Linjie Deng: From Local Asian to Global Artist.

Linjie Deng on Art Bodega Magazine Cover. Photographed by Luis Guillen

Linjie Deng has been painting since he was six, but his big break was the 239 art lovers who collected his Chinese seal and Calligraphy artworks for a total of $80K within 7 days in 2015 in China. With that $80K, Linjie made an investment in his MFA degree from School of Visual Arts in NYC. Since then, Linjie has been working and living in USA for the past six years as an artist. Recently, viewers saw Linjie create two pivotal exhibitions. One was the “Asian Art SPA” solo show at Carlton Fine Arts Gallery on Madison Avenue, which was about Linjie using his artwork as a weapon to stop Asian hate, and also a group exhibition “Queer Art 1950’s-2021” in Manhattan, which included LGBTQ+ artists Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Heather Fazzino.

Linjie Deng is a full circle artist. His work is about freedom of expression, provocation without offense. It is not radical in the sense of Ai Wei Wei’s work, but definitely non-conformist. Our magazine editor Rebeca sat down with Linjie to talk about his painting origins, the story behind both of his exhibitions “Asian Art SPA” and “Queer Art 1950’s-2021”, Linjie’s definition of Asian identity, and what he is up to next. Linjie Deng is a chameleon, constantly evolving, and we cannot wait to see how his upcoming projects unfold.

Shot at Carlton Fine Art Ltd, 543 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10022

1.
Yin-Yang series: I don
t have coronavirus. I am coronavirus.

To be Asian in America during the very beginning of coronavirus is to feel very weird. I am the only one among my American friends in January of 2020 trying to obtain masks from Amazon, CVS, Home Depot. Just like many other Asian families, my family from China told me the same thing: Stay at home now! Wear a mask if you must to go outside. Don’t be selfish. Later, I began to notice a troubling increase of anti-Asian incidents in my newsfeed, in London, Italy, then in Texas. I observed that from a xenophobe’s perspective, the face mask seemed to implicate Asians as agents of disease. They said: “Asians don’t suffer from coronavirus. Asians are coronavirus”.

After two months back then, the CDC hadn’t yet recommended that everyone wear masks. And lots of controversy about the right to choose. You could see the signs on the street: “My body, my choice.” “No mask, I can’t breathe.”

For me, the most important value in American culture is freedom. The most important value in Chinese culture is hope. And by no choice of my own, I am caught in between the two worlds.

So, I created Contemporary Calligraphy artworks consisting of four sets of mutually opposing and co-existing words: “Freedom and Hope”, ”Proud and Humble”, “You and Me”, “Me and We”. For the Calligraphy characters, I utilized 5 different styles of Chinese Calligraphy fonts from 10 different time periods. The debate over masks has focused on the divide between the West and East. So, I placed the two different kinds of “reactions” in each Yin-Yang symbol. I hope my art can be a real part of the healing process. And help to bring people and cultures together.

Left: “Just Love Me” Right: “Stop Asian Hate, Start American Love.” 30 x 40 inches, Acrylic on Canvas.

2.
Stop Asian Hate, Start American Love

On March 16, 2021, I was waiting for the #6 train at 86th St subway station on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The train pulled in, and the door opened. A guy suddenly ran towards me and yelled in my face: “Get the f*** out of my way, ya f*** yellow!” At the same time, he pushed me and hit me with his backpack, and I fell on the ground.

Then he ran away. No one around said anything. I was shocked but I’m more relieved now that it wasn’t worse. I’m so glad that he didn’t use a box cutter to slash my face or push me under the train.

The next day I thought how to protect myself? I ordered 7 blonde wigs on Amazon. Right after that, horribly, 8 people were shot and killed at the Asian Massage SPA in Georgia. Then I realized that blonde wigs could not be my life saver.

As an Asian, I thought, do I really have to become the kind of person who carries a gun or knife so I can claim that I’m strong, when I just want to ride the subway or buy stuff outside? And, if yes, what kind of society do we live in?

Does this force me to become a bad guy, makes me a “beater” in order to protect myself? Why can’t we have better weapons? Better solutions?

As an Asian artist, art is my best weapon. My artwork is my solution. So, I used American-Asian food culture and visual elements to relay Asian-Americans’ stories through my paintings. Such as Fortune Cookie, Cat, Bubble Tea.

I painted for seven days and nights. Thus, on March 29th, my solo show “Asian Art SPA” was born at Carlton Fine Arts Gallery on Madison Avenue.

Artist Linjie Deng at Carlton Fine Arts Gallery during “Asian Art SPA” his solo exhibition.

This is the first opportunity I have had to strike back at those values which make me feel uncomfortable. For my Fortune Cookie painting, I wrote: “Stop Asian Hate. Start American Love.” This is not only about what we want, but also about what we don’t want.

In order to share my art “weapon” with more people, I printed the Fortune Cookies painting on T-shirts and delivered them to people for free. I also printed the T-shirt from my other artworks: Just Love Me, Kiss Me; Panda. So, they could wear the shirt and spread a message to help people unite and protect the Asian community.

