Artist Spotlight

Artist Spotlight: Rya Wu

In the Artist Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights an artist in the community. We’ll get a chance to learn more about them and their work. 

In this post we are featuring Rya Wu (she/her). Before we delve into the art, a little more about Rya in her own words:

“Hiya! I’m Rya. Thank you for taking the time to check out my art. Whatever you’re experiencing in response right now – any feelings, sensations, memories, questions – it’s all welcome here. In fact, that’s what lies at the heart of my work – those innermost happenings. Something about largely invisible experiences made visible and tangible has the power to at times shift something deep within – and to me, that’s magic. So that’s what I’m after, really, is listening to my guides and playing with colors, textures, rhythms, and forms to give those internal experiences a visual voice. Through my art, I hope to bring solace and celebration to those who are searching.”

Rya did a Q&A with The Layered Onion, talking about her art:

How would you describe your artistic style?

I’m very much an intuitive creator. With a background in psychology, I think a lot about healing and self reclamation. For me, art is a safe place to process trauma, offering it up as a bridge to my experience. It is hard to talk about with people and strangers. When it is art, it feels more approachable. I want viewers to experience something spiritual in the work, experience something for themselves. Perhaps emotional.

Rya Wu, 夢 Mèng (dream). Charcoal, graphite, acrylic, spray paint, ink, and oil. 2022.

What draws you to art?

Self-expression is so important in my personal journey. I love watching other people do the same and share their truths – hell yeah. Community engagement is a big part of it as well – I want my work to be engaging. Art is so powerful – it can save lives and battle with anxiety and depression. Artists spend a lot of time with themselves. It is hard not to do self-work and reflection in the process.

When I was younger, I knew I wanted to be an artist. At 13 I had a vision of opening a community center focused on developing skills. I could see graffiti, painting on the walls, alternative classes that we don’t learn in school. An environment that fosters creativity.

I came from a family of Asian American immigrants and it didn’t feel like I had the opportunity to pursue and study art. Right now I’m just finding my way back to art. I just got here and I don’t plan on leaving. 

What kind of art and mediums do you work with?

I will always paint but I don’t really identify as a painter. Paintings are like studies for sculpture to me. Third rendition of life from form.

I work with mixed media painting – charcoal, pastels, house paint, acrylic, graphite, spray paint, and more. 

I have training as a silversmith and with sculpture. For my sculpture, I use found materials, fabric, and textiles. I upcycle materials and scour thrift stores. I’m fond of hardware materials like chicken wire, garden netting, and screen mesh. I also use glass elements that I make myself at a local glass shop using torch work. Gestation has some glass chains that I made (see photo below). 

I am really enjoying working with glass & sculpture – I want to expand to a really large size and scale. Public art. I want to do more with interactive and installation art – to keep pushing towards the edge and go bigger.

What’s your current favorite medium to work with and why?

I don’t want to be restricted to one medium as I get bored easily. Right now, I like wire as a “less-friendly” material. It’s not solid, sort of woven – and I can play with translucency. That play with the light is also why I’m drawn towards using glass.

Does your inspiration vary between different mediums?

Not necessarily between mediums.

I’m very inspired by urban life. I love the industrial areas of cities. Peeling paint, rusted parts. I’m obsessed with construction sites. Their repetition and materials. I like to introduce juxtaposition in my work of softer materials like tulle and also lighter colors like pinks and beiges with construction-type materials. 

I’m also inspired by relationships, personal growth, and community – stories of overcoming a situation or odds. I’m a child of immigrant experiences which also has influenced my work.

Left: Rya Wu, Dreaming Together. Woven wire, flagging tape, and permanent ink. 2022.
Right: Rya Wu, Gestation. Woven wire, upcycled fabric, cotton rope, found materials, wire mesh, screen mesh, borosilicate glass, nylon cord, ink, and spray paint.  2022.

You recently had your first sculptural gallery show. Tell us about the show. What was your favorite part?

The fact that it happened is amazing! I can’t pick one favorite thing. That I made it happen – with lots of help – but made it happen.

The title of the show was Birthing a Dream. My name, Rya, means dream. It was a process of birthing my true self. I came from a family where it felt like my life was written out for me and this was a chance to reclaim my identity. A chance to dare to take up space, after coming from a culture where we are told to be small in every way – physically, etc.

Another favorite moment was seeing people that look like me in the space and watching them looking at and relating to my art. A community between people. There is something beautiful in the interaction. 

One of my pieces has the Chinese character for “dream.” I like that there is another layer there to engage with for people who understand Chinese. There is a lot in that piece that people are drawn to – it reflects the Asian American experience.

I got a lot of young BIPOC (Black, indigenous, and people of color) artists coming to me to ask questions. They brought curiosity and hope. It was a beautiful part of the experience – being an example of giving yourself permission to choose this path and giving others the opportunity or hope to do the same. Asian women and artists are underrepresented and I want to see more of us out there.

Overall, the show was a fantastic experience. I loved the chance to have suspended pieces with movement. It was definitely a large undertaking and I learned a lot from curating it. I would like to do more of it!

You can see more of Rya’s work on her website and Instagram @rya.wu. Go check it out!