BY LOIZA HUERTA
Tang-Wei Hsu’s artworks have been described as “colors exploding in outer space.” The versatile Taiwanese artist is certainly making a bang in the art world.
The 39-year-old Sunnyside resident has been commissioned by New York City officials to create public sculptures locally and he’s held exhibitions around the world, selling some works for nearly six figures.
“Contemporary art with a mix of animation and graphic design” is how Hsu categorizes his artwork, which includes drawings, paintings and sculptures. By combining his Asian culture with his architectural training, he is able to create complex and abstract artworks.
Hsu’s artistic pursuits began in his native Taiwan at age 10 when he took up drawing. His artistic ideas emerged from his cultural heritage and childhood experiences.
“There is great Japanese influence in Taiwan. Growing up, anime and Japanese comics like Pokémon were a big part of my childhood,” Hsu explained. “… and I wasn’t a city kid. I grew up in the countryside, so I think that’s where my imagination started to run wild.”
Hsu initially believed architecture would be a good outlet for expressing his creative talents. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in architecture at the Shih Chien University and an MFA in visual arts at the Tainan National University of Arts, Hsu went to work as an architect. But, during his first project, he felt as if the architectural process didn’t allow him to express his creativity to the fullest extent.
“When you join the architecture environment, you can either work for a company or in an office space. You can’t really design much. It’s quite boring,” Hsu said, laughing. “I knew I had a special set of skills and I wanted to create so much more.”
An artist abroad subsidy from the Asian Cultural Council allowed Hsu to pivot to a career as a full-time artist and relocate to New York City, where he now lives with his wife and three children. He’s since made a name for himself both locally and internationally.
Hsu was commissioned by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the International Studio and Curatorial Program (ISCP) in New York City to create his acclaimed sculpture, “Monkey Magic.” The anime-inspired sculpture made a temporary appearance from July 2013 to March 2014. It was displayed on Ninth Ave. and 36 St Manhattan, N.Y. Hsu’s goal was to make the sculpture look like monkey’s hanging and waving “hi” to the people walking by.
According to “Asian in NY,” a blog about leaders in Asian networking and multicultural entertainment, the sculpture was a big success. The blog noted: “Wendy Feuer, assistant commissioner of urban design and art at the DOT and Dennis Elliot, director and founder of the ISCP are very selective about the arts displayed in public. Hsu’s ‘Monkey Magic’ has attracted many [passersby], especially during the peak hours of New York City in the morning where people are traveling on foot or cycling in the bike lane.”
Hsu also collaborated with three other artists on a public art sculpture that was rated, “New York’s 10 Best Public Art Installations for Fall 2015” by Artnet News. The sculpture, named “The Moment,” was organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei and the Taiwanese American Arts Council as part of the “Art in the Park” program. Inspired by Buddha and made from materials such as fiberglass, bamboo and feathers, the sculpture was displayed in Flushing Meadows’ Corona Park in Queens from September through November 2015.
Hsu’s impact on the art world extends well beyond New York, having been a part of 11 solo exhibitions and 59 group exhibitions in Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Japan and elsewhere. One of Hsu’s projects entitled, “Pocono Bud,” was a 350 x 200 x 200-centimeter sculpture built of stainless steel and automotive paint that sold for $90,000 in Australia. The sculpture reflected a lively plant that contrasted with the serene ocean.
Over the years, Hsu’s success granted him many other commissions along with awards. Hsu received the National Culture and Arts Foundation Creative Subsidy, as well as the Asian Cultural Council Artist Abroad Subsidy. He also received the Taoyuan First Place Creative Award and the Honorable Selected Taipei Fine Art Award.
Hsu is working on two new projects. One involves installing a sculpture in an airport in Taiwan. The sculpture will depict a collection of colorful suitcases with detailed paintings imprinted on them. He is also in the midst of creating a sculpture in a swimming and diving arena in Taiwan. His goal is to have the sculpture resemble “the moment a diver splashes into the water.” He has been working on this project for about six months and has been traveling back and forth from New York to Taiwan.
Hsu’s artwork can take anywhere from four months to a year to complete. The process is not like a regular 9-to-5 job.
“It’s not an easy process, especially with public art projects,” Hsu said. “It’s a group effort. I need to create a plan and a proposal, then a presentation to have my idea approved. Once my proposal gets accepted, there are people who transition my designs into a computer, which then go into a factory so we start to build the shape.”
In his spare time, Hsu utilizes his experience and success to support other international artists. Non-profit organizations ask Hsu to help new artists by donating his artwork and assisting them with their projects.
“No one helped me when I started out so I try my best to help new artists with organization and design,” he said. “My advice for anyone thinking about becoming an artist is that they need to really enjoy it and work very hard, everything else will come naturally.”
Despite his international fame, Hsu’s wife Iyan Li said he is shy. But, she adds, his art speaks volumes for him.
“I love his work because it’s very unique and it looks like colors exploding in outer space,” said Li, who assists Hsu with most of the paperwork and financial aspect of the art process so he can focus more on his art. “His art is for everyone. He is very funny and smart and you can see that through his work.”