Qi Peng | Buzz Blog
Support the Free Press | Facts matter. Truth matters. Journalism matters
Salt Lake City Weekly has been Utah's source of independent news and in-depth journalism since 1984. Donate today to ensure the legacy continues.

Making his way from the east coast, Qi Peng brought with him his unique conceptual style to our local art scene, helping define some of IAO's first works and boundaries.  Collaborting with several artists while still maintaining his experimental photographs and spraypainted works, but also broadening his skills by starting work in digital drawings, he's become one of the bigger risk-taking artists in Utah today. ---


I got a chance to chat with Qi about his career, his work, upcoming shows and a few other topics on our art scene.  All the while watching him remove a ton of pop-art in disguise... but you didn't hear that from me.

Qi Peng


Gavin: Hey Qi, first off, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Qi: Hey there, Gavin. Thanks for chatting with me. Well, I came straight off the streets of New York City, Queens represent. kind of the ghettopart of Jamaica close by the flushing meadows tennis courts. I was an illegitimate kid and an Asian twin who was later adopted by a kind gentleman from Philadelphia later on. I was a quiet child, didn't make waves back in the day, and studied real hard like the typical Asian nerd boy back in high school. really was into art history when my real parents were giving me a copy of Gardner's History Of Art book and well, that got me real interested in all that ancient and renaissance. probably would have landed in archeology if I were not so careful, you know? Nowadays, I'm a fine art street conceptual artist living here in salt lake city and working here in downtown Salt Lake as well as my hometown New York City. been exhibited in all sorts of places ranging from the lab at Belmar near Denver, James Cohan Gallery and Anna Kustera in New York City, Artspace in New Haven, Modern8 Gallery in Salt Lake City, and even down in Miami this past year at the Fountain Art Fair through the Culturehall website.


Gavin: How did you first got you interested in art, and what were some of your first inspirations?

Qi: Well, I am not joking when I did some of my first artwork on the walls of my real parent's home. lots of crayon scribbles, too bad but I had the idea before CY Twombly ever laid hands on the canvas. But you know, art education is all about rediscovering what the greats ever did and nothing is ever truly original in the art world. First inspirations include Alex Katz who was a Yale kid just like me, Goya who was some punk Spanish artist whose etchings are some of the goriest stuff I ever seen especially those that battle against the concept of war (yeah, that bush war makes context here), Banksy who rebelled against the system, Anselm Reyle whose dope fluorescent paint splattered on metal, CY Twombly who scribbled his way through rather funky patterns with deep allusions to Greek history, my buddy Matt Jones who does some postmodern critique of Andy Warhol with a touch of the personal, Elizabeth Peyton who has some awesome redaction of pop culture figures with painterly style, Eric Fischl with his provocative sexually charged paintings of boring suburbs (reminds me of the Utah development areas), Circlegal whose stick figures are home invading the whole nation with her brilliant wit, Gerhard Richter who has some versatility like some dope fiend who mastered everything in sight from snapshots to just some straight up large abstractions done with squeegee, Wendy White is the bomb diggity artist whose work just kicks total butt with that admixture of spray paint and acrylic just thrown together in some urban collage of multipanel canvases... too many props to give here but I'm down with it all... I figure that the more art you love, the better off you are... oh and I mustn't forget my two favorite art thieves, Cattelan and Richard Prince too, word to the men there.

Gavin: For those who don't know, what would you say your most known for locally?

Qi: I dunno, man. You know, I exhibited a few times here and I have a solo show at tanner frames coming up in February. very difficult to tell what people here think of my artwork and have gotten some positive responses. but that's about it indeed. hopefully, I can work on rallying more support around here for the type of stuff that I'm working on lately. But contemporary art is a tough sell, especially for street artists who have to scrape by the skin of their teeth.

Gavin: You went to Vanderbilt for a few years and then went to get your Masters at Yale. What was that experience like for you, and how were their art programs?

