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Connected Through the Human Experience - Part 1

Connected Through the Human Experience - Part 1


Dan Jian, Blue Threads and Buddha’s Hand, 2016, Charcoal, gouache, and collage on paper, 18" X 22 ½"

Experiences, like art, connect us. Experiences—whether extraordinary or mundane—affect our lives, teach us lessons, and inform future actions. We share these human experiences and find ways to communicate them. Experiences, the lessons learned and communicated, are the concepts that drive the current exhibition at Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery, Come Along With Me

Richard Fletcher, associate professor in the Department of Classics at The Ohio State University, researches how ancient literature, philosophy, and mythology are resurrected through contemporary art. Intrigued by his investigations, the Ohio Art League (OAL) asked Fletcher to curate their fourth collaboration with the Riffe Gallery and thus, Come Along With Me was born. 

Fletcher spent 2016 circling the state visiting artists’ studios. He became interested in artists that were part of broader communities. He wanted the artists represented in this exhibition to be predominately female to comment on ideas of “work.” Ultimately, Fletcher chose 18 OAL artists from various backgrounds, artistic mediums, and stages of life.

Since the idea of “story” is embodied in all of the curated artworks, I wanted to hear more. I asked a few artists to share more about their experiences. Fletcher’s first studio visit was with artist Dan Jian. He visited Jian during “a pivotal moment in her practice’s development (just after finishing her MFA) and Jian noted the ‘vague sense of new directions.’ Even though she described painting as ‘stillness,’ she was interested in exploring a ‘more time based’ approach,” Fletcher said.  

I asked Dan Jian to tell me more about her background, how she developed the intentions of her practice, and the body of work presented in Come Along With Me

Dan Jian, Untitled, 2016, Gouache and watercolor on paper, 18" X 22 ½"

Dan Jian: I was born and raised in a small Chinese town in the mountain region near Sichuan province. The art education in China during the 1990s was very different from that in America, being largely modeled after the Russian art academy and the socialist realism that was mainstream at that time. So my earlier art training was strictly observational, naturalistic in that manner.

In 2006, I came to the United States and enrolled in Temple University’s Tyler School of Art the year following. Dona Nelson, a core faculty member and abstract painter, had always challenged me to perceive my work beyond a mere representation of things. “Painting cannot just be a stop sign.” I didn’t quite understand, but it stuck with me, and later I began to see how artwork should aim to generate an experience, both for the creator and viewer.

In graduate school, my work changed from representational to abstract, then back again. The more work I make, the less concerned I am about committing to any style or theory. It is more important to trust a bodily experience. When working on painting and drawing, I try to not make a deliberate choice, but allow through process and material the image to flow from my hand. 

Dan Jian, Remembering Fabric Factory in Wuzhen, 2016, Gouache, watercolor, and oil on paper, 18" X 22 ½"

This body of work was made during my two-week residency at the Vermont Studio Center, the summer after graduate school, August 2016. My goal was to find a more focused and fluent process in my work. Oil painting requires more preparation, and I wanted to work fast to bypass what I thought of as cognitive hesitation, so I brought drawing utensils and watercolors for use on paper. I know very little about watercolor, but I didn’t think of it as a problem. I figured I would just put down whatever came to my mind, however I wanted. Seven drawings came out of those two weeks, and the week after I came back I made one more. 

This series (in Come Along With Me) was a pluralistic approach to my own work. I am too doubtful to commit to a monographic idea or style. I accumulated different manners of drawing and painting at different stages of my life – and they each remain a part of me; they are body memories, individual, but also segments of social memories. I draw an analogy between the physical dimensionality of one painting and a person’s past and present; the life of a community member is a living and continuous one, as is the surface of a painting. The images are snapshots taken around me, and, in my work, I try to have those representative forms coexist, demonstrating no hierarchy, nor designing a precise outcome of any sort. Our living environment is pluralistic in nature now; so is our mindset and bodily memories. I wish to reflect this spirit in my work and to emphasize how these two processes - the pluralistic tendency of our social landscape and a person's experience/memory - are intertwined.

Dan Jian, Unititled, 2016, Charcoal and oil on paper, 18" X 22 ½"



Dan Jian's eight works of art are on view along with 17 other OAL members through April 15. Check for details. 

The Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery showcases the work of Ohio's artists and the collections of the state's museums and galleries. The Riffe Gallery is located in the Vern Riffe Center for Government and the Arts, across from the Statehouse on High Street in Downtown Columbus. Like the Riffe Gallery on Facebook and follow us on Instagram.

The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at


Article by Kim Webb, 2017-18 OAC Riffe Gallery Marketing and Exhibitions Fellow

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