My aesthetic includes a lot of my heritage and background in my art….I was a big fan of pop culture and tried to blend the two…How do you marinate it in a way that it is approachable to the public…through pop culture…
We checked in with a local woodblock printer, Shoua Yang of Ceev Tseg Press. We talk about early beginnings getting into art and how his work combines his background, cultural folklores, mythologies and the Hmong diaspora with modern themes.
Check out his work at Artspire’s Art Fair & Sale on Saturday, June 11, 2022.
Special thanks to our Podcast Sponsors!
Amy Gabay 00:00
This podcast is brought to you by People’s Food Co Op, a community owned grocery store in downtown La Crosse, Wisconsin and Rochester, Minnesota that promotes local farmers and producers through an emphasis on fresh, healthy, sustainable food. Anyone can shop, everyone is welcome. For more information, visit them online at PFC.coop. This podcast is also brought to you by Trempealeau County Tourism. Whether your idea of fun is bicycling, hiking or canoeing, afterwards head into the heart of one of their welcoming communities to experience historic architecture, independent shops and locally owned dining establishments. Visit Trempealeau County Tourism online. Artspire is back with a full weekend of art at the Pump House Regional Arts Center. Enjoy live music from Cloud Cult, Bill Miller and B2wins, plus a fine art fair, interactive art projects, and visual and performing arts June 10th through 11th. Learn more at firstname.lastname@example.org. We checked in with a local woodblock printer, Shoua Yang. We talk about early beginnings, getting into art, and how his work combines his background, cultural folklores, mythologies and the Hmong diaspora with modern times. Check out his work at Artspire Art Fair & Sale on Saturday, June 11. You can find more conversations, food reviews, live music and events on our website lacrosselocal.com. I’m Amy.
Brent Hanifl 01:26
And I’m Brent.
Amy Gabay 01:27
And this is La Crosse Local.
Shoua Yang 01:29
My name is Shoua Yang. I was actually born in a refugee camp in Thailand and then I came to the United States. I came to La Crosse, Wisconsin in 1992. I always grew up loving art, I was very fortunate enough that growing up, I was put in a lot of art programs to help me with my full potential and artistic skills. So I was grew up around art. During middle school, I didn’t attend a regular middle school. I actually went to a museum partnership school where we were connected with the local art museum. So even though we’re taking regular classes, we had extra art classes included into our schedule. So I was always mostly around art at an early age and up until now. So that’s kind of my story, how I got into art.
Brent Hanifl 02:11
What kind of turned you on to the wood cutting component of the relief sort of components of your stuff?
Shoua Yang 02:17
Yeah, I was, so when I was doing my undergrad I tried a few different mediums and nothing really stuck to me until I met my professor. His name is Joseph Velazquez. And he was my professor at the time, and he later became my mentor. And he kind of introduced me to this process of relief printmaking. It’s really unique to me, in a way, especially the whole entire process, from the process where you make a design or drawing and then that gets transferred over into a board and then it gets carved out and it gets printed. The whole entire process, the execution, the printing, everything. I just fell in love with the idea of the multiples idea of having an original by being able to make multiple copies of it and have it available, and not just having one piece and I think that’s what really draws me into it.
Brent Hanifl 03:01
Kind of taking a peek at your work over the last couple of days, you also reference folk folklore and mythologies. Mythologies, am I saying that correctly?
Shoua Yang 03:10
Yeah. Yeah, that’s correct.
Brent Hanifl 03:12
You know, just kind of your background, but you also have a kind of like a pop art sort of influence, that’s what I see. And in some ways, it’s like, it’s there’s a mix, who are some of your influences or inspirations for your work?
Shoua Yang 03:24
Oh, yes, definitely. So my aesthetic is all my, I include a lot of my heritage and my background to my art. At the same time, you know, growing up as a 90s kid, I was also a big fan of pop culture, too. So I tried to blend the two. I tried to unite the two and reach out to the audience. I know that a lot of my audience, they don’t know much about my heritage bowl, especially the hmong heritage it’s very kept close and within my community. So I wanted a way to be able to reach out into it to tell a little bit of my heritage and mythologies and all the all the rich culture in my from my heritage. But at the same time, how do you marinate that in a way where it’s approachable to the public, who are not familiar with my culture. And I find that the best way is through pop culture, everybody can relate to pop culture, the idea of the gaming culture, cartoons, movies, comic books. And to be able to marinate that into my culture gives it a little bit of, it makes it easier for those that aren’t familiar with my heritage for them to actually consume it or actually approach it in a way. And a lot of my inspiration comes from and most of it just comes from my heritage and a lot of the stories and folklore and mythologies that I grew up with. And also with a lot of the things that’s popular today with pop culture of itself.
