Washington

Maggie Jiang’s Bright Abstractions Aim for the Gestalt

The most recent work from Seattle-based artist Maggie Jiang grabs viewers with its striking, sharp, geometric patterns, but it holds their attention with its softer, subtler, more organic touches. That tension makes her work impossible to turn away from, and it’s on full display in her digital cover for The Stranger this week. 

You can see much more of it at her solo show, I-Ching Through Thick and Thin, which runs through July 20 at the J. Rinehart Gallery. Late last week, I chatted with Jiang about color, philosophy, and her future.

Do you have any unique goals for your solo show at J. Rinehart Gallery?

My current show is of enormous importance to me as an emerging artist. I have always been interested in the Gestalt Theory of Perception, which asserts that the brain is capable of filling in perceptual “blank spots” using information already available to it. The saying that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” is derived from this theory. My intention is to achieve Gestalt not only within each individual painting, but also when viewing the entire body of work together. My gallery did a fantastic job installing the show, thus allowing this Gestalt effect to happen, and I am very proud and appreciative of the effort they made. 

What’s something the average person doesn’t know about (or from) the I-Ching?

The I-Ching, also known as the Book of Changes, is an ancient Chinese text of divination, historically used by scholars, emperors, and laymen to foresee the future. It utilizes 64 hexagrams, which are formed using combinations of trigrams consisting of groups of three broken and unbroken lines. Broken lines are “yin” and solid lines are “yang,” and there are a total of eight possible trigrams: Qian (Heaven, 乾, ☰), Dui (Lake, 兌, ☱), Li (Fire, 離, ☲), Zhen (Thunder, 震, ☳), Xun (Wind, 巽, ☴), Kan (Water, 坎, ☵), Gen (Mountain, 艮, ☶), and Kun (Earth, 坤, ☷). Since each hexagram is composed of two trigrams, there are a total of 64 hexagrams in total, each with a different meaning and interpretation. 

Your work feels very formal and precise, but up close there is tremendous nuance and subtle irregularities from the human hand. Can you share how that duality relates to, or is inspired by the I-Ching?

What a great question, and thanks for asking it. Finding the balance between “analysis vs. intuition” or “chance vs. control” is of the utmost interest and importance in my creative process. The I-Ching as a book of philosophy is therefore very relevant to this specific concern. A viewer via digital screens might find that my paintings communicate precision and complete control, however upon closer examination, the traces of human hand become readily apparent, as well as the hint of chance decisions in the creative process. 

Furthermore, I also consider my paintings as sculpted surfaces. This element of the work announces itself right away to viewers who can experience my paintings in person. In fact, if one chooses to install one of the paintings from this exhibition on the floor, the sculptural quality of my paintings will become even more pronounced. 

I’d be tremendously stressed out to see one of your paintings on the floor!

Hahaha, would an association with Carl Andre’s work put your mind better at ease for this scenario? Although I wouldn’t want viewers to actually step on my paintings. 

Relationship (and sometimes tension) between colors seems like a major aspect of this body of work as well. Can you talk about what you’re exploring and expressing through color?

Color is a very important element in my work. Conceptually, I don’t use color to “depict” a preexisting form or space. In other words, color is not secondary or merely a means to an end for me. Instead, my intention is for colors in my work to have a real physical presence in and of themselves, so that they can create a unique visual and bodily experience on their own.

In terms of color relationships, I am less interested in “color harmony” per se. Instead, I am more interested in finding color relationships that can surprise and jolt viewers. My goal is to generate perceptual and emotional responses of wonder, curiosity, uncertainty and sometimes even disorientation. 

You might also say that I have drunk Josef Albers’s Kool-Aid in color theories. The key in Albers’s teaching is that color is relational and contextual, so that color identities are never truly fixed. In this exhibition, there are many examples of a color appearing the same perceptually in different panels of a painting, although in reality they are not.  The reverse is also true, with there being cases when a color appears very differently in different panels, despite being the exact same mixture in reality. The reason I built these subtleties into the paintings is to encourage viewers to discover new aspects of each painting over time. 

What do you have planned for the fall show at the Asian Pacific Cultural Center? 

My show with Asian Pacific Cultural Center in Tacoma will be on view in November and December this year. The plan is to show a newer body of work that I have begun to develop, which—while visually and conceptually connected to the I-Ching—represents an organic evolution into the next phase of my visual inquires. In fact, the last painting I completed for the current exhibition is already pointing me to the path forward. So, onward! 


Maggie Jiang’s I-Ching Through Thick and Thin runs at the J. Rinehart Gallery through July 20. The gallery will host a First Thursday reception with the artist on July 7 from 5 to 8 pm. 


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