I love writing and creating but my goodness, I wish I had the knack to draw and paint. When artist, Anita Wong reached out to me, I was taken aback by her beautiful pieces. And to learn she used coffee as her medium? Absolutely breathtaking! I had to interview her and she her work with you all.

Tell us about you!  Where are you from, what was life like growing up?
I was born in Beijing, China. I spent most of my childhood in Hong Kong when it was still a British colony, before 1997 its hang over to China. I moved to London as a teenager after graduating from Hong Kong Polytechnic University to further my Western art studies in Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London. I came to the U.S. to further my art study and gained 2 masters from Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. I was hired by my College as an Art Professor and taught in the Art fields for over 15 years in various cities like Maryland, Philly, N.Y. and S.F..In 2015, I made up my mind to follow my dream and became a full time artist. I am happy that I made this decision. Sometimes, it is hard for me to explain where I belong verbally in a sentence since I moved so much in my life. I speak 3 different languages and enjoy very much traveling and learning about different cultures. I feel that my art is a true reflection of who I am – a collection of my memories and experiences. What I enjoyed the most growing up is to meet friends from different cultures, learning about the art and food.

Is there anything specifically about the Pacific Northwest lifestyle that inspires you?
What I feel most excited and inspired by is the amazing hiking trails, cities and local Cafes. It has been a difficult year because of COVID but I can’t wait to get back to First Friday Gallery and Museum events in the city. The cities here are very diverse, filled with amazing people and food. I am currently working on a collection of Coffee paintings (inspired by the taste of local coffee and cafes) 

What around you inspires you most when you are creating one of your coffee art pieces?
I paint with a cup of morning coffee to create each coffee portrait. I love the unexpected happy little accidents during the painting process – the movement of pouring coffee onto the paper, the chemistry between ink and organic materials such as Coffee is very beautiful to look at. Lately my home art studio is filled with the wonderful smell of coffee and music, it feels very romantic in a way. I like how the romance between ink and coffee is captured on paper in each portrait.

What made you decide to pursue art as your life passion?
I started learning Chinese painting from a Lingnan master when I was 5 years old. I saw how the 19th century art form didn’t connect with a younger generation – it is considered too old and too traditional. I didn’t want to give up on this beautiful art form and feel obligated (in a good way) to keep this going but move forward and innovate with the right reasons. I didn’t want to follow the abstract ink art trend nor to not innovate, I wanted to take my time with each project and do what my heart tells me. As a Contemporary Traditional artist – I want to keep a beautiful tradition and inspire more (especially the young) to value the beautiful Lingnan art form. And for a less academic and more personal reason – it is my single Mom (a language and Chinese history teacher) that encouraged me since a young age to become an artist, she saw how important it was for me to study both Asian and Western art and encourage my every steps in my life journey to become an artist.

What’s it like for you personally when you see your pieces displayed in a gallery?
When I see a piece of artwork that captures my eyes in a gallery, I try to not only appreciate the beauty and the ideas being presented in front of me. I like learning about the artist  behind this piece and the timeline he/she experienced and came to this point in their life.

What artists from the past or present inspire you the most?
I was feeling kind of lost as an artist for 2 years (what to paint and where to find inspiration). I started meditating one day and Monet’s Water Lilies appeared in my mind and I started seeing the similarities between that Impressionist style and guóhuà. In guóhuà, you often see lotus imagery and when I looked at the similarity and importance of brushwork in Impressionism, it kind of all clicked for me. Artists in the 19th century, at the pinnacle of these styles, used their brushwork to express their subject matter and the suffering they must have personally gone through during those time periods to transition from realism and to something more modern. I related to those Impressionist artists’ struggles of not wanting to be trapped in old tradition nor following a modern trend. Life is so short, it is better to take your time and create your own style than to follow a trend or label.

Get us into your head when you are painting. What’s it like from a blank canvas to a finished piece?
I can only begin a project when I feel completely inspired by the subject and currently the subject that interests me is Coffee portraits (painting portraits with a cup of coffee). The process of creation is very fast for me – I don’t usually outline nor sketch, the process of painting and style is similar to writing calligraphy. I love spilling ink/coffee on paper and finding happy little accidents on paper. The final painting usually takes sometimes between 10- 15 mins from start to finish. However, I sometimes just can’t feel the subject and can’t paint for a couple weeks or more, it is like I lost the magic. I like taking a break during this time when I don’t see the results, the break is extremely helpful to me. I can’t never force myself into painting, having feelings for the subject and picturing the piece of art in my mind before painting is very important to me in the creation process.

Since this is What’s Up NW, where are your favorite places to hang out in the Seattle area since you moved here?
I love the popular Pike place fish market as a foodie, the walk from Pike place fish market to the Seattle aquarium is beautiful. I love the antique stores in the lower level of the building and the old wooden floor shows such characters and captures so much history. I love all the small businesses that give so much character and life to the street of Seattle, I feel that it is very important for all of us to support all the small business owners in the city during this very hard time (COVID).

With an insane year behind us, what are you looking forward to in 2021?
I look forward to the normalcy of life, just something simple like taking a walk in the city without a mask. Picking up a fresh juice/ coffee, sitting at a café and such. COVID is a good reminder to me that we can’t take these little things in life for granted. I look forward to meeting more friends in arts and getting involved more with the local art scenes, there is so much to look forward to!

Where you can find Anita:

About Lesley Michelle

Lesley is the founder and editor of What's Up NW. Lesley does love her beer and writes about that A LOT, but she also loves to shine the light on local events, people and businesses that call the Pacific Northwest home!

View all posts by Lesley Michelle

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