CNCREATE caught up with Nissa Kauppila and asked her some questions about her work, life in China and what have been her influences throughout her career. Here is what she had to say.
Q: How did you start in art in the first place? Was it an encounter you had at a young age? Or something you were involved in when growing up?
A: I really began creating art as soon as I could hold onto a paintbrush. It’s just something that’s been ingrained in me—like most people who have a passion for music, or the sciences, or whatnot, there’s not really a defining moment that stands out in my memory. Just stacks of paintings my parents saved over the years beginning from the very earliest years, that prove my devotion to the arts.
Q: You use a lot of nature in your works. What was the basis of this? Did you grow up in a rural environment or were inspired by a series of art from a particular individual?
A: I do use quite a bit of nature in my work, which really comes down to my sense of curiosity for the natural world. I grew up in the forests of Monkton, Vermont, on a lake—our town had a population of approximately 1500, with a handful of paved roads, most of them dirt. So you can imagine how closely immersed I was in nature; the woods, the lake, the mountains—these were all my playground, my inspiration. But beyond the fact that I grew up in this environment, my parents instilled in me a great appreciation for the natural world. Each walk in the woods with my father was a field trip of uncountable discoveries and possibilities, from the trees around me, to the skeletal remains of some small creature. It was all sacred and beautiful, items to be approached and appreciated with the gentlest of awe. I still have this, this awe of the smallest and most delicate living things. It is this that forms the basis and approach I take to the content and themes of my paintings.
Q: What methods do you use to get inspiration to do your work? And what is your MO to get the results you wish?
A: I am quite simply an observer. Observing the natural world, the way colours appear around me–this is the basis for my inspiration. There is such a focused scaffolding to how things are created and the way things grow, and yet the end result is something so beautiful and almost chaotic, (as seen in perhaps a butterfly wing, or the veins of a petal) that it is in this way I create my work. I begin with a focus, which could a bird, or a dried up leaf, and from there the painting takes form in whatever way it will. I do no plan out my works ahead of time, they grow throughout the process. This has always been the way I tackle my work.
Q: What made you come to China to make your series of works? Something you were inspired by or an encounter?
A: I came to China quite simply because my work has a very Chinese feeling to it—this has been something observed of my work for many years. I’m not sure how to explain where this style came from or why, it’s just a part of my painting technique. After several visits to China and from speaking with gallery professionals both in and out of China, I decided to make the move to introduce my work to this side of the globe and allow the environment and my experiences here to inform my work as I evolve as an artist.
Q: If someone asked you to describe your work how would you describe it? To create a picture in the person’s head.
A: Hah, I’m often asked to describe my work, this has always been a tricky area for me. Most often I describe it as a combination of traditional Chinese painting techniques and contemporary realism… with content and themes involving nature and more specifically flight.
Q: Have you found anyone here that does similar works to your style. And have you seen anything here that has changed your perspective on your own artwork?
A: I haven’t actually seen any other artists doing work similar to mine. I don’t mean that to sound vain by any means, I just honestly haven’t. There’s something unique about the amount of negative, or white space, I use in each composition and the attention to realistic detail juxtaposed to very chaotic brush strokes. My perspective on my work changes on an almost weekly basis, heh, from observing ancient Chinese paintings to attending contemporary fairs such as Art Basel—it’s the only way one can grow as an artist.
Q: How has your experience in China been? Have you been surprised by what you have seen in terms of creativity from the young new generation of artists?
A: My experience in China has been one that would take much more than a paragraph to describe. I actually haven’t been able to see too many “young” artists here, most of the people I have met with and painted with have been in the art world for quite sometime. I suppose one of my biggest surprises was actually painting with an older master painter in Foshan—it was he that taught me about the sense of spirituality behind the art of painting and how one goes about painting with the full notion that every movement of the paintbrush means something different, something real or ethereal. That each pause and quickness of movement is as important to the painting as a whole as the composition itself—painting, therefore, becomes a practice of meditation, a sense of self and how one fits into the natural world. The surprise for me in this was the fact that I see little of this today, in younger artists, in myself—this notion of serenity around painting.
Q: Tell us about your latest series of works. What did you do differently in this series compared to the last series?
A: In my latest works I suppose I have really begun to emphasis detail in ways I haven’t done before, while at the same time incorporating more traditional Chinese brush strokes and techniques. I’ve been having fun with this combination of styles, it’s becoming more noticeable and setting me a bit apart in the art world due to my being American and yet painting with a very Asian style.
Q: What are your plans for the future? Are you going to go into different forms of art or go into different fields of creativity?
A: My future plans are to work bigger—much much bigger. I would like to start working on pieces two meters by two meters and even bigger, and I have found some specialty paper makers who can create hand-made rice paper in these larger sizes for me. It’s been something I’ve wanted to do for a while, but still in keeping with the use of traditional water colors and inks. I also have a number of series I will begin on that will be incorporating some stronger themes and narratives—but I can’t go into what these are just yet.
Q: What advice would you give to anyone starting a career as an artist? Or a career here in China?
A: Oh goodness. Immersion first and foremost—breaking out into the art world does not happen overnight and experience in itself goes a long way to setting one apart in the art world. China currently has a number of prosperous artist in residency programs I have heard about and I would encourage any young artist to check these out—I’m sure it’s a great way to meet folks in the art world here and to find communities of like-minded people. Aside from that it’s all about networking and making sure to stay abreast with what’s happening in the gallery world both here in the mainland and around South East Asia. Hong Kong and Singapore are both great cities to visit to get a sense of just what is trending in the arts in this part of the globe.