Yanyan Huang is a protean artist: she paints, draws, and makes ceramic vases, books and dresses. Her signature style is defined by a penchant for airy, sweeping brushstrokes that grace the surfaces of all her work. In today’s Q&A, we chat with Huang about her practice.

What is it like based between Florence and California? As we understand, the art scene in both places very much cater to different crowds.

I've been living and traveling around Europe and especially Italy for the past 5 years, with some breaks spent in California and China. I move because I don't like being limited by myths or expectations - but also because I approach my work and life as a research project. Places should allow for surprises and unexpected happenings, but the possibilities for such events lessen over time, after you become habituated to an environment and vice versa. I also like to live in a place where there are remnants of time to protect against amnesia: history is littered with fallen civilizations and once-great empires, lineages, victories. It makes me focus on my own work and think about it in a "will this outlast eternity?" kind of way.

You incorporate a lot of different media in your work. Tell us more about your creative process. 

Boredom becomes the impetus for me to travel, which I do to an embarrassing extent. I travel to see art and beautiful places - it's a self-directed search for extremes: pristine gallery/museum walls or centuries-old, decaying, crumbling, shit-covered ruins. I collect wisps and fragments of places I visit, and synthesise them into lines, shapes, and colours. It isn't a direct translation, like using the colours of a city or the sea, but rather compositional arrangements of patterns and vibrations. The feeling of collapse, of forgotten histories. But on the other side of despair is playfulness and freedom.

Each media has its own history, processes, tradition. Ceramic is exciting because it's directly connected to Earth's history, and it allows the least amount of control. Experimentation with media is my way of injecting my mark into different narratives. 

I draw initial concepts, revise them, and manipulate them into distinctly different forms, whether it is onto ceramic, reproduced onto fabric, or painted onto canvas. I make a map for myself to follow, and each outcome is a different manifestation of the original.

Some of your most recent work features painted silk dresses, which are really beautiful. What was it like working with textiles?

It was a natural progression, as I hold onto ideas and try to refine them until they reach a transcendental state. I love thinking about things from their origins - their very beginnings of inception. A painting starts from a collection of impressions and develops organically, blending with emotions and whims, undergoing revisions and influencing later paintings or drawings. I leave the physical painting and only have a photo and a memory of having painted it. 

One day I might rediscover the painting and decide to give life to it, layering a slightly transparent drawing or photo from around the same time, or maybe from the present. Then I have it printed onto silk, and it's made into a dress that surrounds the wearer like an aura - a weightless version of history. It becomes the ultimate manifestation of a certain collection of impressions, and it's freed from its physical limitations of having been a 5-pound wood-canvas-painted object. 

It's my way of reconciling questions of authenticity in a technology and image-riddled age and the concept of the "aura": since so much work is seen only through its documentation, I wonder if any bit of aura can be retained through facsimiles of facsimiles. Also, in a world of wasteful fast-fashion with devastating environmental and social impacts, I wanted to escape from the cycle of consumerism by creating high quality dresses that can be worn in any situation and don't conform to standard codes of beauty. 

Could you name your top five ideas that have inspired your work and explain why?

Mindfulness: Bringing a mark or line or gesture out from nothingness and welcoming its existence - respecting the impulses and intuition of a moment. 

Perfection: This could be from my background as a pianist or from being Chinese, I don't know, but I practice making marks and varying applications of line, so that I employ "perfect" versions of them when necessary. The idea of perfection without an ultimate form, because though excellence can be corroborated and tested, perfection can't (at least in art).

Eternity: I want to know what stands the test of time, in a physical and mental sense. Trends are repulsive, nothing more than detestable moments of artifice conjured up by marketers, product-hockers, and their cronies. Which is not to say I despise progressions of taste and paradigmatic shifts, because they are only natural.

Weightlessness: When something is nearly weightless, it can either exist or not exist. I've been experimenting with transparent and semi-transparent surfaces, like vellum and acrylic. Layering one over another, they retain just the gesture and you can see gesture and patterns in clarity, like a compacted record of time. 

Artist as Social Sculptor (Joseph Beuys): The potential of art and human activity to influence or shape society and our environment. Beuys considered every mindful act to potentially be a work of art. There is enormous power in the realization of all of our individual potentials for enacting change in thought, speech, and action. I try to live up to this idea of social sculpture by participating in society not just as an artist but also as a traveller, photographer, and writer.

Images courtesy of the artist.