Andrea Wan’s artwork is a snapshot—a freeze frame of an ongoing story invented in her head. Be drawn into the rabbit hole of her nonsensical dreamworld.
Andrea Wan is a true citizen of the world: born in Hong Kong, raised in Vancouver, educated in Kolding (of all places) and now based in Berlin. From an early age she was fascinated by stories, improvising her own stories and recording these onto cassettes. This fascination for stories developed into her own visual universe consisting of bright colours and eerie, surreal surroundings. We caught up with Andrea Wan while she was in Copenhagen for Trailerpark festival to talk about Berlin, travelling, and a bit about art.
Interview: Jeroen Smeets
You’ve just been over at the Trailerpark Festival. What did you get up to while you were here?
I spent 3 days painting a collaboration mural with Bene Rohlmann. After we finished that I did some live painting during the festival alongside other artists by the main stage. It was such a fun and productive week!
You’ve got a special connection with Denmark through studying at Designskolen Kolding. How did you end up in Kolding, being all the way from Vancouver?
It was 2007 when I finished my film studies in Vancouver and I was looking for a school to study in Europe with the intention of being away from home travelling by myself for a while. It was not the regular time for applying to schools. In the end the Designskolen Kolding was the only one that accepted me.
What was your first impression of Kolding?
I was travelling alone all over Europe before arriving in Denmark. My whole trip was an eye-opener. It was the first time I learned to let go of any control and really go with the flow with meeting people and exploring new places. It was not the easiest time but it taught me so much. During my time in Denmark I was able to develop my own style through experimenting a lot, inspired by Danish design and the other students in the school. The first series of work I made was about Kolding and how my identity shifts when I move from place from place. Since then my work started to get noticed and it lead to more and more opportunities down the road. Denmark definitely has its significance in my art career because that’s kind of where everything started.
Meanwhile you’ve travelled some more and you’re living and working in Berlin now. When did you move to Berlin?
I moved to Berlin three years ago. Time flies! It’s kind of crazy, and smells like freedom, and sometimes piss. I really like it, and the longer I live here the more I like it. Luckily it wasn’t difficult to find a studio space and meet other like-minded people. As one connection lead to another, everything just fell into place naturally. Finding an apartment was way more difficult because it’s quite competitive here in Berlin.
You’ve got a studio at the Urban Spree in Berlin, a creative hub which seems like its own little epicentre within Berlin. How would you describe the place, and what do you enjoy about having your studio here? Urban Spree is a playground and a labor of love built by a small team of people with their own hands. The aim is to cultivate the urban art scene with a grass roots approach, by building a community of artists and providing space and resources for them to exchange and bring their ideas into life. There’s a gallery space, beer garden, bookstore, concert room, workshop space and artist studios upstairs. What I like is the diverse crowd it attracts, not limited to one particular scene. That really fits my idea of a perfect creative space—a space that is opened for the people to freely transform it the way they want.
Have you been involved with Urban Spree since the beginning?
Yes. It’s been really rewarding taking part in its development and seeing it transform from an abandoned space to a lively place. Having a studio there isn’t just about paying rent. The artists are seen as important members of the ‘family’ for coming up with new ideas and expanding our network.
What does your typical day at the studio look like for Andrea Wan?
I don’t have any specific routine, besides a serious breakfast ritual before heading to the studio. At the studio my studio-mate Rylsee and I are always bouncing ideas back and forth and ask each other a lot of questions. He’d most likely be sawing or building something out of wood and painting signs, while I’m responsible for the music and usually sketching or inking an illustration at my desk. There’s no fixed schedule in how long we stay there. Sometimes we’ll work until we are absolutely exhausted and then go grab a drink or catch an opening or a concert downstairs.
What about your work process?
When I’m working on a series then I’d work on multiple sketches at the same time, but still finish them one by one. I’d make sure I’m happy with the sketch before adding the colours. Sometimes the sketch can take longer than actual drawing process, because I think a lot.
Lately you’ve been painting a lot of murals, which takes a completely different approach from making sketches on paper. Is it difficult for you to make these big murals? Or does it come naturally?
It does take some courage to go bigger and work in a different way from what I’m used to. I’ve done some painting back in school and know the basic techniques, so it’s just a matter of getting out of my comfort zone and learning by doing. A lot of my friends in Berlin are more experienced in painting murals and are very supportive when I ask them for advice. In general I’m always happy to learn something new and expand an an artist.
At the beginning of the year you travelled to Iceland for The Jaunt. How was this experience for you?
The Iceland trip was an amazing experience, and it’s hard to put into words. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t do any research because I just wanted to be there and experience it as it is – this is the way I like to travel. Seyoisfjorour is a dreamy town by a lake, surrounded by mountains and 200 waterfalls. I spent 4 days at an art residency called Heima with a couple of other artists. We took long walks everyday, observing and appreciating every little thing in nature. We cooked and ate together, shared thoughts about our works and life. It was a really special place for me take a few days to slow down and connect with the lovely people I met there.
What else are you working on for the future now?
At the moment I’m preparing for four different group shows that are all happening next month – one in Paris and three in the US, including a group show from The Jaunt taking place at the Vertical Gallery in Chicago. I’m also working on my new website, and a book. Besides that, I’m hoping to take some time off and experiment with new techniques and new mediums – so there might be some surprises here and there.