Many people were moved by my use of art as a weapon to fight this Asian hate that was spreading. I received over 900 messages from other Asians after the opening of my “Asian Art SPA” art show. They were telling me their sad stories and experiences of being threatened or hurt for being Asian.

Artist Linjie Deng in Chinatown in “Asian Art SPA” T-Shirt

The good news was that on the art show’s opening day, an American collector brought one of my paintings immediately. And I decided to do more for the Asian community when I got my check.

May was Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month. I believe that a powerful way to improve the situation about Asian hate is when Asian Americans talk about it and speak out about it. But some Asians won’t speak out, some elderly Asians cannot speak English.

Then I found a Nonprofit organization and donated the $5,000.00 proceeds of that artwork to Think!Chinatown to help the local Asian community communicate about this hate. My message: Let’s destroy racism and the virus together. Be like a panda. We are White, Black and Asian.

Artist Linjie Deng and Carlton Fine Arts Gallery Owner, Charles Saffati

The exhibition is over, but people are still wearing my T-shirts on the street and they continue to talk about Asian Art SPA. I am pleased that I have been able to show these artworks through a supportive gallery, and the gallery space they provided has given me the opportunity for cultural communication. Because communication is the first step for understanding and respecting each other.

So, I would like to thank the Carlton Fine Arts Gallery owner Mr. Charles Saffati. Because of you, we started the first step to better cultural communication. I hope other galleries will be inspired and promote more exhibitions with artistic and social values.

“Superhero Super Gay” 36 x 60 Inches, Acrylic on Canvas

3.
Love is dangerous. Love is flowing.

I stayed in NYC during the pandemic. The events of the past year — from the 50,000+ deaths from coronavirus in New York alone to the Black Lives Matter movement, leading up to the Stop Asian Hate — could be uniting people for a new reason: Love.

I believe that that the show Queer Art 1950’s-2021 was a joyful event for everyone during Pride Month. Three of my paintings with rainbow colors I created in NYC, I named: “Superhero Super Gay”, “Falling in Love” and “Love is Flowing.”

Love is strong, the rainbow is colorful. So, I didn’t overthink in formulating these works. I used simple visual elements and bright colors to paint with.

“Love is Flowing” 36 x 60 inches, Acrylic on Canvas

These three paintings are not only for gay viewers. Because I think love is flowing. Love can cover all of us. For example, June 20 was Father’s Day. For many kids, their father is their superhero, providing big love. Just like my painting “Superhero Super Gay”. So, I shared this piece on Instagram and said: “Yesterday was Father’s Day, but I want to say Happy Father’s Day today to the straight fathers who have gay kids and to the gay fathers who also have kids. Because these kinds of fathers deserve double love and happiness. You are Superhero, Super Father, Super Love.”

“Falling in Love” 36 x 60 inches, Acrylic on Canvas

I was pleased to see that TV Show Star and gay father of twins, Fredrik Eklund commented positively on my post and said that he wanted to collect my “Superhero Super Gay” Artwork. I was so happy that Fredrik would so immediately share his enthusiasm for my artwork. But I was even happier that he has had the courage to share his life publicly and show his feelings of love so openly. Because from him we know that there is one more SUPER loving family that was born in the world, just like the “Superhero Super Gay”.

“Suck Me, Fuck Me” 36 x 48 inches, Acrylic on Canvas

Everything has two sides, love also. People say there is no sweet without sweat. Sometimes love is dangerous. So, I also created two paintings called “Kiss Me, Kill Me” and my lollipop painting, “Suck Me, F**k Me.” People live for love. People die for love. People kiss for love. People kill for love. I wanted show both sides of love to my viewers.

Some people were shocked by the lollipop painting. But this is our daily life. For example, is there is a rose without a thorn? The most beautiful things almost always come with danger. The next time you suck on a lollipop, be ready for anything. But, isn’t it worth the risk?

“Kiss Me, Kill Me” 36 x 60 Inches, Acrylic on Canvas

4.
A Few Quick-Fire Questions :

What is your next art show? And when?
My next art show is at the Hampton Fine Arts Fair in Southampton. During Labor Day Weekend. September 2–5.

Can you tell us more about your artwork that you will show at the Hampton Fine Arts Fair 2021?
2020 and 2021 have been dark enough for all of us. I’d like to show more relaxed, beautiful and enjoyable artworks for audiences. For me, an artist is a soul massager. I want my viewers’ souls to be touched by my artworks when they see them on display.

What is your goal of this art show? Sell, sell, sell.

Why?
Why not? So, I can use the money to create more artwork. Please buy art from me or other living artists. The dead artists don’t need the money!

How to buy your art?
Come to the Hampton Fine Arts Fair beginning on September 2nd. Or Carlton Fine Arts Gallery on Madison Avenue in Manhattan.

What is the best place for art lovers to follow you on social media?

Instagram: linjie_deng, Twitter: @LinjieDeng. Both are great.

May 05, 2022

Manhattan, New York City.

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Visual Artist, New York City

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Linjie Deng

Linjie Deng

Visual Artist, New York City

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