Seeking Balance is a creative journey towards that place between extremes and a state of mind where balance exists. Every piece I finished helped me get closer to remaining in that place. Every piece is a testament to its existence on and off the picture plane. - Calvin Lai
Your solo exhibition “Seeking Balance” pulls from the concepts of tension and extremes, do you find that your experience in this world has been full of extremes or tension?
Calvin: In my life I feel that I have experienced extreme and tense moments, but I would not be able to say that it has been full of these things. I do have an empathetic nature though. Perhaps this is why the extremes and tensions of this world have affected me deeply. Especially at this point of time in our lives. Just to stay even keeled one needs to find a way to try and process everything. Art has always been my way of doing this. “Seeking Balance” is a deeper exploration into this process, one that moves towards a place free from the threat of tipping over.
What is something that people don’t usually know about your practice?
Calvin: I think that most people see my practice as being one full of ease. I’ve had many friends and strangers remark at how they perceive my art skill to be one of mastery. This is far from the truth, and I would never claim to be any type of master. Though I’m appreciative of recognition and praise, the reality is that I am constantly confronted with problems and challenges within my artistic practice. For me, there are times when my art feels like a struggle, and it is full of dissatisfaction. Being a painter is of course, overall, a joy, but I am constantly surprised by the gap between how others perceive my art and how I perceive it.
Alfred Barr, an art writer said “The pictorial conquest of the external visual world had been completed and refined many times and in different ways during the previous half millennium.” I find that statement untrue for several reasons but mostly because Figuration continues to evolve as we evolve. Coming from a classical realism background I would love to hear your perspective on this? Do you think that figuration will ever be completed?
Calvin: Definitely not. I find that there have been convenient labels placed upon the multitude of art styles that have evolved over time. New styles and ways of expression have come and gone all because of what’s in fashion. This has created a system in the art world that consumes the new and disregards the old. But the one constant throughout all this is figurative work. Some moments it’s very popular, other moments it’s hardly noticed. But there are always those that have been fascinated by the human form and those that are compelled to paint it or sculpt it or draw it. People seek out art in order to feel connected to something. It can be nature, it can be animals, it can be a feeling, but I find that the need to connect to other people is a fundamental constant. There will always be those who want art that evokes human connection, because even though our preferences to what type of art we want are all different, our fundamental desire to connect with other people is all the same. It is because of this long term consistency that figuration has and will naturally evolve through schools, through movements, but most importantly through individual artists.
Outside of your role as an artist what other roles do you play in your life? How do these other roles affect your artistic practice?
Calvin: I also play music and there are those who do not know me as an artist, but as a musician. I see music and art as coming from the same creative source. The result is slightly different, as music is much more immediate, and art is a longer process. Doing both balances me out as I can tap into the side of me that looks for immediate satisfaction, as well as the other side of me that needs to stretch out my sense of creativity. Music is also much more social and art is much more solitary. I need both in my life to feel connected to the outside world, as well as within myself.
Wassily Kandinsky believed that artmaking is a “spiritual act” and that it transcends academia and logic. What do you think?
Calvin: I can say for myself that this can be true, but I don’t think it’s true for all artists. I think the creative process can be accessed in many ways. I also think the reasons why an artist creates is incredibly varied. Some seek out a sense of spirituality through art, others look at it as an academic exercise. Both can create great pieces. Even for myself my reasons and motivations change for why I paint. I think that when we claim that one thing transcends another it automatically makes a judgment call. Spirituality is higher than academia and logic in this instance. Art, as an entity, sees no hierarchy of thought. If it’s transcendent, it’s transcendent. If it’s funny, it’s funny. If it’s scientifically accurate, it’s scientifically accurate. It’s still all art. I, of course, deeply respect Kandinsky, and respect his position, but in terms of just this statement alone, I do not think it’s true all the time.
You have said that your mantra is to be persistent. How do you keep this mindset?
Calvin: I can’t, and, more importantly, I try not to expect myself to. I let my mindset dip up and down with the ups and downs of being an artist. But even at the lowest points, I try to remember that a high point will come back around. When I reflect on it though, I see this mantra as being more part of a practice and not part of a mindset. Because I’ve worked through depressions, anxieties, and even feelings of love. My mindset is constantly changing, but my practice of persistence stays the same.