conversely chose vibrant colors for the figures, flowers, and water droplets. I like how the black backgrounds help illuminate these colors, making them look as if they’re glowing. There is something about the combination of both the darkness and the brightness that brings out a dream-like quality. The void-like aspect makes the paintings feel heavy, but its combination with the glowing colors brings forth a feeling of peace. I’m always interested in depicting dualities within my work and manipulating negative space and colour to emphasise that.
Having your own website and utilising various social media sites such as Instagram help highlight your work and keep you connected with your friends and family alike. Do you find that specific online platforms help amplify your work over others and are there any digital platforms that you would like to use in the future that aren’t currently using now?
I primarily use Instagram for work and have only just started using TikTok, but mostly to post random things like videos of my cats. Instagram has been an extremely helpful tool for me as an artist - not just for amplifying my work but also for helping me find an online community of creatives. I really love how I’m able to get a glimpse into other artists’ lives and work processes even if they’re on the other side of the world. In the past year I also started sending out newsletters, partly out of fear that I rely too much on Instagram for sharing work. I haven’t looked into too many streaming platforms like Discord but it’s a possibility! Usually what stops me from trying out new online platforms is simply laziness.
I wish you all the best in your endeavors! What can we expect next from Jocelyn Tsaih and are there any upcoming projects and or shows that you would like to give a shoutout?
Thank you, I appreciate that! This month, I’ll be painting a few murals locally in the Bay Area. These are some of my favorite projects because this is one way I get to interact with the local community. I’m also working on a longer-term project that’s in the wellness space. It involves a series of animations and illustrations, and I can’t wait to share that work eventually. In October, I’ll be traveling out of the country for the first time since 2019 to attend an artist residency in Oaxaca. I’m really looking forward to being in a different environment and eager to see how that affects what I make.
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