Modern Folklore

selected works by Yi Gao

Asymmetric Magazine: Tell us about your submission.
Yi Gao: My work contains both autobiographical and dreamlike elements, combining Chinese folklore with my own childhood memories. The characters in my work find themselves in a constantly changing utopia. My narrative playgrounds incorporate curious characters and landscapes transcending time and space; they portray a sense of immediacy through poetic means within the subconscious mind.

AM: What is your biggest inspiration?
YG: My inspirations can come from early medieval art to the latest artists found on today's social media. Some of my favorite artists are Piero della Francesca, Francisco Goya, Mamma Andersson, and Antonio López García, among others.
       I like the idea of travel; I often bring my sketch books with me immerse myself in nature. Observation from daily life has also played an important part in my creation process–I would say that my works are an externalization of my innermost feelings from these experiences. When I look at paintings, I like to pay attention to their countenance.

AM: What role does Los Angeles play in your work?
YG: Los Angeles is a youthful city where people can dream big and the streets are bursting with energy. When I moved to Los Angeles in 2007, I immediately fell in love with the translucent sky and vibrant sun. My works are filled with natural elements, and I feel that LA is great place for those people who love nature.

AM: We love your use of coffee throughout your pieces. How did you begin using it and what is your process?
YG: The use of materials plays an important role in my work. With a background in oriental painting, I have developed a love for traditional materials, handmade rice paper and raw pigments as media. In addition to conventional artist materials, I started to replace burnt Umber with instant coffee. The rich golden texture of coffee shows a nice glowing amber tone on paper. There are many great coffee shops in Los Angeles, and while I used to only drink tea, after coming here I've become addicted to the rich taste of coffee. I worked at a specialty coffee shop in Santa Monica, and that's when I started to use coffee as a medium to paint and to prepare my paper surfaces.

AM: What themes do you typically pursue in your work?
YG: Water is a constant theme in my works. I grew up in a town filled with rivers, and so it invokes sentimental feelings for me. I feel like the vast desert and blue ocean here in LA have brought a new definition to my interpretation of water. I think more about space now when I work.

AM: How do you think art impacts society or social change?
YG: Art stimulates a variety of perceptions and thoughts. The arts enrich and give meaning to our life, and even change people's way of living. I’d like to think that art is a direct experience of life, as well as giving insight into life. Especially in today's fast-paced modern society, art has become a kind of lubrication between logic and emotion, balancing human society and encouraging social change.

AM: What music is currently inspiring you?
YG: It depends on the mood. I listen to a lot of Jazz/funk/soul lately and the classical music help me concentrate. A song on my mind now: Little Dragon - Sunshine

AM: What can we expect to see from you next?
YG: I’m planning on working on some large scale works, and exploring more possibilities with paper materials. 

Yi Gao is an LA-based artist from Nanjing, China with a background in oriental painting. You can find more of her work at

Posted on May 3, 2016 .