Brent Hanifl 04:37
Looking at your work, you know, and you kind of telling me the background with it, how it kind of melds together. What is your creative process like when coming up with ideas? Is it something that you know, it’s real quick, or is it something that you work on for quite a while? I’m sure working with wood and relief and stuff like that, you might have some mess ups and have to start over?
Shoua Yang 04:55
Oh yes. That’s a great question. So there are three parts that I have to do my process. It’s definitely, the first and most time consuming part is the conceptualizing part, you know, coming up with the ideas, finding something fresh. And then once I have an idea, I can put on a board, I can execute it, and I can print it. Those two parts are pretty much just physical labor work. The most important part is to find a concept, and then how do you relate that to the message of what you’re sending. So a lot of time, my concept actually comes from the stories that I’ve heard, you know, from my culture, and from my heritage and growing up hearing stories from my parents. Well, even if it’s not just mythology, you know, a lot of things to do with the history though, the Hmong history of how we came to the United States and in the war, how we’re involved in the Vietnam War. And then we became refugees, and then we emigrated to the United States. So a lot of those stories. First, I’ll take something and then I want to include, than after taking that, I’ll want to include something that will be easier to accept, I guess. When you tell anybody these stories, these mythologies, sometimes there’s a disconnect, and to find that that connection, so it’s a lot easier, that’s definitely one of the most important parts and then the process making. Once you’re able to find that connection, and come up with a design or drawing that I a, content that it would be able to send that message. And then I execute that into a board. And, for example, there’s a story about the journey of my people how they came from Laos, to Thailand and the United States, that whole entire journey. Sometimes when I come up with a concept of how to tell the story in a way where it’s more relatable to the general audience. Oh, put that maybe in the form of a character from a game or maybe a character from a movie or book, and recontextualize them in such a way where audience they can relate to the medium of that character or with the style, but at the same time, it tells a story of a group of people that have gone through a lot to actually get to where they are today, Yeah my pieces range from, your right to my pieces range within the wide variety of scales. Actually, I do have pieces that are just about four to six inches. And then some of my biggest piece are four feet or six feet, depending on what kind of story I want to tell. Scale makes a big impact on storytelling, the bigger it is, the bigger the impact. And the majority of the time, a lot of my prints are usually about just the normal size or about 11 inches by 17 inches. They’re made for prints that people can actually hang in their homes or they can be printed onto t shirts, you know, to do cool things. But all those pieces, those are rare, it really depends. I own a press, but I don’t own a press that big, so as big as the one that can print the four feet by six feet. So a lot of the time if I get invited to steamrolling events or into events that actually are allowing me to produce those pieces, I do make pieces that big, too. And a lot of the time after those pieces are made, they do get once you get them printed, the piece just becomes an installation piece. I have them hanging up in my room or my house and they just become installation pieces on the wall. So my work do come in a wide variety of scales, yes.
Brent Hanifl 06:43
Working with this material, you know, I see some of your work here on your Instagram page that people could check out. Some of it’s about the size of your hand, some of those looks like it’s a little bit bigger, and even have from you know, six years or so ago, it looks like you did a large woodcut for a steamroller event. Do you work that large normally, or how big are your pieces usually? I also see some connections to the storytelling related to American style tattoos in some ways. In some of your work, I don’t know if that was an influence. But some of these different characters, the octopuses to skulls to more of your personal backstory. Is there a connection with that? Do you see connection with American style tattoos, or no?
Shoua Yang 08:28
Definitely not. That’s a question I get asked all the time. So yeah, I get it’s quite funny because when I go out to print in the in the public, you know, I have a lot of people from different communities come up and ask me if I do tattoo work or if what I’m doing is actually for tattoos, And unfortunately, I feel really bad having to reject them. Because even though a lot of my work looks like it will be open for tattoos, actually, I don’t really take much inspiration from that. I don’t really associate anything with tattoo communities. And talking about that there is one piece in my work that I did make for a buddy of mine that he wanted a full sleeve on his left arm and he wanted me to be able to translate a folklore on to a single piece that can actually fit onto his entire arm. And that’s the one with the two individuals in the foreground and running away from actually a dragon. And he wanted that and that was actually the only piece of my life that I’ve ever done for him to actually use it for a whole entire tattoo on his arm. So that’s the only one. It was one of my older works. And then after that I didn’t, I haven’t really done anything for in relating to tattoos, But no, I didn’t take in a lot of my inspiration from tattoos unfortunately. Sorry for that.
