by Kim Larson

Born and raised in San Francisco, Jessica So Ren Tang received her BA in Studio Art at Mills College in Oakland in 2013. Inspired by her identity as a Chinese American woman, she creates embroideries that reference Asian patterns and objects from her childhood. Her work has been exhibited at San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles and at the SPRING/BREAK Art Fair in New York. She currently lives and maintains a studio in South San Francisco.


We are excited to welcome Jessica back to the gallery this April for her second solo exhibition with Modern Eden entitledFlower of Riches and Honor


KL: Hi Jessica! How have you been doing this past year? Have you found the shelter in place and subsequent COVID restrictions a time of creative abundance or more challenging than regular times? 


JT: I’ve been okay, there have been ups and downs but overall I’m hanging in there. I already spend many hours indoors stitching so the SIH and restrictions haven’t affected me much in producing work. 


KL: That’s good to hear. How did you get into embroidery, did you study it in college? How did you find your unique voice as an artist? 


JT: I came across embroidery sort of by accident. In preparation of my college exhibition I was assigned to experiment with different materials and techniques. It started off with folding and stacking clothing into structures and later stitching into a styrofoam cup noodle container. I switched to recreating the noodle cup with fabric and that was the beginning of my embroideries. I wanted to make art that I could connect to and much of it stems from my experiences as a Chinese American woman. Finding nostalgic motifs from my childhood and identity and wanting to see them in fiber has shaped my work.


KL: As a Chinese American woman, do you see your work as a form of self-portraiture or more of a vague representation as you say in the motifs of your childhood? Or both?


JT: I think it’s a mix of both. My work draws from my experiences and the shared experiences of fellow Chinese Americans. I don’t consider my girl pieces to solely be self portraits but more as a representation of the identity itself. I plan on creating a piece that is specifically a self portrait but that’s down the line.


KL: I can’t wait to see that. I love peonies! Is there a significant symbolism of the peony in your latest series?


JT: This series was inspired by this grand Chinese painting that was displayed in the living room of my childhood home. It must have been 5 to 6 feet wide with large blooming peonies. I wanted to pay homage to that painting and featured peonies larger than the figures in each piece.


KL: We had a similar painting in our house growing up! It’s so interesting how art shapes us in childhood. Who or what are some of your greatest inspirations and influences?


JT: My initial inspiration for my girl pieces is the work of Inkenaga Yasunari. I also find inspiration from traditional Asian paintings/woodblock prints/illustrations, specifically of Chinese and Japanese origin. 


KL: It’s been interesting to see your work evolve to incorporate more painting and to even see you produce animations of your work. Do you see yourself exploring other media in the future? 


JT: Definitely. I fell in love with textile after feeling restricted by painting and sculpting but somehow those have made their way back via fiber. I’m never fully satisfied with my work so I try and push the medium further, which sometimes involves integrating other mediums. 


KL: What is some advice you would give to artists just starting out or yourself when you were younger?


JT: Don’t be afraid to make “bad” art. Practice is important and you can’t grow if nothing is made. Don’t compare yourself to others. Everyone is on their own unique path. What’s important is you go at your own pace. 


KL: Great advice!Flower of Riches and Honor will open Saturday, April 10, 2021 at Modern Eden Gallery in San Francisco and will be on view throughout the month of April. 


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