Xiuching Tsay

Artist Interview

October 14, 2020
Xiuching Tsay (b.1993 Thailand) graduated from Royal College of Art in 2019 with an MA in Painting. She is currently based in Bangkok and London. In her work she explores the recurring images that reside vaguely in her mind. Those images are merely shapes at first, but they keep repeating themselves with limited meanings until they lose their own values, becoming merely shapes that call upon perplexity. In Xiuching's practice, she reconnects with her own recurring images by accessing their inner world through paintings, resurrect their essences and rediscover their hidden characters through an ecstatic quality of vision.

Hello Xiuching, can you start by telling us a bit about yourself and your background?

Hey De Formal, I was born in Chonburi, Thailand. It is a city located by a gulf of Thailand. I had always been here until 18 years old or high school, before I moved to London for higher degrees at University of the arts London LCF, and Royal College of Art for MA Painting. So, Majority of my life or my teenage-hood I always had slow life style, spent lots of time chilling at the beach with my friends, seeing sunsetting during dinner. I feel that the ambience of this city and the vibes become a part of me. I believe that this may influences my work to engage with the flow and fluidity. When I moved to London, I learnt the Western cultural life and got influenced by arts and some philosophy here.

How would you describe your work to someone who hasn't yet seen it?

Different kinds of creatures roam in their own spaces, such spaces may give some sort of soft dynamics, spiral dynamics like a whirlpool but never give a complete silence. it is a colourful and vibrant world. These portrayal creatures can imitate human behaviours, through their physically expressions, eyes, obscured mouth gestures and sometime the non-human figures communicate through the human body languages and behaviours. I think I would use the word ‘Animism’ to describe my works.

How did you get into painting and sculpture? Is there any other medium you've been wanting to try?

I got into painting first. Actually, I first started painting as my hobby since I was very little, I loved painting my family, friends and imaginative characters with my own narratives. But I did not realize that I wanted to become an artist. I started to realize my passion for painting when I moved to London. Seeing great paintings at museums really moved me and even strengthen my passion. I wanted to spark some people’s hearts like I got sparked by the paintings I have seen. Sculpting become involved in my practice as I experimented a lot and I’ve seen different forms of works from other artists. I remember that my trip to Franz West exhibition has inspired me to create the first sculpture. I admire his way of creating, that exhibition expanded my ideas and I wanted to challenge the conventional painting method. Currently, I am working in Thailand and because of Covid-19 I have been exploring my own house and Garden, trying to make uses of found materials in my property.

The colors in your work range from fleshy skin tones to bright neon, how did this unique yet striking palate come to be?

In painting, I am not thinking too much about the actual colours of the objects I portray, or I would rather say that I am not trying to present the colours that the majority of people (including me) see. The coffee mug that I used in the morning might be red, but when it comes to painting, I am not sure if I can be honest to paint red. So, I’d rather give colours from my instinct, I think to differentiate colours is like to give more possibilities to explore a subject matter. I usually squeeze almost all colours I have on my palate first. On the canvas, I usually start with bright colours that replicate to the sun, the moon or both at the same. The sun that shaped with a warm bright colour usually affects the following elements, gives a warm ambience for an entire painting. A bright neon comes to a painting because I usually think about invisible energy that I believe it is flowing everywhere, around our bodies, around objects, around the trees, skies, etc. So, I would leave a tiny space around the bodies and fill it with a bright colour. It replicates to some sort of energy.

Where do you find inspiration? Do you sketch them out before starting a painting?

My inspirations came from various sources such as books, poetry, music. But the most inspirational source came from my own experiences. It can be my real-life stories, my observations to animals and natures, or cultural lives I learnt from the others. I like to observe my surroundings and write it out in words, in an automatic writing style. Then later, I visualise that words in a painting. When I go out and find an inspiration, I sometimes make sketches. But those sketches were not for paintings, I see them as an original artwork too. In painting, I sometimes apply some ideas I found from those sketches but I do not look at the entire sketch because they are different frames.

Can you tell us a bit about your writing? What is their relationship to your visual work?

My inspiration comes from my explorations to the world. Every day, when I go out or backpacking, I would carry one small book and one pencil because it is convenient. Sometimes the ideas come in narratively in the middle of walking or something challenge my perspectives. I usually note it down in a free writing form. I think for me, a writing makes a better sense and it is more deliberate. But there are still some missing parts in a writing that I want to explore further. So, I expand it in a painting form. A painting would not give a better sense but it gives some significant essences that cannot be described in a writing, or a verbal. A painting and a writing, even though they came from the same subject, they speak differently and share different worlds to me as a viewer.

