MATRESCENCE Artist Feature Interviews // JASMINE CHEN


Jasmine Chen speaks with Matresence curator Catherine LeComte Lecce:


1.) Can you share your background and artistic journey with us, particularly regarding your evolution as an artist and how you came to be a painter?


Without realizing I was making art, I had always drawn and painted as a child. Growing up in China, we had a calligraphy class at school, and I was always very drawn to all the details of it.


When I was writing my PhD dissertation in economics, I got my first set of oil painting supplies and made my first oil painting. At the time, I wasn’t feeling connected to the databases and impersonal ideas in economics. I needed my work to have a strong personal tie to me.


I started reading a big book I have on Vincent van Gogh with gorgeous prints of his paintings. I began copying his paintings and realized I could mix his colors perfectly with the primary colors, black, and white oil tubes of paint that I had. I also related to every word he wrote to his brother about his struggles in life and making art. I was naturally able to relate to it in a way I could never find in my pursuit of economics.


From there on, I would spend the whole day, all nine hours of daylight, working on paintings and surprising myself at the end of the day with what I had created. It was that sense of discovery and amazement that glued me to painting and paint as a medium. I never really left it, though I had disruptions when my first and second children were born and other events in life.


I’ve had periods where I didn’t paint, but now it’s something I can always go to and count on. That’s really how I became a painter—through obsession and passion.


2.) Can you walk us through your artistic process for your featured piece in Matresence? What inspired the work?


Ever since I was born, my mother had a profile picture taken of me professionally at one of those photo studios every six months.


So, on my birthdays and my half-birthdays. When I left China for boarding school, I was almost 16, so I had 32 of these photos. I’ve always had them but didn’t really know what to do with them until I became an artist. Then, I thought I would make a collage with these images of myself and of my mother when she was raising me when I was young.


She was about 36 at the time. When I became a young mother, I realized that, instead of just thinking the mother makes the child, I saw that your child also shapes you through their growing process.


As a mother, I was becoming somebody new with the exposure and experience I had with my child.




3.) What specific challenges did you encounter when you first became a mother while also balancing your career as an artist?


I remember for one of my first shows through Newton Open Studio, my husband helped me set up because we had my paintings in the living room, which was also the studio, and I couldn’t do it alone. The night before, my husband said, “Okay, I’m going to tuck away all of the toys and just hide them in the basement.” There would be no trace of children in this room so that I could look professional.


You have to hide your identity to look good, and I don’t really like that. Also, as an oil painter, I stopped painting for a while when my kids were young because I did not want to create a hazardous environment for them.


But I think when my children were young, I thought a lot about painting, and that’s actually a very important thing to do. Besides actually taking the actions, it’s just different ways to grow your work and your mind, and that’s just fine.


As artists, we’re good at working with restrictions, and it often promotes creativity. 




4.) What advice would you give to other mother artists?

I would say, take care of yourself and remember that there is no rush. As visual artists, we have the unique advantage of being able to create throughout our entire lives. There’s no need to hurry.


Enriching yourself as a mother also enriches your art. Your artistic practice likely prepares you to have the flexibility and open-mindedness to grow into the mom that works for you and your child. Balancing both roles can be mutually beneficial and fulfilling.