Suyao Tian, UCA Alum, Busy in Her Career

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By Jeff Young, Professor of Art, Art Education »

Tian Suyao

Recently, Jeff Young was able to catch-up with Suyao Tian. Suyao earned the B.A. in Art: Fine Art Emphasis in December, 2014 and currently lives in Minnesota.

What positions/jobs do you currently hold (including titles)?

Currently, I am an artist and freelance designer. Added to that, I am a gallerist and owner of Viewpoint Gallery, an adjunct faculty member at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and an independent curator. I also serve as an Executive Board member for Art Buddies and as an Executive Board member for the Northeast Minneapolis Art Association (NEMAA).

You recently opened Viewpoint Gallery at St. Paul Midway, MN. Why did you decide to open a gallery, and what events led to this?

I was looking for my own studio space for a long time, but when I saw this space, I decided to use it as a gallery for all artists instead of just my own studio. One of the reasons is I’m living in this neighborhood, and people are so friendly and supportive! This area doesn’t have any art spaces, but we have so many families in this area. I thought this would be a great addition to this neighborhood. Additionally, I had experience working for a professional gallery and as an independent curator for a couple years. I also have an MFA in Design with a focus on Branding Identity and started painting after school as well. All these professional practices helped me have the confidence to start a gallery.

Suyao Tian – Modern Cover. Tian’s MFA Exhibition, based on Modern Cover, the company she founded.

After you graduated from UCA, you were accepted into the MFA program at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD). Was graduate school a big change from your undergraduate experience at UCA? Why?

I think so. For the MFA at MCAD we had one-on-one mentorship. In the 2-year program, we learned the most through creating projects guided by the mentor with whom we met every week for critique. Once we finished a big project, we would have group critique class as well. In my opinion the mentorship study had the most impact on my work.

It was also really nice that the MFA students could take any BFA class for free. So, I took a few classes I liked, but most of the time I focused on my own projects. The MFA program was heavy on research, and self-learning skills are definitely required!

Critique classes can be more intense than undergraduate. Not a bad thing, but you just have to know what you are doing and stick to it! You change and improve but with good reason. You have to be strong and reasonable.

Can you describe how being an art student at UCA prepared you for graduate school?

Suyao Tian – Peace, 43″” X 30″”, Watercolor and Mixed Media, 2022

I really value all my studies from the UCA art department! That really prepared me for the professional level. How I started at UCA was especially important because it opened up everything that followed. Meeting Dr. Young and trying those first studio classes opened doors that enabled me to be where I am today. I came to UCA to work on a graduate degree in music. Trying those art classes gave me the great experiences that led to me changing my major from pursuing an MFA in Music to a Bachelor of Art degree. Dr. Young allowed me to try two studio classes in the summertime, and I earned As for both classes. That changed my life and allowed me to start my art degree. I appreciate his support and trust so much!

I also will never ever forget Professor Massey, Professor Laws, Adjunct Professors Halter, Bailin, and Quesenberry, Dr. Morales, Robby Burton, Studio Technician, and others who supported me, spending extra time helping me with classes! Yes! The UCA Art & Design Department is really special to me! Not only because I had a solid foundation that helped my graduate study, but also it was such an important part of my artistic career.

You have exhibited work in many art exhibitions in the last few years. You recently exhibited your work in a one-person show at Gamut Gallery in Minneapolis, was that your first solo exhibit?

Not the first. That probably was my 19th or 20th solo exhibition since 2019.

You were also one of four artists selected to create an outdoor mural for the Joyful World Mural Park during the Minnesota State Fair this year. What was that experience like? How long will your mural be on display at the park?

This is my second time doing outdoor murals, the first was in Uptown Minneapolis. For the Uptown murals, I did five separate board murals. This time at the State Fair the mural size was smaller but used similar material, painting on wood board. I enjoyed the process as always, but physically I was not sure I liked painting outdoor murals. The mural has been permanently collected by the Minnesota State Fair.

Can you describe what a typical work day is for you?

Crazy busy! I feel like I’m running all day long. My husband jokes with me and says I never stop except to sleep, and sometimes forget to do that! Yes, I eat very fast, too! Every day is different with each part of the day varying day-to-day due to constantly having new projects to do. Big and small!

You post about your work frequently on Instagram, given all that you do, what is the balance of artmaking with other non-making activities like publicity, research, teaching?

I work from around 8 a.m. to maybe midnight, sometimes later than that. In the mornings I have to prepare my son to take him to daycare, then start my day! I do try to post something on my Instagram (IG) every day, it’s like a job to me. I don’t use any social media except IG. I’m almost never on Facebook. Everything posted on there was actually from IG. I don’t do “likes’ on IG either, except maybe a few times. I do believe as an artist you need at least one social media platform to use frequently. The reason is because we live in such a technological time and can miss out on exposure if we underestimate the importance of the internet. Don’t get addicted to it, everything needs to be done in balance. So, for me, I spend about thirty minutes (fifty minutes total) on my personal IG and my gallery IG. That’s actually way shorter than a lot of people.

Suyao Tian – Wallpaper. Working with a design company, some of Tian’s paintings are being used to create wallpaper.

I block almost the whole morning to create my paintings every day, while afternoons can vary on different days. I make an active effort to have a balanced schedule so I’m not spending too much time on one or two things, while neglecting others.

Can you talk about your work with Art Buddies? (Art Buddies is an organization that helps link creative mentors with children in the Twin Cities area for after-school programs,

I very much enjoy working with Art Buddies! I’m involved in some decision-making as a board member, and I really enjoyed working with my colleagues and creating with children at some of the activities! The organization is wonderful and makes a great impact within our community here!

Can you list three amazing experiences you have had since graduating from UCA and provide some details for each one?

Design: I developed my own fashion brand Modern Cover™ Through creation of this brand, I was able to get a full and broad understanding of the creative process that leads to a tangible worn product and where the commercial concepts and design concepts intersect.

Painting: I worked with Room and Board (Interior Furnishings/Design), Area Environments (Wallpaper Company), and other international clients. I’ve learned a lot in all my working with these various commercial organizations and am so grateful for these experiences! Recently, I’m working on a big project with a design agency in Dubai.

Professional practice: Opened a gallery! And I co-taught an important Target-sponsored studio class at MCAD, working with their directors and their teams. The class researched and designed a color palette for them. Our students had a final presentation at Target headquarters.

Personal life: I got married right after I graduated from UCA. Had my son Leo after being married for 5 years! Surprise! You might not want me to provide details because that might be too long for this newsletter!

Do you have any advice for UCA Art and Design students?

Treasure your time at school. Be humble to learn everything you can! Manage your time well. There are down times for everyone, but there are always better days after that for everyone as well.

Be able to critique your own work. You don’t have to understand or figure out everything at school because your whole life is learning in progress. The most important thing is that you’re always learning and doing!

If you want to be an artist forever, there’s nothing that can stop you except yourself!

Don’t party too hard and think you have infinite time when you are in school. If you’re looking to make a living in art, make sure you pick up networking and many other kinds of business skill sets while you develop your art. These will help you to develop your artistic brand much further while you create even more incredible art.