Dreams and Duality: The Art of Elisa Ang

0 Comments 27 August 2015

elisa ang art

Long Beach artist Elisa Ang discusses exploring duality and cultural identity in her work.

by Daniel Barron



“My Art functions as a conduit for me to go beyond the limits of my own reality. I can travel to places physically distant or entirely unreal. I can create identities, fantasies and realities vastly different than my own.”

So writes Long Beach artist Elisa Ang in her bio. Young and still relatively new on the scene, it’s clear that there are still many labyrinths of the mind yet untouched. Meditations on duality and cultural identity unspool onto the canvas by way of verdant colors and elegant, calligraphic lines. Ang sat down with Yay! LA to explain the origins of these visions and where she hopes to venture next.


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You’ve grown up in Southern California, correct? What was your first exposure to the arts?
Yep, I was born and raised in Southern California. I’ve been told by my mother that as a way to help me calm down and focus (I was diagnosed with ADHD pretty early on) she would set daily art projects for me which would help control some of the restless energy I had, but I don’t really remember these, although I’m sure they had a lasting effect. A more conscious first experience with art came from my older sister actually, who- as many young girls in the 90s did- loved Sailor Moon and started drawing characters from the show. And as a little sister I wanted to copy EVERYTHING she did so I began drawing, as well. The reactions I would get from my peers (this was around 4th or 5th grade) helped fuel my interest and eventually I progressed past cartoons, made-up Pokémon and anime and it became a serious passion and the means by which I defined myself. By the time I was ready for college it wasn’t even a question as to what my major would be.


Did she end up getting seriously into art as well?
She did, but unfortunately she did not have the best advisors during the period when she was deciding where to go for college. She wanted to pursue more 3D art to work for a company like Pixar and was accepted into a few colleges including CSULB and UCI. Not realizing that although UCI was a better school for things like science and engineering than CSULB, the art program there wasn’t nearly as developed as Long Beach. I don’t think the education she received there left her feeling prepared to have a career as an artist. So a few years after graduating she ended up going back to school for nursing, which she excelled at and is now a labor and delivery nurse at Saddleback Hospital. She definitely still has a creative mind though, and every now and then we like to get together and sketch, and it’s so fun for me to now be the one inspiring her to do creative work! She’s been an amazing role model to my younger brother and me.


elisa ang art

You were more lucky, obviously, in terms of timing. Did you ever consider another way, yourself?
I actually never once considered the possibility of becoming anything other than an artist. In high school I did really well academically, as did my brother and sister. My parents did a really good job of instilling a good work ethic in us and teaching us to value education. So I took all AP classes and I enjoyed getting good grades, but I remember thinking distinctly that there wasn’t a clear major or career path for “being good at school,” so aside from getting good grades my one major passion was always art and it was always clear to me that it was what I was going to do. In retrospect, I think I could’ve possibly enjoyed a career as a writer, but in the end I am so drawn to creating images that this just seems to be what I was meant to do. As difficult as it is at times I truly love making art.


And Godspeed! When we met that you mentioned that your identity as someone who is half-Chinese- or someone who is searching for a sense of identity- is a big part of your work. Could you elaborate on that?
I think personally I have always been drawn to things that are, and this is how I describe it in my mind, “other.” Other places, other people, other times than what I see and encounter in my daily life. Being half-Asian, specifically half-Chinese, I have this distant connection to that which is “other” and I take a lot of pride in this. But being born and raised in the US I am for lack of a better term pretty white-washed, and this bothers me. I wish that I had a better understanding of that other culture I have this connection to, I wish I was more immersed in the spirituality, the history, just everything that makes Chinese culture so different than our own. I think other mixed race individuals can probably also relate to the struggle of what it means to be mixed, in that you don’t really fit anywhere.

