Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Painter and Glass Sculptor Arlan Huang set for AIR Zenkouji, a month long residency in Nagano, Japan

Artist Arlan Huang in his Brooklyn Studio on July 12, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Artist Arlan Huang in his Brooklyn Studio on July 12, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Painter and glass sculptor Arlan Huang is busy learning Japanese before jetting off to Nagano, Japan, for AIR Zenkouji, his month long Artist-in-Residence in the grounds of Zenkoji Temple in September. Huang returns to Nagano after first exhibiting at Koji Moriya’s Flatfile Gallery, a 110 year old mud walled traditional Japanese house, in 2013.

Koji Moriya's Flatfile Gallery, a 110 year old mud walled traditional Japanese house. Photo by Arlan Huang

Koji Moriya’s Flatfile Gallery, a 110 year old mud walled traditional Japanese house. Photo by Arlan Huang

On a balmy summer night in August, I met up with Huang and his wife, Lillian Ling for $1 oysters on the half shell at Crave Fishbar’s happy hour in Midtown Manhattan.

Trestle Gallery opening reception for "Swimming Awkward Moment," new works by Arlan Huang, here with his wife Lillian Huang, in Brooklyn on February 20, 2015. Photo by Lia Chang

Trestle Gallery opening reception for “Swimming Awkward Moment,” new works by Arlan Huang, here with his wife Lillian Huang, in Brooklyn on February 20, 2015. Photo by Lia Chang

We noshed on Griddled Heritage Pork Belly with fresh cherries, chile sugar, cherry jus, steamed mussels, Plancha grilled octopus with Chinese broccoli, cumin mustard vinaigrette, and handmade squid ink spaghetti with chopped shrimp, spring garlic, fresno chile, clam stock, while chatting about his Nagano residency, navigating Japan as an American artist, and his new exhibitions, Flowers of the moon (9/8-9/18 in Osaka) and Pushing Hands (Nagano).

Dinner at Crave Fishbar. Photos by Lia Chang

Dinner at Crave Fishbar. Photos by Lia Chang

Lia: What kind of an exhibition did you have in 2013?
Arlan: We started working on the show in 2010. The opening was excellent. The show a success. The format allowed for small paintings only. I really never worked less than 72″x 60″. It was a challenge for me to go down to 11″x 14″. To my surprise it was no problem “being in the painting on a small scale”. In fact it was a revelation to work even smaller. I have continued to work small on plexiglass. The paintings have moved into a very sweet but muscular form. It has been a wonderful surprise to me. I love it.

Arlan Huang in his Brooklyn Studio during the Arts Gowanus Open Studio on October 18, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Arlan Huang in his Brooklyn Studio during the Arts Gowanus Open Studio on October 18, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia: How did this residency come about?
Arlan: Two years ago during my first show in Nagano, I was introduced to Mr Hitoshi Kimura, a professor of art at Shinshu University. Koji Moriya, owner of Flatfile indicated to me that Mr. Kimura had an Artist-in-Residency program and I would be welcomed to participate. I accepted for 2015. The official program is called, Artist-in-Residence in the grounds of Zenkoji Temple. I will be AIR from Sept 12 thru Oct 12, 2015. air-zenkouji.com

Arlan Huang and his wife Lillian Ling, Yuri Ishida and Koji Moriya at the original Flatfile Bar, Nagano, 2013. Photo by Oote@oote Photography

Arlan Huang and his wife Lillian Ling, Yuri Ishida and Koji Moriya at the original Flatfile Bar, Nagano, 2013. Photo by Oote@oote Photography

Lia: Why are you learning to speak Japanese?
Arlan: I’m attempting to learn a few sentences. When people come to New York, we expect them to speak some English. When you go to another country I would think they expect you to speak some of their language.

Artist Arlan Huang in his Brooklyn Studio on July 12, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Artist Arlan Huang in his Brooklyn Studio on July 12, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia: What will you be doing during your residency?
Arlan: I am getting a show together in Nagano. This is my AIR Zenkouji commitment to Nagano artists. The show will be different than a traditional group show where art is hung on the wall. This show is for artists to meet artists and to practice presenting your art and presenting yourself. Every artist comes with an artwork. You must carry it in your hand. The idea is your artwork is like your calling card. The show/ performance is all of us introducing ourselves to each other. You must limit your time so you can meet and practice with many artists. You must explain your art in six sentences. You must let whomever you are talking to hold your art. There is something very sexy about letting someone touch and feel your art. I love it. We speak in The language of your choice. I will get some help and try to memorize my art statement in Japanese. Hahaha. But I will try.

The reason I’m attempting my statement in Japanese is because Koji, one of my hosts, said it will be hard for some artists to speak in English. I responded by saying the art is the key. It is visual. We can explain in any language. But I will try doing my statement in Japanese. It is about sharing and practicing.

