Angela Bi is a Chinese American artist who originally hails from California. As she gets ready to attend college in the fall, Angela tells us about her long-standing interest in the arts, how her Asian identity influences her art, and her intricate creative process.
Alefiya: Tell us about yourself!
Angela: Umm...so, my name is Angela. (laughs) I’m an only child. I was born in California, and then I moved from California to Shanghai in fourth grade, and then moved back for sixth grade. And then for high school, I moved to Massachusetts, and I’ve been going to a boarding school for the last four years. Over the course of high school, my main two interests have been bio and art. So I’m going to Berkeley for bio next year, and I’m planning to do bio and business, but that’s still up in the air. (laughs) Obviously, art has been a huge part of my life, so yeah.
Alefiya: Wow, that’s really cool! Congratulations on Berkeley!
Alefiya: So what does your Asian identity mean to you?
Angela: So, I made a TikTok based on an exhibition I did. I wanted to focus on not really the negative parts of being Asian, but more of just the culture and language and food of it. I think for me, especially being Asian American, I use food and sometimes language and specific parts of the culture to reclaim my Chinese identity and connect with my relatives. Because, you know, my [immediate] family is the only family who lives in US, and I’m basically the only one who knows English more fluently than Chinese out of all the kids in our family. So food has always been a way to connect with my grandparents, my great aunts, you know. We always eat Chinese food, and that’s what my exhibition focused on.
Alefiya: Yeah, I completely relate to that. My parents were the first in my family to immigrate to America as well and food and recipes is definitely a way to connect and relate to each other. So you sort of already covered what I was gonna ask next, which was ‘how does your Asian identity show up in your art?’, so I guess we can move on.
Alefiya: How did you get into art in the first place?
Angela: Ummm...so I think I was wildly interested in art from a very young age. But, I think what actually got me into art was watching anime. (laughs) My friend introduced me to the anime Bleach in, I think, fourth grade. Starting from fourth grade on, I had this two year period of just replicating the anime style and seeing what I could do with it, and then I started branching off. I was drawing, like, every single day. I think that’s how I was able to develop both a stable interest in art and also my own skills. I joined Instagram for art around 4th-6th grade. I found a community for art through that. I used to join a lot of, like sort of clubs on Instagram for art. I used to do a lot of fanart for anime and my interest in anime has really always fueled my interest in art. I started doing more realistic art in, I think, seventh grade, when my parents signed me up for an after-school program, which was more of technical stuff. My other serious push to do art, especially political cartoons, is in sophomore year [of high school] when I was taking an introductory art class, and there was a New York Times editorial cartoon contest that our teacher made mandatory. I ended up being one of the winners, so that was just another push for me to take my art more seriously. And then after that, I got a role in my school newspaper making political cartoons, so yeah.
Alefiya: Wow, that’s really cool. You talked about the different sorts of styles of art you do, but what about mediums? What mediums do you usually use and do you have a favorite?
Angela: So, for more, like, realistic type stuff, I think definitely acrylic is my favorite. I did a lot of oil painting in Shanghai, but then after I moved back to California, I didn’t really have access to oil painting, so I started with acrylic again. It’s just a medium that I’m really comfortable with. I don’t really do anime art with acrylic, but I do like to use digital tools for anime and political cartoons.
Alefiya: Nice. Can you tell us more about your creative process- how do you sort of plan your pieces out, where do your ideas come from, etc?
Angela: Usually, most of my pieces start with sketches in my sketchbook. I use those ideas and transfer it to a painting. Most of them start off with just, like, brainstorming and writing. Like, “paper cutting related to the idea of family”. And then I research the topic and get inspiration from that. I create a web on my sketchbook and then that eventually leads to me planning out the piece. That’s sort of the process it took for most of the pieces in my exhibition. But then, of course for some other pieces, it was just like a spontaneous sketch in my book and it turned out really good.
Alefiya: Do you think art will play a large part in your future? I know you said you’re planning on doing bio and business at Berkeley...
Angela: So at the end of the college decisions season, I ended up with three choices. One of them was a dual degree program at Tufts, um, I got rejected (laughs) at CMU for bio, but I got into art, which is sort of big because their art program is pretty big. But I ended up choosing Berkeley- I talked to my advisor, who was my art teacher at the time and she said that, like, whatever I did, I would still be doing art on the side. I felt more reassured after that, like I don’t really need to go to art school to still do art. More technical skills could help me with art anyway too, like if I learned more about business like creating a website and marketing would be way more useful to me than learning how to sculpt a head from clay. I’ll never need that. I already have a set medium and style. Art will definitely play a large part of my future, but it’s all up in the air, you know.
Alefiya: Of course, yeah. Nothing has to be decided or finalized right now.
Alefiya: Do you have a favorite piece you’ve created?
Angela: I started experimenting with paper cutting and I took inspiration from traditional paper cuts that you post on the window during [Chinese] New Year and [Chinese] zodiacs. My mom and my dad are both dogs, their zodiac animals. So I represented their animals with the paper cut and sort of told about their journey and immigration to America. It was a cool research opportunity too. I also made a zodiac paper cutting that represented my own self with a horse and sheep zodiac animals.
Alefiya: Oh yeah, I love those too, especially the paper cutting. It’s so intricate.
Alefiya: Okay, last question. What’s one thing you hope people take away from your art when they look at it?
Angela: Hmmm...well, okay, so the goal of my exhibition at least, was not to create a remark on all Asian people, or even all Chinese people or Chinese American people. It’s supposed to be a glimpse into my family and my personal experience with my culture. So that’s an aspect that I really want to convey, sort of an intimate view into my experiences.