With over 70 pieces in the mixed-media exhibit, Jean Chen’s collection “Stir Fry” is available for viewing at the University of Washington’s School of Social Work through December 30.
Bellevue Club (BC): What was the primary inspiration behind the collection?
Jean Chen (JC): [My] inspiration comes mostly from Asian art, culture, crafts, landscape, and outspoken Chinese artists who portray their political world. However, I have also taken photographs in Morocco, Washington, D.C., Indonesia, Australia, and the United States. So my inspiration comes from many sources.
BC: What made you choose to use mixed media?
JC: I am always thrilled to discover new technology (adhesives, architectural materials, metals etc.) that artists find useful in creating collages, acrylic paintings, fabric surfaces, and more. I find it difficult to limit myself to one medium. My mother was an accountant but very creative. She sewed, embroidered, reupholstered furniture, crocheted, painted, made pottery, and drew, so I follow her custom and mighty footsteps!
BC: Speaking of your media choice, can you explain to our readers what a sumi-e painting is?
JC: Sumi-e is an elegant Japanese form of painting using black ink ground from an ink stick. It is about the beauty and action of the brush stroke, which is loaded with varying amounts of water and ink to achieve shades of grey and ideally portraying emotion and subject matter full of life and energy with the simplest of strokes. I study sumi-e with Midori Thiel at the Seattle Buddhist Church, where she teaches.
BC: Why did you choose to show your art at the University of Washington School of Social Work Gallery? Are you a teacher/student there?
JC: I earned my Master’s in social work from UW SSW. It surprised some of them that the exhibit was by an artist and a former social worker, and that I was supported in my degree by the Boeing Company, where I worked for 12 years. During those years, I also remodeled three houses. After all, I graduated from Cornell University's College of Architecture, Art and City Planning. After I left Boeing, I worked as a social worker with parents adopting children from China and the United States.
BC: What excites you most about creating art?
JC: The creation of art and architecture is an age-old human pastime. Art can be about storytelling, life priorities, documentation of a society, and more. I am excited to be a small part of this tradition of creating art and hope to document and tell a story. It is simply most pleasurable to create my work, whether others see the work or not. What saddens me is to see that some people create products which harm people and civilization, such as assault rifles.
BC: You mentioned your art being an expression of two cultures, east and west. Have you lived in both parts of the world? Where is your hometown?
JC: I was born in Chongxing, China, but I do not consider it my hometown since my mother is from Beijing (north) and my father from Guangzhou (south). Also, I grew up in New York City, and graduated from two New York universities, so I consider it to be my first hometown. I loved Washington, D.C., where I spent 13 years and consider it a second hometown. I have been a resident of Queen Anne since 1986 and worked at Boeing until 1999, so Seattle is my current and third hometown!
BC: What do you like most about Bellevue and the Pacific Northwest?
JC: I enjoy the water and sea life, plus the mountains, old-growth trees, Northwest seafood cuisine, and people I meet. Bellevue Art Museum, Lincoln Square and Bellevue Club are my favorite Bellevue places.
The exhibit is located at UW School of Social Work Gallery (1st floor), 4101 15th Avenue NE and is available for viewing until December 30.