Feng Jin: Artist on Fire
Written by: Stacey Louiso / Photos provided by: Lauren Huang
One never knows what to expect when meeting an artist in person. Some are shy introverts, others outrageous extroverts. Their work is often a reflection of their soul: frantic, serene, intense, playful or tragic. Feng Jin is no exception. He is warm, funny and energetic: Infectious.
Jin’s personality is a combination of serenity, intensity and that of a fun-loving, family oriented man. He is as unique and interesting as the twists and curves of the lively metal sculptures he creates.
Jin’s home and art are one. He shares his life with wife Lauren Huang, who is also exemplary. She dedicates herself to their life together as wife and mother of their two young sons while taking on the job of Jin’s manager, PR rep and even curator of showings and openings. The couple is the epitome of yin and yang.
Entering their home completely demonstrates the mutual dedication to Jin’s art and their livelihood. Sculpture often fills the main rooms of their home which becomes his gallery, giving new meaning to the term “open house” as they welcome friends, collectors and those new to Jin’s following, to open studios & receptions at their home in Alameda, CA.
It is an impressive display of aesthetically pleasing work from over the years. Shadows of his sculptures dance across the walls, some done purposefully—his series of sculptures titled “Shadow Dancing” are meant to cast shadows when placed before a plain, light colored wall. These are just a glimpse into the mind of Feng Jin: His creativity and passion nakedly evident.
Jin came to the US from China 13 years ago. Born in Harbin, China in 1966, the son of a machinist of Korean decent, his creativity blossomed early. He didn’t choose his medium (metal) he was born into it. As a child he fell in love with the tools his father used at work. He quickly learned to use them and even adjust them for his own purpose. He experimented with the different types of metal available to him. This led him to art school.
Jin studied at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing (BA, Sculpture), China’s number one art institute (with an acceptance rate of only 1:10,000); here he was encouraged by professors to pursue his love of metal arts when no program existed to teach him. During the protests of Tienanmen Square, he was responsible for the designs of the “Goddess of Democracy” sculpture erected during the uprising. After graduating, Jin went on to teach sculpture, sketch and anatomy at Beijing Xuan Wu Hong Qi Vocational University, then moving on to work as a Supervisor of Design & Production at the Beijing Urban Environment Art Institute.
In 1997, after arriving in the U.S. and settling in San Francisco, CA, Jin worked full-time for a family owned machine shop. He was happy- the job at least related to his art. The owner of the shop (an Italian immigrant) was supportive of Jin’s dreams and allowed him to use the equipment and left over materials to create sculpture in his spare time.
Shortly after, he met Lauren Huang through friends. She, a writer and graphic artist who was beginning her freelance career writing columns for Chinese newspapers, providing translation and also creating graphic design. They found commonalities and joined forces to market Jin’s work.
In the year 2000, Jin marked the new millennium by officially becoming a full time artist. Upon doing so he made a conscious choice that his art would never again be used to make political statements. Rather for pure aesthetics, he confides, “my sculpture is an intimate dialogue between a human and the boundless strength of metal, an expression of all the thoughts, emotions, dreams, passions, destinies and desires that are constantly bouncing out of my mind.” Jin also made another big decision; he and Huang were married that same year.
Creating a sculpture, for Jin, is creating life. Every nook and curve is pounded and smoothed by hand in a process he has perfected. The end product is the result of a lot of effort, thought and foresight on Jin’spart. His work is exquisite and elegant. Even if you aren’t a connoisseur of sculpture, you will be drawn in by the pure artistry of his designs. Jin rarely brings a sole piece to fruition; instead an entire series is birthed around a theme of his own imagining.
Jin works with steel, bronze, brass and copper. “My metal sculptures include both non-representational and representational sculptures: figures, curved lines, shapes and abstract forms are common themes. My influences include David Smith, whose work I was introduced to, while an art student in China. While not many Western metal sculptors were introduced in China during the early 80's, Smith's strong compositions from steel and 'found' scrap material made significant impressions on me.”
He elaborates, “I love stainless steel, it has tendency to 'fight back' before yielding to form. Material with such special characters enables a sculptor like me not to come out of a specific design when making a sculpture. Sometimes I allow the metal itself to tell me what to do and I'll come out with something that shows what it [the metal] wants to be. Using my so-called 'open-minded sculpting' technique, I often start with sheet metal, mostly without any drafts or sketches, and begin free-handcutting, rolling, bending, hammering, heating, grinding, and welding. The final finish may be natural, textural, high-polished, or a patina.”
On the occasion he does create a solo piece, it is usually larger than life such as a commission he received from the Scientific Art Studio in Richmond, CA, titled “The Dubai Project”. This project started out as a giant hollow ball of stainless steel that was then cut open and welded down to the final “capsule” which sits nestled on a base of white quartz crystals. The design was eminently different than Jin’s other works, and he has created large-scale pieces, such as his “Rising” series. Some of his larger pieces are on display at Wildwood Farm Sculpture Garden, in Kenwood, CA ("New Born" arrives at Wildwood Farm). But Jin dreams of someday having all of his large works displayed in a sculpture garden so they can “live freely”.
Jin and Huang are constantly pursuing opportunities for his work to be seen by the public. Past shows have included showings at numerous museums and galleries around the San Francisco Bay Area, Las Vegas, NV and various venues in Arizona. He also does the occasional installation as well as duo shows with other Asian artist’s working in the Bay Area. Thus far 2008 has proven to be busy for them. The year started at a group exhibitiontitled “All Fired Up” in Santa Clara, CA, by spring many more exhibits were on the agenda going into autumn. Next-up, from Sept-October a solo exhibit entitled, “The Heart Sutra” at the San Leandro Historical Museum and Art Gallery which will showcase one of Jin’s more abstract statuesque series. Jin is also on the schedule for winter 2008 into 2009 (Oct. 08-Jan 09), at Stanford Art Space, Stanford University, in a four artist, Group Exhibition.
Success in the US, he hopes, may also carry over and bring recognition in his homeland, for in 2008 Jin’s art arrived in Asia, appropriately, to Beijing. “A collector recommended my work to Guardian Auction House, which is China’s equivalent to Christie’s or Sotheby’s, and they accepted my work. It is very prestigious to be introduced through an auction house in China—it means the artist is now in the international artists ‘bluebook’.” But, Jin explains, “As an artist, success for me is to be able to create sculpture full-time and to have the ability to support myself and my family (plus my ill parents and some relatives in China) by selling what I've created; in addition to having a certain amount of collectors. I've lived in the U.S. for 13 years. During the past 11 years I've persevered at creating sculptures and making a living as a professional artist. As an immigrant artist I think the success means he/she doesn't give up his/her profession and dream.”
For more information or to view more photos of Feng Jin’s work please visit: Feng Jin in the photo gallery.
Special thanks to Lauren Huang for assisting with translation and providing information for this article.