Interview by Lily Agius

“This painting relates to my experience with my wife Zoya – floating in the air, relaxed...” Jason explains. I ask him why he has been represented much smaller in this by comparison with Zoë, and his quick response was, with a smile and a kind ‘Jason giggle’: “Because she is more important. She is the bigger part of my life.” He continued to point out that he had a little pink cow in the picture: “I like cows. This is a happy piece from two years ago. We are in the city but also the countryside – we are here but also in our own world, basically.” This was a good introduction for me to his studio – having now already been taken into the world of Jason Lu, within his bubble of art, his unabashed love of life and his infectious sense of humour. Walking around his studio with him and his Chinese friend he met at school in America – who had just arrived for a few days – I learnt the extent to which ‘art’ imitates Jason’s life.

inward-movement_jasonlu“Back in Taiwan, I never did much art – I never had the chance to, except doodling. However, I moved to America when I was 15 and that is when I started learning a little bit here and there. When I was about 16, I was introduced to watercolour and the colour pencil, among other mediums, at school, but High School offered art programmes, teaching two and three-dimensional art including bronze casting, pottery, enamelling and oil painting. These are basic things that I still use to today. Painting, however, is a skill that I studied in Florence. I started painting from scratch in Florence, going back to basics in drawing, from academic drawing at the most basic level right up to oil painting, at the same time as doing academic sculpture. I then jumped back to The States and did my major in computer arts, which was mostly web design, graphic design and computer animation. I have not touched any of these programmes in about 12 years or so now. Computer arts are, of course, a real art, but it depends on your own personality and I prefer to get my hands dirty.

“Art is an extension of me, and that’s part of why I became an artist. When I was in The States I couldn’t really speak English and actually, somehow, I communicated through drawing for the first two years, so I really discovered the power of art as communication. Since I couldn’t do much else, I focused on art, and it helped me grow very quickly with different mediums.”

“Maybe, since I was first trained in The States, I don’t really attach myself to any medium. Perhaps if you study in Italy you specialise in one field, but in The States they teach you to be more open and to do more experimental things. This could be why I have ideas that are sparked by different mediums and why I change styles so often – styles can be very dangerous. For me, style is a comfort zone. I feel that if you stick to one style, you fail to grow. What is fun about true art is that you are not responsible to anyone. It is more about yourself and the artwork, and I think your art grows with you like an extension of your mentality.

“As a professional artist, I survive by teaching. That way I don’t need to manipulate the artwork to satisfy the viewer and instead can create what I want to create. So, I don’t need to worry about selling my artwork and I teach what I believe. I teach the students the technique that they want – it may not necessarily be art, but it is a craftsman’s skill.

“If we look at my shouting figure mask – you could say that no-one would want this in their home as it can be seen as scary, but maybe there is a message behind it that I want to convey. It is definitely not commercial: the size is too big and the subject matter is too heavy but, you know, that’s the fun of it, as I am creating for myself. I could always create a beautiful figure for people to collect, but that is not why I became an artist to begin with – that’s the difference.

lets-become-saints_jasonlu“For me, what is more important is expressing what is inside, and making sure that it is expressed properly. It can be expressed through a computer, a painting, a sculpture, a performance or installation art... It is not about the final product but the message and the process. If I want to survive as a professional artist, sometimes I do need to have something to say in the end, but in terms of creativity, a lot of things actually disintegrate in time anyway and you should be free to express yourself.”

“I’m going to offend a lot of Chinese artists, but I think they create too many political artworks. Suddenly they got this freedom, and too many of them do so called ‘bad technical art’, since somehow, that is the trend of the whole art market.

“I think that they should take away the brackets of ‘classical’ and ‘contemporary’ – since it is really about truly expressing what is inside. Maybe what they want to express is political, but somehow I feel that it is much too much. They just want to shout and it has become too boring. They are clearly influenced by the West and are not using much to do with their own Chinese tradition. This is okay, since we live in a contemporary age in which every medium is used, but I feel that the true voice can be found from the country you are brought up in and that would be the most honest voice for them to use rather than imitate someone else and conform to a market. Artwork should be the voice from within – that is the most important. Everyone is unique and different.”

“Over the last eight years, Malta has really helped me realise who I am. The pace here is slow, and it has allowed me to isolate myself with my work, and to think about what I do in my life that has, in turn, helped me grow... The climate and energy in Malta is quite special and has also helped me get through very difficult periods of my psychological layers... Every moment is changing me, but at this moment I feel pretty balanced, grateful and happy, and I love my life and appreciate everything that is coming to me. The most important thing in my life is to search – what is my responsibility as a human being at this period of time while I live on earth? And through this searching period, art is the medium through which I express myself as a person – a reflection of my personal growth.”

“His English was very poor and my Chinese was very poor. In fact, his English was so bad, I had to improve my Chinese because of him. Ironically, his English didn’t improve until he went to Italy. He was always known as ‘the artist’ in school. Even back then, he said art was a medium in which to communicate in place of language. He was always very creative and even to this day I think that he is the hardest-working person I know, despite what people might think – that artists are all slackers. That is never the case. Personality-wise, he’s always the same.” Jason laughs.

vision-of-light_jasonlu“For me, an artist is a name that people give you – a label, like a chef. You use a profession to survive. But I think that, in a way, if you perfect what you do and express yourself, everyone is an artist. What is art at the end of the day? My definition of art is expressing yourself fluently with any medium – writing, talking, film... it could be anything. Art is anything that you put your heart into.”

“A husband – eventually I could be a father – I am a son, a friend... I am a regular human-being like everyone else. We all try to do our best. We need to be true to ourselves inside – if you are not true to yourself then you will not be happy and won’t be able to love the things you do or those around you. Love ourselves, love others and do the things that we love.”

Upcoming exhibition: Jason Lu is one of four artists taking part in an exhibition next year in Malta based on what is felt through poetry by Natasa Pantovic. Jason has illustrated his feelings in small canvasses inspired by 40 poems, but he tells me that he doesn’t remember any of the poems, instead he feels them, having used the right side of his brain – the creative side. He continued to explain that his work is somewhat primitive and childlike, but this is how he wanted it to be – capable of reaching out to anyone of any age, from a three-year-old who can pick up the colours, to an adult who can perhaps read the hidden message behind it. “Poetry is an emotion, and you can see how
it inspires me....”