Brent Hanifl 09:36
So no, I mean, you know, just seeing the similarities in it. So you’ll be at the Art Fair ans Sale at Artspire Saturday, June 11. I believe it’s ten to five. Lots of artists there, lots of music. Do you do a lot of shows like this? Or is this your first time or what’s your sort of schedule like for the summer in terms of events?
Shoua Yang 09:55
Yeah, I do a few shows throughout the summer. I wish I could do more but my schedule is, with the summer too, I have a lot of other projects going on today. There’s a few shows I do. I do spread them out over the summer, this will be my, I believe my fourth year coming back before summer coming back. I absolutely love it. I look forward to it very much, especially seeing all the familiar faces, the returning artists just coming out to the community. And then the past few years, I do have a lot of followers throughout the community that does ask me if I’m coming back, or they’re always constantly turning to support me. So it’s always nice to see those familiar faces and also new faces as well. The whole pandemic happening in the last two years, it’s, I’m extremely happy to come out to the community again.
Brent Hanifl 10:32
Where you’re setting up your booth out there, what can people expect from your work? Some of your stuff you have here on Instagram, but what can people walk up and find?
Shoua Yang 10:40
Well, every year I try to introduce something new, I try to have work ready. So I don’t just constantly have to reuse things that I’ve probably introduced in the past, I try to bring something fresh and new. And the whole idea of what I’m doing is taking this process that the public usually don’t see outside of a classroom, and be able to present that in the public. And actually seeing this whole process being made in front of the public, I think that’s the greatest thing. And when you come in, when you come and see my art, even if you’re not purchasing anything, you know, feel free to just ask questions about, you know, what is the art aboutm, what am I doing? Can they see the process and if you do make a purchase of one of my hand printed tshirts, you get to see the whole entire process, you get to see the board, you see the board being inked and you see the tshirts being prepped, you see the design being printed a tshirt, and you see the whole entire process. So you actually walk away with a hand printed t shirt. It’s not just a product of itself, but you actually see the whole art process being made in front of you. And I think that’s the beauty of what I’m doing is I’m not, I don’t have anything pre made other than the prints. But the tshirts, when you make a purchase, you actually see the whole entire process. You actually walk away being able to tell anybody who asked you when you put it on, when you wear the t shirt and they have any questions you can tell them you know, I saw this thing being made in front of me and the whole process. I think that’s the great thing about what I’m doing.
Brent Hanifl 11:50
Yes, yeah, that’s definitely exciting, I’m going to stop by and check that out for sure.
Shoua Yang 11:53
Brent Hanifl 11:55
So what’s next for you? What are you excited for getting out of the pandemic and things like that? What’s coming down the line, anything new?
Shoua Yang 12:01
Oh, yeah, a lot. A lot of great things happening this summer. I can say things are slowly coming back to normal with the restriction easing. And I look forward to attending more shows. Again, I haven’t been able to do that for the last two years, I’m really excited to actually just go out to the different communities. Not only the one at Artspire, but throughout Wisconsin. Before the pandemic you know, I’ve been, I traveled throughout Wisconsin for all different sorts of shows and to be able to return back to those communities. That’s it’s one of the greatest things about the upcoming summer, so I look forward to that very much. Also getting back into doing art projects with the community that’s something that I had been looking forward to again. And also you know workshops, to be invited back for shows or for workshops these are a lot of stuff that with the pandemic etc and I can actually go back to just being a part of the community and then share my art with everyone.
Brent Hanifl 12:47
Sounds like things are picking up for you. If people want to find out more, what’s the best avenue for them to go to? I know you have an Instagram page. Is that the best spot or?
Shoua Yang 12:55
The Instagram page is just for audiences to actually see my past work, my collection of work. I constantly update that to put out work from the past and put out current work and work that will be coming, to get everybody excited. But um, as of right now, I don’t really have any sales online. I just focus a lot on shows and if you do have any questions about what I do or anything, yes definitely feel free to reach me at email@example.com, which is firstname.lastname@example.org. And yeah I am more than happy to answer any questions regarding my work or if you’re interested in anything. My email is the best way or Instagram messages will probably be the best way too, so.
Amy Gabay 13:36
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