Qi: Actually, went to Vanderbilt for an English Literature degree and was straight off the hook in terms of the professors who got me into the heavy literary stuff. ironically, even though I was more into Thomas Pynchon at the time, i seriously began to appreciate stuff that I never thought that I would like, ya know, books from Victorian era, especially nonfiction and tons of the brownings' poetry. but more or less, the literature helped me to infuse the work I do, especially the figurative work I'm pursuing lately, with a wordy sensibility. The Yale art program was just so awesome and back in the day, that was when Jessica Stockholder was there about a decade before I invaded the scene. The professors were pretty much awesome, teaching you the ropes of how to navigate through all the art marketing and gallery system. They pretty much inspired you there and still let you do your own thing. Really, technical mastery is a small segment of what the artist must construct with. However, you mustn't forget that I came from the hip-hop generation so basically i am mired in the golden era of rap where sampling and re-editing cultural trash and bits and pieces like mad electronic circuitry is the way to go. Its like I'm working having my art reflect the Def Jux label type of stuff with obscure and familiar stuff come together... ya know, Yale can only provide the foundation but it really can't teach you to connect to the outside world, the street knowledge that is garnered from experience of hustling in the art world because nobody can give you the right skills to pay the bills.

Gavin: The majority of your work is spray painting. Why made you choose to do that type of art?

Qi: That's awesome you brought it up. you know, it really was all Circlegal's fault. I really wasn't into that but mostly into acrylic and paste but Circlegal had all these spray paint cans all over her studio and one day, I just wanted to test it out just to see what would come forth and i came up with these series of really Grade-A shebang that worked perfectly in capturing my gestural motions, sort of like a tape recorder in the visual sense. The conceptual drive behind all this loopy stuff is an attempt to connect with my Asian heritage of calligraphy, of writing on this postmodern cave in some desultory fashion that would drop some major science on people's heads and force them to realize that paintings are all abstract, even the realistic ones too, because everything is created from minute to large brushstrokes, whether or not the illusion of realism is there or not. Also, spray paint is cheap and readily found so I can find it wherever I go, especially out to my hood in New York City and I can get some funky colors and work fast on large spaces if needs be. I'm also gonna give some props to krink markers too. I really dig them although spray paint is still my metier. And I still work with traditional materials too like acrylic and ink and pen and watercolor or gouache because you can't forget your roots, no matter how much of it has to be unlearned from art school days.

Gavin: Have you ever tried your hand at graffiti art, or do you prefer to stick with the freeform style you have?

Qi: I really like graffiti art but for me, art is about pushing the boundaries and capturing urban calligraphy. I don't like to imitate anyone else so I prefer to stick with the freeform style of the painting as historical artifacts, a diary of what i just wanted to stick into the support that day. My buddy Matt Jones, who is represented by Buia Gallery in Chelsea, really loved the meshing of colors. It's like crashing some Brice Marden shebang with crossbred postmodern funkiness of dope sounds in waves of glory. Something like Kristen Baker on a major acid trip. I give props to trent call, who is dope too. however, I gotta go my own thang because art is exploration of self, expression of one's true colors and conceptual underpinnings.

Gavin: You also dabble in digital artwork as well as photography. What got you interested in those forms?

Qi: Well I was screwing around in Photoshop one day and came up with some reductionist minimalist shebang with some industrial landscapes that I had proposed to Modern8 Gallery back around a year ago when I started to exhibit them. they resemble rather funky etchings with squiggles. I've done some cool looking stuff with drawing using iPhones and palm pilots and i seriously believe that if art is about pushing the envelope, it makes for open minds. We can't forget that the technique must be dictated by what one is trying to think rather than the other way around. Technique for technique's sake is going to be a car on an empty tank of gas. my photography doesn't use cameras, just scribble and develop the film, dunking the stuff into chemicals to produce some off-the-wall colors with cross-processed or not capture of real-time gestures. Again, it's all about relating back to the roots of art as a primitive form of markmaking. which is why the scribbly chuck close stuff appeals to me because reality is the illusion of scientific markers. Digital artwork is certainly the future and my friend James Huckenpahler from Hemphill Fine Arts in Washington D.C. has pointed the way towards what art will be doing more of in the near future.Merging disciplines together with art has always been an obsession of mine, indeed.

