Emerging Artists | Ni Zhu

Where passion meets precision

Ni Zhu, The Tibetan Monk Ngawang, oil, 20 x 30.

Ni Zhu, The Tibetan Monk Ngawang, oil, 20 x 30.

This story was featured in the September 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art September 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

Unlike many artists, Ni Zhu didn’t spend her formative years drawing, coloring, or painting. Instead, back then, schoolwork occupied most of her time. “Study, study, study,” says Zhu in describing her childhood in southern China. “If you were good at studying, you had to just do that.” Young Zhu was so good at studying, in fact, that she went on to earn multiple degrees in law, eventually advancing to doctoral studies at the University of Toronto. It wasn’t until 2007 that her artistic journey began, at age 31, with drawing classes. One class led to the next, and as her skills grew, “My heart went the art way,” says Zhu. “I can only do one thing well at one time.”

“Well” is putting it modestly. Last year, the artist snapped up two awards from Oil Painters of America for her figurative work. Another one of her figurative paintings is on view in the American Impressionist Society’s national juried exhibition this fall. Meanwhile, the full-time painter is just a few semesters shy of earning her master’s degree at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, CA, and she has also been studying with master artist Huihan Liu, who lives not far from her home in Santa Clara. Like her mentor, Zhu frequently travels to her native China to paint. There, she soaks in the energy of the bustling markets, shops, and restaurants, snapping photographs and painting one of her favorite subjects en plein air: people in action. “I feel like people are most themselves when they’re focused on what they do,” says Zhu. “It’s beautiful, as if their minds and bodies are one.”

From a focused seamstress to a busy chef, people “lost in their own moments” routinely inspire the artist, who notes that passion for her subjects is essential. “You have to really, really feel it,” she explains. Once she starts painting, adds Zhu, “I don’t even sketch things out with pencil or charcoal. The first part of my process is wilder, bold. I try to paint freely and daringly.” As a painting progresses, however, her precision-oriented inner lawyer always steps in. “The lawyer and the painter in me fight,” she laughs. “It’s a constant battle. How much do I want to spell things out, and how much room do I want to leave for imagination and expression?” —Kim Agricola

representation
www.junyzhu.com

This story was featured in the September 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art September 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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