Meet the Maker: Zhao Jinya

In celebration of Chinese New Year / the Lunar New Year, we meet Chinese artist Zhao Jinya whose glass works explore atmospheric phenomena created by the light of the sun and the moon. Jinya uses opaque and transparent layered blown glass to create captivating colourful work that spans sculpture, installation and design.

Zhao Jinya looking at her works in glass

How did you first discover your passion for glass?

Back in 2014, when I was a 20-year-old sophomore at the China Academy of Art, I visited an international glass exhibition in Hangzhou. I was deeply impressed by the material and its many possibilities. I decided to give it a try and I never looked back.


Zhao Jinya artwork


What is it about glass that makes it so suited to exploring ‘themes of environment, emotions, and personal experiences’?

For me, glass is inclusive, colourful, and has many possibilities. It is not only a material, but also a means to express myself.

The qualities of transparency and translucency provide glass with great potential to express ideas. Colour and shape convey emotion, thus manifesting an atmosphere through the expansion of colour boundaries. I combine colour blocks and abstract forms – reflections and impressions of my experiences, which have gradually condensed over time. I work at adjusting the balance between colour harmony and forms, going back and forth between my own initial paintings and the final glass work, contemplating how colour interactions can work.

Atmospheric phenomena often manifest as optical phenomena, caused by interactions between the light of the Sun or Moon with elements in the air. Many artists, including myself, take inspiration from this and seek to capture it. Some artists aim to reproduce this visually, through pigments and immersive spacial installations, whereas I chose to explore it through the attributes of three-dimensional glass objects, and through effects obtained via techniques that change colour and opacity.


Zhao Jinya artwork


How do new ideas emerge for you and what is the process for developing them into finished pieces?

I get inspiration from individual experiences such as my travels, my family relationships, people around me, the place I live, etc. And after that, my primary research method comprises studio-based personal experimentation with painting, varied applications of colour and density, as well as combinations and distributions of colour across the form. I undertake tests to explore how the appropriate levels of opacity and transparency might be achieved.

Atmospheric phenomena are further explored outside the studio, where I reorganise my memory and my written poetry to translate the intangible and sublime qualities of atmosphere into a new expressive language through the medium of glass. The interplay between imagination, observation, memory, and atmosphere are contextually entwined with colour theory, aesthetic research, and the descriptive language of the sublime.

What are you in the process of exploring through your PhD at the Royal College of Art and where do you hope it will take you?

I came back to London in 2023 to resume my PhD after my Artist-in-Residency in China. My current research by practice seeks to ascertain how qualities of atmospheric and sublime phenomena can be expressed through hot glass. In particular, the question of how ethereal and intangible qualities of atmospheric phenomena can be revealed, physically captured, and translated into hot glass, to effectively convey novel and personal meaning. In so doing, I hope my research shall provoke new understandings.

Which other artist-makers do you admire?

There are so many artists/makers that I admire. Such as J.M.W. Turner and Mark Rothko whose atmospheric paintings and boundaries of colour inform my practice and research. I am also inspired by the concept of vast and infinite space in the traditional Chinese paintings of Ma Yuan. The installations of James Turrell, Olafur Eliasson and Antony Gormley also provide strong theoretical framing and contextual reference to me.


Zhao Jinya artwork


How will you be celebrating Chinese New Year?

This question brings memories of my past three years’ experience in China; any description is underwhelming. Prior to 2020, no matter the distance our family will always be whole during the festive holidays. But still it was always a special experience for me. My last Chinese New Year in London was in 2019. Time is like a slow boat, bringing me back to London after four years. I am enjoying everything that is happening – there is a lot to look into, and I believe life is an Unknown Journey.

Zhao Jinya is represented by Ting-Ying Gallery and her work can be seen at Connolly in Mayfair until 17th Feb 2023.

Photo credit: Wang Zhi

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