Gavin: Do you view yourself as a multi-talent artist, or are you mostly just experimenting with your work?

Qi: I don't know whether I'm talented honestly. there are times when I feel like a humble artisan just trying to leave a mark on the world, some part of personal history in this dehumanized and overcommercial, farmed-out land where the suburbs are the new jungle here. Everything just looks so sanitary and i come from the streets... Art is always about process, about experimenting and honestly, failure in art is mostly a failure to communicate effectively I think. Talent in the art world is all subjective. There is always gonna be haters or people who refuse to look at the stuff I've done. but I don't mind them and keep on going. I realize that good ideas aren't always appreciated immediately but things sink in through osmosis within a little while, you know? I am excited about some good stuff coming down the pipelines... yeah, just lots of unexpected turns in the road... in the end, you can't always be sure where you end up just like kerouac's road journey with his own different drummer. I just hope that I don't fall off like the way some of the musicians sell out because the day I begin to compromise will be the day that I stop doing art.

Gavin: Are there any new areas you'd like to expand your work in?

Qi: In terms of technique, I'm sure there is but I don't know yet but as a conceptual artist i am hoping to get more into larger canvases and installation art, perhaps more video art someday when i get the studio space. right now I'm just been spending more time getting out there and marketing the artwork to large markets in New York City and Los Angeles. Hopefully I can get into some more Utah exhibitions too, particularly with some dope artwork they are showing at the UMFA with the art after 1960 collection which is sweet, man. Of course I am going to be working harder with the look of digital etching because people really dig that style a lot. In fact, my shopping cart piece got juried by Helen Meyrick into a group show called "guilty pleasures" at the Projects Gallery in Philadelphia (Northern Liberties) next February so I'm looking forward to that. Also I'm trying to dabble into more performance and internet art. There are times when I like to fake the funk as a faux art dealer just to point out the hypocrisies of the art world plus my internet art project called "The Qi Peng Anti-Fan Club" so you can join up to check out what is the equivalent of a digtal, blog studio diary of sorts. i guess that would be the first time that the development of an artist's career is exhibited as a work of art.

Gavin: Tell us about the showing in Vegas you have coming up and what you'll be showing.

Qi: That will be coming up at the end of January and Circlegal and I will be executing a rather huge scale installation work of approximately twenty Circlegal paintings with two of my spray paintings plus tons of furniture throws all over the casinos. It will be rather ambitious in terms of scope as an interactive art exhibition at major venues but I won't disclose too much more than that. It will be a good surprise plus the Kurtz Peng team will be documenting the temporary installation as fine art prints too... The subject matter of what we are showing is a secret but it's going to be tasty treats for the fans out there.

Gavin: Why did you choose to do a dual showing with Circlegal?

Qi: Kurtz Peng is pretty much a mash up collaboration between two very different artistic soul but it provides us a way to reflect on the various ways of markmaking. You know, she and I are pretty much artistic rebels, although in different ways. she with her stick figures and swoon-like craftsmanship and I'm still mired in graffiti-style calligraphy with a ton of panache to boot like mad crazy. We have been working together since this past summer so it's kind of like a scratchy mix tape, sometimes we gotta go solo but together we can provoke a good response in people with touching social commentary and flashy wit. Circlegal is incredible stuff to munch on, seriously. You can't get any better than the ingenious use of stick figures and the meshing of the primitive with the elegant. it's just an odd coupl(ing) that my conceptual artist can blend in with the abstract expressionist craziness of her artwork. But it works somehow, I don't fully understand.

Gavin: A little state-wide, what are your thoughts on the local art scene, both good and bad?

