Lost in the whimsical age of Victoriana, we find Xue Wang roaming the haunted halls of yesteryear. Born in China and moving to London at aged 22, Xue studied fashion before discovering her true passion in art. Fascinated with childhood paraphernalia, her paintings reflect a nostalgia for a youth long before her own. Her eery sense of humour and obsession with dolls, toys and fairytales make a captivating and subtly unsettling combination. Putting aside her collection of dead bumblebees, she made time to chat to us about the supernatural, potential upcoming prints, and being a black crayon.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
A seamstress. My mum told me that when I was 3 I asked her to teach me to sew. Understandably, she refused. So I cut up my pillow and a few other things in an attempt to emotionally blackmail her. Around aged 12, I started making clothes for my dolls and had an inkling that this may lead somewhere. So in a circuitous way I found myself as a fashion designer. That didn’t suit my creative bent so I switched my career a few years ago.
What do you find is the most challenging part about being an artist?
The challenging part would be to complete everything by yourself .i.e. you are working to deadlines under your own steam. The entire process, from inception to finished piece, is solely down to you.
A lot of your work features spirits and the supernatural. Do you believe in ghosts?
I find the concept of a world beyond fascinating. I can’t say I believe in ghosts, but I would love to meet one (not the scary type!).
Your artworks appear cute at a glance, but often contain rather disturbing imagery. What do you enjoy about unsettling your audience?
I didn’t mean to disturb my audience. I hope they can see the funny side of my painting.
What does art mean to you? Is it therapeutic? An outlet? A compulsion? A hobby? A career?
I think art is all of the above. For me, it’s my way of telling the world what I’m thinking.
What’s your process for planning out a piece and do you use any reference imagery?
I normally do a few small rough images to work out the composition. I then choose the most suitable option. I do use quite a lot of reference from things such as small toys I own.
How long does it usually take you to complete a painting?
It depends on the size and detail involved. The average time is 80 -120 hours.
It seems that a lot of artists’ work ends up resembling themselves in some way, do you think your characters reflect you at all?
I guess so. They do reflect aspects of me. The old fashioned interiors and isolated figures are part of my psyche.
Have you found an amazing technique or approach that you wish you’d discovered earlier?
Not really. I’m quit a traditional when it comes to technique; lots of laying on of glazes. Although I’ve found sticky clothes tape is really useful for getting fluff off the heavily oiled finishes I use on my work.
Who’s your favourite artist at the moment?
That depends on when you ask me. Right now, I’m trying to better my landscape skills. I’m a bit crazy over the French painters Corot and Pissaro. As to surrealist artists, Frida Kahlo, Henry Dagar, Alfred Kubin and Mark Ryden are my all time favourites.
Do you have any artistic plans or goals for the coming year?
I’m such a dream boat and crap at making plans. But so many people have asked me about my prints over the last year, so I think this may be next in the pipeline. And, keep painting of course!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
“Don’t look at what other people’ are doing: concentrate on what you are doing.” My husband tells me when things get a bit competitive.
If there was a movie made about your life, what would it be called, and why?
‘Paint It Black-ish’: very subtle.
You’re a new addition to the crayon box, what colour would you be and why?
Black. It gets used the most in my crayon box.
If you won a million dollars right now, what would you do with it?
I’ll travel around the world.
What kitchen utensil would you be?
A garlic press.
What’s the weirdest thing in your studio right now?
I have a stuffed cobra, a fox skull (I found in a bush), a box of bumble bees (I collect dead specimens, you’ll see them a lot in spring). I’ve always have this big ball of my dogs fur laying around when she moults. I collect it and roll it up into a big springy ball.