Yang Fan: 'when you document life through non-verbal forms... it’s closer to its essence'

We spoke to the artist following the opening of her solo exhibition

Yang Fan is better known for her music than her visual art. She started making her name from age 15 as founding guitarist and principal songwriter for Hang on the Box, a feminist punk band that presaged a sea change in Beijing rock'n'roll and landed Yang’s face on a 1998 cover of American magazine Newsweek. After leaving Hang on the Box, Yang Fan fell into the early D-22 scene and formed her second band, Ourself Beside Me, which released a self-titled album in 2008 that would prove influential for a new generation of young musicians.

These days, Yang Fan works as a solo artist, a composer for film and theatrical plays, a producer and a live performer. In her spare time, she makes tripped-out black-and-white ink drawings that inhabit a strange place between fantasy and memory, dream and waking logic.

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When did you begin to draw or make your own visual art?
I’ve been into drawing ever since I was a kid, I’d always draw on textbooks or on walls. So I’ve had this habit of drawing for a long time.

Is there a certain theme connecting the works in this exhibit?
The exhibit’s name is Trip Jigsaw, and it’s my second solo show. I did one in Helsinki in 2014 under the same name. There’s nothing specifically connecting all these works together, but they’re all random observations of real life.

Can you explain that name, 'Trip Jigsaw'?
When you’re trying to recall something in your memory, usually it’s not accurate. Often we add false memories, or things that other people tell us, or even things we dream about, we add these all into our memories. Fitting these conflicting memories together is an interesting way of storytelling to me.

Much of your drawing work hints at psychological themes, like death and sexuality. How do these psychological factors express themselves through your drawing?
Drawing is something really emotional for me. I think there are two major themes in everyone’s life: one is the fear of death; the second is our sexual urge. They’re like two ends of a balance. If you have more fear of death, your drawings will seem darker. If you have more sexual urges, things will seem happier.

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Are there any artists that have particularly influenced your drawing style?
I like a lot of artists… Bosch, Bruegel, medieval artists. In their time they weren’t considered 'surrealist' but they had a comparable aesthetic. Another artist I really like is Goya, especially his late Black Paintings, which are much more fantastical than his earlier work for wealthy patrons.

What about modern artists? You recently played the opening party for the new Andy Warhol show, has he influenced you as either an artist or musician?
The most inspiring thing about Andy Warhol to me is that he doesn’t just take art as art, but rather takes the operation behind art as art itself. He made that an art form in its own right, and that idea has really influenced me.

Will you create an exhibition catalogue or other merchandise related to Trip Jigsaw?
At the very least we’ll have an artist book with drawings not included in the exhibit. We might do another one including some of the paintings shown in the exhibit, and a general introduction to the art and to me.
We’re also thinking about making t-shirts or bags with some of the paintings on them. We’re trying to figure out what we can make where the commercial value matches the artistic value.

Is there a connection between your music and visual art?
Yes, there is. My music and my art are created with the same set of emotions. They’re like my diaries. I think that when you document life through non-verbal forms, such as music and visual art, it’s closer to its essence. I’ve also done a few live scores for screenings of silent films. Every image in a film has its own internal emotion and external rhythms, and these are both things that I can express through music.
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