in the stuio: heidi lai

In anticipation of our next show at Wester, We caught up Heidi in her studio.

Welcome! To kick things off, could you tell us a bit about yourself and your artistic journey and what led you to the style you work with today?

My name is Heidi Lai. I am an oil painting artist based in Sydney. I believe our everyday life is what shapes us who we are, and that’s the main reason why I paint. I want to paint something meaningful to our lives. Lately I’ve been painting market scene because I believe food is so close to our lives every day, maybe I will choose another subject matter someday.

Your art has a distinct voice that resonates with our audience, can you describe the moment or piece that you feel really defined your current artistic identity?

I think “The Fishmonger” can define my artistic identity. I remember I took a photo of this fishmonger in the market because I just liked how the fish all pointed to the fishmonger and thought it’s a good composition. Anyway, that's when it hit me: everyday stuff can be pretty cool, and maybe I should try putting some of it on canvas.

Wester is all about the intersection of visual narratives and personal stories. How do personal experiences shape the themes you explore in your work?

Years ago I was working in the corporate world. I worked every weekday just like most of us do. It got me wondering, what's the point of all this if it's not making you feel fulfilled? That's why this whole "meaning in life" thing became a theme in my work.

We’re fascinated by the process as much as the product. Could you walk us through your creative process from concept to completion?

Basically I started by taking snapshots everywhere, and then I would see if they spark any feeling to me. It’s actually very personal. I'd use ProCreate on my iPad and play with the colours, maybe move stuff around to make a better composition. Sometimes I'd even collage a few photos together to get a clearer picture in my head of what the final painting should look like. Then I’d grab the paint brushes and get to work.

We have always celebrated the diverse methods artists use. Are there any unusual techniques that might play a key role in your works?

I use pretty traditional methods to paint, and I love to hone my oil painting skills instead of exploring different mediums on my paintings.

Inspiration can be found in the most unexpected places. Can you share an unusual source of inspiration that has surprised you with the impact it has had on your work?

I think the wet market in Hong Kong is pretty unexpected for many people. At first, I wasn't sure if my art, with its whole Asian vibe, would click with people here in Australia. But after talking to a bunch of art lovers, it turns out heaps of Aussies connect with my paintings in their own way, bringing their own stories to them.

We often discuss the relationship between artist and space and people love to see inside an artists creative space. How does the physical space in which you create affect your output?

Someone told me once my studio is the cleanest artist studio she had even seen. I prefer a space filled with sunlight, clean walls without any distraction. Sometimes I may put some image references on the wall, that’s all.

Many of the people that may come across our site and journal are artist themselves. Is there any advice you would give to someone just starting out in the art world?

Have a good balance of input and output. I would prefer spending daytime to practice painting, and night-time for learning how to paint and get inspiration. Don’t stop practicing!

We like to highlight how an artist engages with their community. Could you describe a project or exhibition
where you have interacted with the community or engaged viewers in an
innovative way?

I think overall group
exhibitions allow me to engage with art lovers and artists who explore similar
themes. It’s like we have a common artistic language to understand each other.

Sustainability and art are increasingly intersecting. How do you consider environmental or ethical factors in your practice?

As an oil painting artist, I only use products with low toxicity that won’t pollute the environment, and use good quality brushes so I don’t have to keep buying new one.

Art can often challenge or comfort. Do you aim for your work to provoke, soother, perhaps a bit of both? How do you balance these elements? And are they at the forefront when creating?

I probably don’t think about this when I paint, but I guess it’s can be both because I want to uncover the essence of life that taps into the audience's memories and builds emotional resonance.

In terms of evolution, where do you see your practice going in the next few years? Are there new mediums, or subjects you’re eager to explore?

I would like to explore abstract paintings in the next few years because it’s something I’m not familiar with. Actually I have already started adding a bit of abstract elements on my new paintings.

Wester is very passionate about the stories behind the art. Is there a piece of yours displayed in this exhibition that has a particularly meaningful backstory? Could you share it with us?

“Evening Glow” is a scene where I walked past all the time as a kid. It’s such an ordinary scene but it’s packed with memories for me. I guess there's just something about those everyday places that stick with us like everyone's gotta have their own "Evening Glow" somewhere, full of their own stories.

The art world is coming a bit more collaborative. Is there an artist you would love to collaborate with, and what would you hope to create?

I would love to collaborate with Yoko Kawada, a friend and a Kintsugi artist. Kintsugi is about the philosophy of Wabi Sabi and finding beauty in imperfection. It’s a similar concept of my painting that it’s all about finding the essence in life. I can’t imagine what we can create together, but the idea of putting painting and kintsugi together is absolutely innovative for me.

Finally, besides Wester, if you could have your next solo exhibition anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

I would love to have an exhibition in my hometown Hong Kong since most of my works are about my memories in Hong Kong. I’m sure people in Hong Kong can resonate with my work.