Lia: Where does “Pushing Hands” originate from?
Arlan: The name of the show will be “Pushing Hands” it refers to a taichi exercise. Two people pushing, pulling and fighting with their hands in a dance, sometimes touching, sometimes not. It is to practice and increase your skills.

Lia: What was it like to navigate as an American artist in Japan?
Arlan: At first, it was exhilarating being in a place where everyone looked like you. I can pass, for awhile. Beyond looks it became very apparent, I was American. Not Asian American, Chinese, or artist, but American. Identity becomes a new question. It took time to find my center but I did. It is a lesson in growth as a human being. Of course, as an artist from New York, I get a universal pass as being a little crazy with an eccentric life style.

Paintings and blown glass vessels by artist Arlan Huang in his Brooklyn Studio. Photo by Lia Chang

Paintings and blown glass vessels by artist Arlan Huang in his Brooklyn Studio. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia: What do you hope to accomplish during the four weeks that you are there?
Arlan: I will bring my oil paints and brushes. I plan on painting but I am open for new approaches to art. There are many Nagano artists doing different art. The excitement is in discovering and working with new artists in a totally different environment. Nagano City is on the edge of the mountains. The season will be transitioning into the Fall. What could be more inspiring?

Lia: Elaborate on the “crafts” nature of the art in Nagano.
Arlan: My former Squid Frames partner, Fumiko Hasegawa, informed me of the long history of craft in Nagano Prefecture. She said there is a very prestigious arts and crafts fair held every year. She aspired to be included in the fair before she moved to New York. She works in urushi, Japanese lacquer.

Flatfile owner Koji Moriya searching for wood in Nagano, 2013. Photo by Arlan Huang

Flatfile owner Koji Moriya searching for wood in Nagano, 2013. Photo by Arlan Huang

We were lucky to have attended the Summer Zenkoji Temple crafts fair. We were treated to some beautiful wood work from two local cabinet makers. They brought inventive items made from the cut offs. Koji said there was another wood artist who made amazing toys. And that was just the wood workers.

IMG_0018

Huang’s paintings will also be on view in Flowers of the moon, at Eiko Kamiyama’s gallery Bi-Damas in Osaka, Japan, from Tuesday, September 8th through Friday, September 18th. Click here for more information.IMG_0015

Huang’s exhibition of his newest paintings, “Swimming Awkward Moment,” were recently on view at Trestle Gallery in Brooklyn in the Spring. The gallery is located in the same building as his 4000 sq. ft space in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn. For the past eight years, Huang has balanced his business, Squid Frame, with his passion for painting in Brooklyn, after 30 years in his Manhattan space on the Bowery. His painting studio occupies 900 sq. ft.

Trestle Gallery opening reception for "Swimming Awkward Moment," new works by Arlan Huang in Brooklyn on February 20, 2015. Photo by Lia Chang

Trestle Gallery opening reception for “Swimming Awkward Moment,” new works by Arlan Huang in Brooklyn on February 20, 2015. Photo by Lia Chang

Huang describes his current practice as “looking at myself from the outside.” In 2014, Huang reacquainted himself with his entire body of work through a cataloging process facilitated by a Creating a Living Legacy award from the Joan Mitchell Foundation. This act of retracing allowed Huang to review his painting career through an experienced lens. Click here to learn more about his experience with the Joan Mitchell Foundation.

Artist Arlan Huang in his Brooklyn Studio on July 12, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Artist Arlan Huang in his Brooklyn Studio on July 12, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

With Huang’s newest body of work he chooses to embrace awkwardness and paint with a layered perspective about his artistic decisions and the aspirations he held as a younger painter.

From this intensive look into his own history, Huang found that he has been “doing the same things over and over again,” with subtle shifts in color and line from one painting to the next. His search for a meditative “hum” while he paints is ever present as he experiments with the surface, color, and fluid movement of his abstract imagery. The results are layered and stacked linear marks, neat rows, or floating daubs of paint.

Arlan Huang. Photo by Lia Chang

Arlan Huang. Photo by Lia Chang

Arlan Huang (1948) was born in Bangor, Maine and was raised in San Francisco. Huang studied at San Francisco Art Institute (1964-65), City College of San Francisco (1966-69) and received his BFA from Pratt Institute (1972). Huang has permanent installations throughout New York, including the Museum of Chinese in Americas, Jacobi Medical Center, and Baron Capital, and has received awards from the Joan Mitchell Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York City Board of Education, and the San Francisco Arts Commission. Recent solo exhibitions include Red for Yellow (2013), Flatfile Gallery, Japan; and Most Violet Paintings 2003-2008 (2008), Walter Randel Gallery, NYC. Huang has exhibited extensively in group exhibitions throughout the United States and abroad. He currently lives in Manhattan and works in Brooklyn, NY.

