with Warren King
The Cardboard Sculptures of Artist Warren King Are an Homage to His Chinese Heritage
Artist Warren King (previously) finds much of his inspiration by wandering through Chinatown in New York City, where he encounters “street musicians, chess players in Columbus Park, vegetable sellers, knockoff handbag vendors on Canal Street, lion dancers during Chinese New Year celebrations,” he tells Colossal. “I’ve been fascinated during my weekly grocery shopping trips by the vibrant, diverse community there, which is so different from the relatively homogenous suburbs where I grew up.”
These passersby become the initial inspiration for the artist’s figurative cardboard sculptures, which consider his Chinese heritage, his parent’s immigration, and what it means to hold a diasporic identity. Ribbed with subtle corrugation and coated in dark neutral tones, the works vary in scale, although many are life-sized and large enough to occupy public benches and galleries. Each piece is an homage both to those he observes and to the richness of the Chinese community.
In addition to his ongoing Chinatown series, King’s recent works also include a few pieces of more personal relevance, including “Xuanzang.” The stoic character is based on the 7th Century monk by the same name who trekked 10,000 miles into India to recover Buddhist texts and inspired the classic novel, Journey to the West. “I used to be an avid backpacker and made a few life-defining treks myself,” the artist shares. “And I’m a book nerd too, so Xuanzang is naturally kind of an idol for me.”
The elaborately armored piece titled “The Wu Dan Answers the Call” similarly contextualizes King’s background within a broader history. “I wanted to tell the story of my feisty grandmother, who as a young woman tried to enlist in the bloody fight against the Japanese. But the piece is a mashup of a character from Chinese opera and Donatello’s famous sculpture of David, which reflects the two lenses through which I view the story,” he says.
King is currently working on an installation centered on the idea of preserving narratives and family legacies. That work is slated for February 2023 at Pearl River Mart in Soho, and you can follow its progress on Instagram.
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Life-Size Cardboard Sculptures of Chinese Villagers Tap Into Artist Warren King’s Ancestral Heritage
Warren King began sculpting with cardboard as an attempt to add fantasy to the lives of his children, creatively crafting masks and helmets out of the recyclable material. This slowly evolved into a more time-consuming arts practice as King began focusing less time on costumes, and more time making large sculptures of his own. After a visit to his grandparents’ village in Shaoxing, China, the New York City-based artist felt compelled to more deeply connect with his cultural past. This sparked Grandfather’s Friend, and Arrival Times, a series of life-size cardboard recreations of his ancestors.
“During my first visit to China about 7 years ago, I visited the village and spoke with residents who actually remembered my grandparents from over 50 years ago,” said King. “It was a pivotal experience for me, one that inspired me to become an artist. Through my work, I am attempting to understand the fragile connections to people and culture, and examine whether those connections, once broken, can be restored.”
King’s cardboard sculptures will be shown in the exhibition Art of Asia at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center from February 2 to March 28, 2018. You can see more of his work on his Instagram and Flickr.
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