Heather Ujiie fills us in on her body of work in the Summer '23 exhibition: “Lost in Paradise”.
What initially brought you to art?
I grew up in a family of artists, so for me, I was surrounded by the process of artmaking my entire life. Both my parents were painters and showed their work in SOHO in NYC in the 1970s before Chelsea broke out into the art scene. My father was a professor at Pratt and Brooklyn College, so I have always said I had the best art education at home, including my father’s immense library of artbooks, our never-ending discussions on philosophy, art and life. My childhood was a continuous exploration of the “exquisite corpse” surrealist games, and I was always taught by both my parents to question the status quo and always seek out truth. But aside from this, I would say a pivotal moment occurred when I visited the Metropolitan Museum’s Cloisters, and I discovered the Unicorn Tapestries. The magic of the medieval textile tapestries I feel lead me to textiles and large scale panoramic landscapes.
What imagery has historically interested you and why?
I love history and global culture. In the last few years, I have focused more on Persian, Japanese, and South Asian art, for most of my visual inspiration. The period of history I love the most is from the 10th century-19th century. In past years, I have done a lot of visual research on Renaissance art and have drawn from historical artists such as Andrea Mantegna and Albrecht Durer. Most of the subject matter I gravitate towards deals with pivotal moments of violence or love, and gestures that define the human condition.
How has your process evolved in the last 5 to 10 years?
I am both an artist and a designer, and I have led many lives in terms of my career. When I lived in NYC I designed avant-garde costumes for off-off Broadway productions, and experimental theater. I wanted to be a dancer and one point and traveled in performative social circles. I also worked in the textile print industry for 15 years, prior to moving to Philadelphia and teaching at Moore College of Art & Design. I would say in the last few years I have strived to complete the circle of creative work so that I can build experimental figurative fiber works, make large scale digitally printed textile installations, and still create wallpaper patterns and textile design, My process is both analog and digital and I enjoy painting vignettes, building bigger than life fantastic creatures, and the digital design process. My goal the last few years is to bring all these things together in my work, and possibly collaborate with some kind of performative piece in the future.
What, or who, has had the most influence on your work?
I see the world around me a fluid pool to draw from in the art & design world. Fashion, Interior Design, graphic design, the entertainment industry offers a wealth of visual inspiration in terms of style and color. I also love the contemporary art world and make a point of going to many of the shows in New York and Philadelphia. Artists such as Wengechi Mutu, and Firelei Baez, Nick Cave are just a few of the many diverse and international artists work I am examining and viewing. There is no one definitive artist that has influenced my work, and I can say it is not only the artists, but the context to ideas that informs my work. For example, the current climate of advocacy for race and gender has had a huge impact on my work. My work is also informed by embracing biodiversity and nature studies speaks to combating polluting our planet and preventing climate change. I love sci-fi and fantasy, and am always visually alluding to fantastic otherworldly environments and creatures. Being creative is about studying the world around you, from reading stories, listening to music, to analyzing innovative scientific discoveries, to appreciating the smallest and humblest of life forms. Everything in our world, effects your creative voice.
What has surprised you about your practice?
My biggest surprise about my practice is the time it takes to create anything. Nothing is immediate. We must fail many times, to get the right desired outcome. I am always surprised how much time I spend to create anything I am satisfied with. It takes forever.
What is your identity at large? Do you think about this a lot in relation to your art?
I see my identity as fluid, and non-conforming. I just make my work, and I don’t think about who I am, and I just create my narratives and the stories that unfold happen naturally and organically. I have never lived my life according to binary thinking of male and female, black and white, and therefore, I simply embrace all creeds, cultures and identities and strive to celebrate all that is beautiful around me, and within my inner voice.
What is your most precious takeaway from this exhibition?
I really wanted to have an exhibition in the heart of Philadelphia, since many of my solo shows the last few years have been outside of Philly. I really appreciate the J.O.G. gallery for hosting this exhibition, and much of the work came out of the “Pandemic” years, so I am grateful that I had a chance to show it. The most precious take-away would be that I feel happy that I developed body of work that I feel has merit and meaning and was well received by the Philadelphia art community.