Artist Warren King (previously) finds much of his inspiration by wandering through Chinatown in New York City, where he encounters “street musicians, chess players in Columbus Park, vegetable sellers, knockoff handbag vendors on Canal Street, lion dancers during Chinese New Year celebrations,” he tells Colossal. “I’ve been fascinated during my weekly grocery shopping trips by the vibrant, diverse community there, which is so different from the relatively homogenous suburbs where I grew up.”
These passersby become the initial inspiration for the artist’s figurative cardboard sculptures, which consider his Chinese heritage, his parent’s immigration, and what it means to hold a diasporic identity. Ribbed with subtle corrugation and coated in dark neutral tones, the works vary in scale, although many are life-sized and large enough to occupy public benches and galleries. Each piece is an homage both to those he observes and to the richness of the Chinese community.
In addition to his ongoing Chinatown series, King’s recent works also include a few pieces of more personal relevance, including “Xuanzang.” The stoic character is based on the 7th Century monk by the same name who trekked 10,000 miles into India to recover Buddhist texts and inspired the classic novel, Journey to the West. “I used to be an avid backpacker and made a few life-defining treks myself,” the artist shares. “And I’m a book nerd too, so Xuanzang is naturally kind of an idol for me.”
The elaborately armored piece titled “The Wu Dan Answers the Call” similarly contextualizes King’s background within a broader history. “I wanted to tell the story of my feisty grandmother, who as a young woman tried to enlist in the bloody fight against the Japanese. But the piece is a mashup of a character from Chinese opera and Donatello’s famous sculpture of David, which reflects the two lenses through which I view the story,” he says.
King is currently working on an installation centered on the idea of preserving narratives and family legacies. That work is slated for February 2023 at Pearl River Mart in Soho, and you can follow its progress on Instagram.
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