My art has come to function as a means for me to explore and also feel closer to the culture which I come from and yet also don’t come from. In the process of composing a new piece I research traditional Chinese folklore and mythology, superstitions and any other fodder for inspiration I can get my hands on, so in the act of preparing for a new work I become more educated in the culture and the physical act of painting the symbols and imagery from Chinese culture makes me feel emotionally closer to it somehow. It might be a somewhat superficial way to explore my heritage but until I have the financial means to actually travel to that part of the world, I guess it’ll have to do.


elisa ang art

I understand you took Asian studies courses in college. Did that give you any greater sense of attachment to your heritage? Did it influence your art in any way?
I wish I had taken more actual Asian studies courses. Most of the classes I took that examined that culture were Art History courses (which were of course fascinating and I loved them) but I think I could have benefited from a class which covered more than just Asian art. But yes I think the extra exposure in college definitely had an influence, it made me much more interested in the ancient periods of Chinese culture, the ideas about design and the balance of energy back in those times seemed to me to be so incredibly progressive yet fundamental at the same time. To believe that all things are a balance between opposing forces was so beautiful to me. I love how simple yet far-reaching that idea can be and it has definitely carried over into how I compose my work.
I could almost say that most of what I do tries to deal with different types of dualities, one thing either complimenting or going against another


elisa ang art


Did you ever take any psych courses, as well? Or even read books relating to psychology or social phenomena like Malcolm Gladwell?
A philosophy class I took in high school turned me on to the fascinating contradictions within human nature and the mind, but I mostly kept up my interest in limited amounts through articles and studies I came across in scientific journals or online, I’ve always loved to read though and I have a long list of books I intend to read if I can ever find the time. I’ll be sure to add Gladwell to that list!


My recommendation: Start with Blink. Then Outliers.
Just wrote that down in my sketchbook! I definitely go through different phases of interest wherein I sort of hyper focus on a certain area of life or study, for awhile I was obsessed with space and anything Neil Degrasse Tyson has ever said, more recently I’ve come back into the political arena with the upcoming election and taken a healthy interest in Bernie Sanders, from there who knows what the next phase will be!


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What are some of your favorite pieces of reference to indulge in for inspiration? What’s the most gratifying part of the creation process?
References are a tricky resource for me, as a relatively new artist with a personal style that is still in the early stages of development I have to be really careful not to be too influenced by the artists I admire or else my work inevitably tends to take on aspects of theirs, but for linework and overall composition I love to look at James Jean of course and Pat Perry, and I spend way too much money on Illustration annuals which I’ll flip through for help with composing an idea where the perspective might be something I haven’t really dealt with before but it’s all just the very humble beginnings of a system of working, I’m still fairly inconsistent with my process in trying to find what works for me.

I’ve also always been enamored with the works of the Old Masters of the Italian Renaissance which are great for referencing figures and creating believable scenes and perspective, which is one area I always struggle with. As for the most gratifying part of the process, I wish I could say the process of creating a piece was my favorite but I often find that this phase triggers the most uncertainty and self-doubt in me which makes it more stressful than enjoyable, but as I become more aware of this I am focusing more and more on ways to try to handle and manage that stress. I usually find that I am most excited at the thumbnail phase where anything seems possible and then again when I can unveil the finished piece. Anything in-between is a back and forth of feeling somewhat okay with the progress to sometimes wanting to throw it away and start over.

There is also the struggle that I think many artists feel of taking a sketch into a more developed realm and losing some quality that made the idea so intriguing in its rough form, often I find that “cleaning up” a doodle almost sterilizes it, which is something I am still working to resolve. But eventually after all that battling with myself I finish the work and I am happy with what I have accomplished, although there is never a sense of complete satisfaction, which I actually think is a good thing. If I thought that every piece I did was perfect there wouldn’t be a need to be better and my work would stagnate. There is definitely something to be said about the struggle behind the scenes of any artist at work that I think should be talked about more but I also understand why it isn’t. To be seen as a professional I think many artists feel pressured to downplay how emotionally and sometimes physically challenging the process of creation can be, but the end result of hiding that struggle is that the public undervalues our work because they don’t understand just how hard it was to make.


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Mural in Long Beach


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Crimson Peak art for Yay! Horror Movie A Day


Learn more about Elisa Ang on her website.

Follow Elisa Ang: Instagram

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- who has written 423 posts on Yay! LA | Arts & Culture Magazine.

Rudderless college graduate Daniel Barron founded Yay! LA Magazine on a love of writing, passion for the arts, and a firm belief that people really like talking about themselves. He contributed to a number of publications, including LA Music Blog and the defunct The Site Unscene, before deciding to cover arts and entertainment the way he wanted to read it. He works as a freelance writer and digital PR consultant in his current home of Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter at @YayDanielBarron.

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