Arlan Huang. Photo by Lia Chang

Arlan Huang. Photo by Lia Chang

I first discovered Arlan Huang in 1994 at the Museum of the Chinese in the Americas in New York Chinatown. Entitled, “Dim Sum-Hearts Desire,” Huang’s mixed media installation was an approximation of his grandparents’ New York Chinatown tenement, with 100 numbered glass stones among the glass inventions representing a family history passed down from generation to generation.

Dim

Dim Sum, Heart’s Desire
168x96x72 inches (h x w x d)
installation by Arlan Huang. Photo courtesy of artasiaamerica.org

“100 stones for Grandfather,” shared Huang, “tells how my grandfather immigrated from Seattle to Vancouver to Alaska to Bangor and how he went back to China to get his wife and bring her back to Bangor. It is also the story of how migration happens and how they ended up on Mulberry St. There’s sort of a microcosm in Asian American history because of the immigration laws passed in the 1950’s where more immigrants could come to the U.S. My grandmother’s relatives immigrated to New York in the 1950’s and my grandparents came to help them get settled.”

In 1996, Huang created a glass wall installation entitled, “American Origins” at P.S. 152 in Brooklyn for the New York City Board of Education, in the hope of contributing to the ideas of American public education. The focal point for this installation is the immigrant experience and the collective hope of coming to America to educate children in the best education system possible.

Detail of American Origins, Red Wall 56 x 128 inches site specific installation "American Origins, located in P.S. 152, Brooklyn. Photo courtesy of artasiaamerica.org

Detail of American Origins, Red Wall 56×128 inches site specific installation “American Origins, located in P.S. 152, Brooklyn. Photo courtesy of artasiaamerica.org

Fabricated of glass stones encased in glass blocks, there are 247 transparent, translucent and opaque colored stones numbered from 152-399. The block between 282 and 283 in the red wall is the only block not numbered. It contains the shards of a word sculpture by the artist John Brekke.

American Origins, Red Wall 5x x 128 inches site specific installation "American Origins, located in P.S. 152, Brooklyn. Photo courtesy of artasiaamerica.org

American Origins, Red Wall
56 x 128 inches
site specific installation
“American Origins, located in P.S. 152, Brooklyn. Photo courtesy of artasiaamerica.org

Arlan Huang Untitled, 2010 Glass Photo by: Bruce Damonte

Arlan Huang
Untitled, 2010
Glass Photo by: Bruce Damonte

Huang has designed public works of art for the National Endowment for the Arts and has created permanent glass sculptures for the New York City Percent for the Arts Program and the New York Dormitory Authority. For Urban Glass, he created “Aquellos Ojos Verdes for Olga,” a steel and wood framed blown glass in glass block partition. For Baron Capital, a New York brokerage firm, he worked with Genseler and Associates on an undulating glass block wall.

Suddenly Laughter Jacobi Medical Center

Suddenly Laughter
Jacobi Medical Center

His commissions include a glass and steel commission for Laguna Honda Hospital for the San Francisco Arts Commission; an installation for the Borough of Manhattan Community College; and the river stone shaped glass pieces for his sculptural installation for the lobby of the new $173 million, 400,000 square foot Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx, commissioned by the Percentage for Art in NYC Program. The design is Huang’s homage to a Zen rock garden and reflecting pool which hangs 20 feet above the main staircase and escalators of the building, residing within the interior skylight space. The 50 blown glass pieces seem connected by umbilical cords of fiber optic cable.

Huang has returned to his first love painting and has been enjoying the luxury of moving oil paint and being “in” the painting in solitude. He considers this medium to be a counter point to his glass blowing activities which are a social, team-oriented process.

Arlan Huang Website

To contact Arlan Huang regarding his glass vessels and paintings, you can email him at blueforyellow@gmail.com.

Lia Chang

Lia Chang

Lia Chang is an award-winning filmmaker, a Best Actress nominee, a photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in FebOne1960.com Blog, Jade Magazine and Playbill.com.

Related articles:
Photos: “Swimming Awkward Moment,” the newest works by painter Arlan Huang at Trestle Gallery through March 27
Feb. 20-Mar. 27: Trestle Gallery Presents “Swimming Awkward Moment,” the newest works by painter Arlan Huang
Photos and Video: Blowing Glass with Arlan Huang
Oct 18-19: Meet Artist Arlan Huang during Gowanus Open Studios 2014
Photos: Artist Arlan Huang, One Brush Stroke at a Time
medium.com: Arlan Huang: Art and Artists
Arlan Huang Celebrates Most Violet
MOST VIOLET:PAINTINGS 2003- 2008 by Arlan Huang
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