Drawing On The Past: Interview with Artist Mandy Tsung


My friends at Herschel Supply and I launched an art project a few weeks ago called “Drawing On The Past”. We want you to draw a person, place, or thing, that’s had a positive impact on your life. It’s open to anyone to join, so do it! As a little extra incentive we’ll be giving away Herschel products to some random lucky people just for submitting to the project! Get the full instructions HERE.

This drawing above is a submission to our project by Vancouver-based artist, Mandy Tsung. If you’re in town she will be painting at SNAG tonight.

She wrote: “Russell Alton changed my life. He moved to be with me in Vancouver shortly after we became a couple 5 years ago and, since then, I’ve become a better person. Because of him, I’m more socially conscious and politically minded, more outspoken about my beliefs, more confident in myself. Our life together seems nearly effortless as we both follow our dreams of making a life out of our art. He reminds me to be less serious and helps me to enjoy every day.”

Interview with Mandy Tsung

Jeff Hamada: I read that you were born in Banff and then grew up in Calgary, does Vancouver feel like home now?

Mandy Tsung: Vancouver has been more of a home than anywhere else in that I feel like I fit in here. The people here and the community of artists have been very welcoming. Having spent the majority of my life in Calgary, I was always dreaming about escaping, for a variety of reasons. Whereas Vancouver is always a pleasure to come back to.

JH: What’s your favourite part about living in Vancouver?

MS: I love Vancouver because it’s so lush and green all year round. I can go out and enjoy nature whenever I want. Living here has enabled me to live more frugally because simple pleasures are everywhere.

JH: That’s my favourite part too; I think I’ll always need to live in a city where I can get outside and into nature really easily. Do you have any pets?

MS: I don’t own any pets myself, but I foster cats. It’s really wonderful to watch an animal gain trust in you and to help it socialize so that it can be a good pet to someone else. I definitely get attached to every cat but I think it’s important to learn how to let them go. It helps me to appreciate the time I have with them and not take them for granted.

JH: If you could go back in time, to when you were just fresh out of school, and give advice to yourself what would it be?

MS: I guess I would tell myself to enjoy a few years of unadulterated freedom and not worry too much about getting into a career. I spent a lot of time after school trying to find a “thing” that would make me money – fashion design, wearable crafts, kaleidoscopes, etc. My family are all entrepreneurs so that mindset came naturally. In the end, it was when I wasn’t thinking about how to monetize my skills that I found my calling. I was recovering from knee surgery and began doing big figurative drawings. I was so enthralled with them that I couldn’t stop, and that was when I knew I’d found it.

JH: What people or things are inspiring you these days? Can you talk a little bit about one or two specific things, and how they’re directly or indirectly influencing your work?

MS: I’ve been feeling the need to grow lately, so I went to some demos at Opus by Cori Creed and Justin Ogilvie. Getting to watch them working was incredibly beneficial, more so than just reading about techniques and looking at art online. Things really clicked right after I watched them.

JH: When I was younger I never used to draw real things because I didn’t like it when people told me that wasn’t how they were supposed to look. Do you ever feel any extra pressure when you’re painting a portrait of a real person as opposed to a mythical creature?

MS: I think I use realism as a safety net. I have a hard time being objective about my work, so if it at least looks realistic I can hold into that, otherwise I don’t know what is good or bad. As I’ve begun to move away from realism by using unusual colours and animals, it has been very freeing and I spend much less time worrying about getting things to look “perfect”.

JH: Do you make sculptures anymore?

MS: I do sculpt now and then. It’s not traditional sculpture, but I’ve been working on a ball-jointed doll for a long time and a lot of ideas that I have revolve around it. I’ve had ideas to incorporate sculpture into my paintings as well but my home studio doesn’t allow for power tools or anything too big. It’s hard to find time when painting is paying the bills and the limited income means I can’t be frivolous with materials.

JH: Has making a living off of the thing you love taken any of the fun out of it? How do you keep a balance?

MS: I would be making art regardless of whether it made me any money, and a big part of creating, for me, is showing other people – it’s how I communicate. I keep it from feeling like a job by always giving myself room to experiment and learn. It’s vital that my work doesn’t become an enactment of a routine. As soon as I feel like my paintings are becoming mechanical; like I am simply a robot, I switch things up. Sometimes I worry that my work looks inconsistent or unfocused because of this, but I’d rather feel passionate about what I’m doing every day.

JH: I can really identify with that. It’s a lot harder to develop a recognizable style if you keep changing things up, but it’s easy to get bored doing the same thing over and over. I think a person can slowly trap themselves in a style and one day realize it’s not actually fun anymore. I usually end interviews by asking what’s something you wanna do by the end of the year, and what’s something you wanna do by the end of your life?

MS: By the end of the year I would like to have a show/work schedule nailed down so I can move to Berlin in the next few years! By the end of my life I’d like be able to say that I made a real difference in the world, however that may come about. Perhaps that I’ve influenced public policy on the environment, or gender equality, or racial politics. Something like that.

Mandy Tsung on Tumblr

Mandy Tsung on Instagram

If you would like to participate in the “Drawing On The Past” project it’s open to anyone and we’d love to have you. Full project instructions HERE.

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