Qi: Art scene is awesome, gotta give props to Kayo Gallery, Salt Lake Art Center, Sego Art Center, IAO Projects, some of the new joints around the block (sorry if I didn't mention any of the others). however, the art education system probably needs some more conceptual focus. I don't care much at all for the art for art's sake, rarefied shebang that is being emphasized in the universities here... I don't think that figure drawing classes did me much good, you know? I ask myself, what is the conceptual drive for the whole piece and how can the viewer interact with it. but Utah is growing and the contemporary art and street artists like me can thrive pretty good much. plus I'm a huge fan of some graffiti artists and it's rather interesting to see how guys like Sri Whipple and Trent Call manage to do well here. I suspect that as Utah becomes more diverse, the growth in the art scene around here will be explosive. someday we will have classes on graffiti art and tagging in its cultural context.

Gavin: Is there anything you feel could be done to make it bigger or better?

Qi: Hmm... well Utah is already headed in a positive direction so I expect the art to become more cutting-edge and more slick looking as we get the outsiders moving into Salt Lake City. I think that we are going to be a truly cool underground culture that's very dope and places like Slowtrain and Signed & Numbered and Uprok Records are gonna be proving that alternative subcultures are going to be here to stay. Someday we are gonna take over the New York scene I expect on our own terms. New York City has been hit hard by the economy so perhaps Salt Lake will be getting more shine on our area. I think that we just need more people to collect the stuff... Yeah, the peeps with wealth who can invest into these newer types of art rather than tossing up another red rocks mesa thing on the front lines. so please help us buy some cool-looking stuff, thanks everybody.

Gavin: What are your thoughts on Gallery Stroll and how its developed over the years?

Qi: Gallery Stroll is awesome and I love getting my exercise all over seriously. it developed over the years by just growing everywhere. I just wish that i could visit all the galleries in one night but sometimes it takes me like a week to find all the nooks and crannies. Kayo Gallery, signed and numbered, and IAO Projects have pushed the envelope in the contemporary Utah arts scene so I'm grateful for those venues for some flair to the places around the way. the posh styles really help to show that Utah is not stuck in the dark ages of art again and again. it's become way more urbane and totally fly in its own styling and profiling.

Gavin: What can we expect from you throughout the next year?

Qi: Geewhiz, that's a lot of figuring. But anyways, I got my solo show at Tanner Frames in February just in time for Valentine's Day over at the Artspace at the bridge area, a group show out at Art Raw Gallery in Chelsea with two small paintings, my group show over at the Projects Gallery in Philadelphia with one of my industrial landscapes digital works, just got chosen for an online gallery at collegeartonline.com, perhaps some art fair invitations (dunno yet), and many installation projects with Circlegal out in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York for sure. Next year I plan to focus on a conceptual art series where I will execute a piece of digital artwork for each IKEA item from their 2007 catalog. there are slightly over 4000 items so I expect this project to take up a great deal of time! I plan to apply to some art grants and fellowships this year too, considering that i don't have a day job at the moment. And I do volunteer a lot in the art community so feel free to e-mail me at qipengart@gmail.com if you need any help because I'm usually around. Finally, i am definitely looking for gallery representation both in Utah and in larger art markets such as New York or Los Angeles. I could fulfill some ambitious ideas I have down the pipeline but need the resources and the ability to execute art in a larger studio than my tiny condo. it's been a tough road but I'm sure that i will find a gallery home someday. Its a dream deferred in some ways.

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

Qi: Yeah, a shout-out to all of my friends, especially James Huckenpahler, Matt Jones, Circlegal, my stepdad Powell, the girlfriend, my Yale friends, you know you are there, Shadna, Blackberry phones, iPhones, the Apple Store, Best Buy, Ace Hardware, Utrechts, and the streets of New York plus sandboxautomatic.com for providing the music for my studio. Websites I wanna plug include my own at www.qipeng.net and the Art Catalogue Raisonne at qipeng-art.blogspot.com and my blog at qipengart.wordpress.com plus the Facebook anti-fan club mentioned already. Word up to Culturehall, U-Gallery, and CollegeArtOnline for the extra support you gave me during times of hardship.