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StoriesJohn Chang ’09

Work Hard. Never Stop.

John Chang, an MFA in Visual Arts graduate, offers us a behind-the-scenes look at his process and his passion.

John Chang in front of his artwork


John Chang, an MFA in Visual Arts graduate, is a rare example of someone who personifies his own advice. This is unsurprising from a dedicated and tireless artist who is no stranger to hard work. Working in painting, mixed media, photography, as well as installation artwork, Chang admits to sacrificing vacations and days off since graduating to make a life as an artist. Despite a thoroughly busy schedule, Chang graciously offered a look behind the scenes at his process and passion for the work he does every day.

Formative years and inspiration

This impressive work ethic might have roots in the fact that Chang wanted to be an artist, though of a different sort, from an early age. Originally intent on becoming a musician and following his mother's example, the Shanghai-born and southern California-based artist turned to drawing instead. Limited financially and socially while growing up during the Cultural Revolution, a path toward music was not an option. Drawing, however, was, and consequently became a medium in which Chang "found my artistic voice."

Chang's voice, shaped and molded by his upbringing in China, also forged new layers upon living in and familiarizing himself with American culture. Chang's work visualizes the in-between feeling of belonging to both cultures and yet somehow neither through a focus on change and transition. "My cultural identity, which was shaped in part by the period of time when I lived with my family in China, includes a deep sense of change. The nature of change as a way of being and living is at the forefront of my work."

"My cultural identity, which was shaped in part by the period of time when I lived with my family in China, includes a deep sense of change. The nature of change as a way of being and living is at the forefront of my work."

Why the MFA in Visual Arts Low-Residency program at Lesley University?

Drawn to the program for the flexible studio time and faculty, Chang says he appreciated the opportunity to dedicate himself to developing his craft as well as learning about the art world. With the goal of becoming a successful international artist, Chang says the MFA in Visual Arts Low-Residency program pushed him out of his comfort zone and gave him the confidence he needed to jump in toward that aim. He cites gaining a particularly powerful tool in learning how to market and promote himself and navigate social media in order to connect with other artists and mentors.

Given that knowledge and experience, however, Chang cautions young artists against the sometimes abrasive nature of social media. He also attributes the bustle and demand of modern living as significant challenges for new artists making the transition to living as working artists. With those challenges in mind, Chang encourages artists to stay steadfast to their individual voices and be proactive about new opportunities to learn. He also champions asking the advice of artists you admire as a chance to gain more knowledge about the art world, and perhaps a new mentor.

Looking through a canvas

One thing is for sure: Chang's hard work has paid off. His work has been widely exhibited throughout the States and featured in various publications. Chang's most recent project, "Looking through a canvas," incorporates 3D carvings of Chinese characters into his paintings to "open the canvas to let people see what's behind the painting surface." It will be on view at the SF Gallery starting August 8, 2014.

Here is a short list of John Chang's notable exhibitions since graduation:

  • 2014 "Away From Home" - The SF Gallery San Francisco, CA
  • 2013 "Encounters of Space" - Charles Johnson Theater, Deluce Fine Arts Building , Northwest Missouri State University
  • 2013 "Untitled" - Cecelia Coker Bell Gallery, Coker College, Hartsville, SC
  • 2012 "Not So Black and White" - Insight Art Talks/Solo Exhibition, Lawrence Arts Center
  • 2012 "Facing East" - group show Co-Curator, Mill Fine Art Santa Fe, NM. Huffington Post 11/05/2012 Art Reviewed by Peter Frank
  • 2011 "The Gap" - Alexander Brest Museum, Jacksonville University, Jacksonville, FL
  • 2011 "Embrace the Chaos" - San Diego International Airport Public Project, San Diego, CA

More about this project and John Chang's body of work can be found at: http://johnychang.net  

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