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We love the fantastical world and characters depicted in your work. They usually have some kind of wrinkly, almost fabric-like surfaces. Can you tell us more about it?

Before depicting a character, I always start with a simple shape that appears in my consciousness, I usually has an obscured imagery that remind me of something I have once experienced and noted in writings, or some mundane things that I see routinely. Such imagery is banal and confuse me, and it is always cling to my brain. So, through painting, I want to re-connect with it, observe the spiritual sides of this banal object that bond to myself. By this, I usually wash off that shape, overlapping the shape with strokes that replicate to waves or soft water ripples. Then through that strokes, I would see patterns that give me possibilities to see the development of that banal object. Then later it would develop to become a character who shows unique behaviours and eventually develop into narratives. And these narratives maybe reflect back to my unnoticeable cognition. I think this fit a pareidolia term. And as the result, the painting forms another world. The wrinkly, fabric-like surfaces probably came from the traces that have been left during the process of wash. In the painting, I want to leave the space that remind me of water waves and the wrinkle patterns give a similar dynamic. So, I think the wrinkle surface helps a painting to become animated.

You are based in London and Bangkok, what are the differences in the art scenes in these cities? How do they affect you?

Recently, Thai’s contemporary art is blooming. I can see many artists are having fun and taking their practice seriously and there are experimental spaces for the young artists to expose their works. There are so many interesting installation/multimedia artists, and amazing performance artists too. Their works are well speaking about their youth cultures in Bangkok and the politics here. However, in term of painting field, I think London art institutions (Museums) open to more diverse kinds of paintings such as surreal, religious relate paintings, abstract, political, pop, kitsch or even something unidentified and they access to the wider audiences. I think this is because of the political background, to me London has a mix cultures and it has a better liberation, to act and to speak openly through any communicative medium.

I can see the differences between the works that I produced in London and the works that I am making in Thailand. The new works depict heavier feelings to the characters, at the same time, I think they become more obvious to emphasize the thirst for a liberation. Also, in Thailand, from seeing conceptual arts and from my own experiences, I learnt about the unequal livings, the ideology that maybe caused by the social judgments. So, I am now having a stronger will to embed this notion, to ease the social judgements through my paintings and writings

Do you have any studio rituals that help you "getting into the zone"?

I usually play some ritual music or classical music in my studio, and dance in free forms. I found myself at ease and through dancing I found the body gestures and movements that I could portray in my painting too.

Are you working on anything new these days? Is there anything you have been doing that helped you to cope with COVID-19?

Painting is the best activity that help me to keep calm during COVID-19. And because of that I have actually been making a lot of experiments at my home studio. Home becomes my new inspirational resource; I am exploring every corners of my house, observing behaviour of birds from the bedroom’s balcony. My 2020 works obviously show bird-like characters. To challenge my own method of painting, I utilize different art materials and make use of found materials. Recently, I picked up some palms in my garden. Inside a dead palm, it has a very interesting patterns and shape. So, I materialize the found palms and it became a sculptural painting form, combined with the new contextual theme that I have been interested. Being at home for a long time has a positive side for my practice development too because I am able to reflect to my past works and I am thinking about how to evolve that ideas into something newer and respond to my current situation, that possibly speak to the other people too. However, the only thing is I haven’t had a chance to show these new body of work yet.

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Have you seen or read anything interesting lately that you would like to share?

Now I read Sapiens, a famous writing piece by Yuval Noah Harari. I found it quite eye opening. It presented many facts and the idea of how the human race have been evolved is make sense. I think I learnt a lot from reading this book. And I recently quite into the poetry by Bei Dao, I feel the writings cleverly point out the political issues, but the writer expressed it quite personally, I can feel the spirituality that fit perfectly in the mundane world. The writings are touching. For something to watch, I actually watched too many films during Covid lockdown, maybe 80% from the Netflix. So, it is hard to pick the most special films during this time. I recently came back to watch Le Samourai, I think it is still a classic film for me. Also, I watch a lot of anime series, I quite enjoyed demon slayer. It was addictive, so I managed to finished in a week haha.

Do you have any bad habits? How do they affect your work and your daily life?

Yes, I think I sleep too late. My usual sleeping time is between 2-4 am and I always get up late in the next morning. So, it kills my studio time a bit because my current studio is best for working before the sunset. After sunset the light becomes tricky, not easy to paint.

Is there anything else you would like to share with us? Any fun facts our readers can learn about you?

I like to visit random exhibitions with 1-3 friends. After that, we would find a nearest place to eat, a social eating time. To me, laughing makes the food taste better.

For More of Tsay: xiuchingtsay.com  |  @chyvenne