Art for Awkward and Lonely People: An Interview with Qianqian Ye

Written & Curated by Jackie ARGO


Qianqian Ye is a San Fransisco based artist, creating quiet contemplative figures meant for the awkward and lonely people. With a background stemming in architecture and urban design, she’s currently working in data visualization, virtual reality, and coding–escaping from time through her paintings. Through her art she’s exploring the sadness and warmth of the human condition. Each title to her piece bearing a semblance to its energy and inspiration.  


The Neighbor Kids I Grew Up With


Let’s start at the beginning–you were influenced by calligraphy?

When I was a kid, I wasn’t an easy kid so my parents sent me to calligraphy class when I was six. I had to practice long hours every day. So I didn’t really like it. I would even drink* a lot of ink as protest–I just didn’t want to do it. My parents would send me every weekend as I got older. I used to write calligraphy for competitions and did it for ten years, but I never really liked it. At the end of 2015, I kind of missed it and I saw some ink and picked up brushes. I started writing with it again, and then I started painting with it. It was like an old friend. My relationship with calligraphy is really complicated. It’s not like something I really love a lot–I used to hate it but now it’s really great.

I’d Like To Spend Tonight Between Myself And Myself

How does your work in subjects like data visualization, coding, and VR development influence your art?

I ask myself this question a lot. And I know I am involved in a lot of different things. So I ask what is the thread. These are just different tools or mediums that I use–but I think the subject line is the same that I keep exploring the interaction between people. With data visualization or coding or VR, they are all about how people interact in different environments, how peoples behavior changes from setting to setting. I feel with these different technologies, there are tools to answer my own questions as to how people interact with each other.


Interesting, so there’s a bit of psychology involved in this too.

I realize more that the only thing I’m most interested about is people and their behavior and emotions. So I just try to use different technologies or painting as well to explore this.

I Found You!


What made you choose to begin creating these pieces? Can you speak about making art for awkward and lonely people.

I started to use ink to do calligraphy and I thought at first it was stupid to do something different. So I started to paint* monsters. At this period I was really stressed out about social things–and I put my headphones on—painting for a long time during the night–and by the end of it, I realized I was painting these figures. I didn’t really know what happened. I just know these images needed to come out. Part of it was stress, painting to release these emotions.

I think my work is sad, but there’s warmth in it as well.

I’m greatly inspired by the work of Lauren McCarthy–who does technology oriented work–but the subject she keeps asking herself is how humans interact with each other.

There is a thread in the paintings I’m making, right now there’s a lot of energy I want to visualize and needs to come out.

can we be friends


Reminds me of the book Alone Together by Sherry Turkle and our interactions with technology as to how it makes us even more lonely. It’s interesting because of your background in technology, I was curious if you’d created these works to create something tactile?

My friends say that I’m a really different person after I paint for a few hours. They say I change into a sweetheart after doing this for three hours. I ask myself this same question- if technology makes us more awkward and lonely and through these pieces I hope to explore these subjects.

The world and me

What do you ultimately hope to express through your pieces?

I think these paintings are exploring the question do you feel this way. While I’ve had many viewers talk to me after exhibitions who have felt the same way. And I’m here to say, I’m here with you. Expressing visually this kind of soft message–that I understand.

I Am A Really Transparent Person, You Say


How do you see the mix of art and technology taking shape in the future?

I hope in the future this questions won’t be relevant–tech will just be another tool to create a body of art. It doesn’t really matter about the medium. I could be touched by a piece thats a super realistic painting or a VR piece. I feel in the future people will feel very natural about tech art.

The Alone Not Alone project was originally a robotics project. There was a glove that could sense when you were feeling sad, and then you would hit a button–and the glove would apply pressure and hold your hand. Or a scarf that would wrap around you and give you a hug.

I think the most important thing is the message or the story you want to tell. I’m open to a lot of things. And seeing technology as just another way of creating art.

One Kind of Loneliness

It’s interesting to note your experiences as a woman in technology–being a forerunner while having this duality with being an artist–what that’s like? 

I’m going to start by answering this question with again mentioning my favorite artist Lauren McCarthy who runs a program aimed at creating more inclusion in technology. If you look up the top ten individuals working in these industries they are white and male. Thus wanted to invite creative coders who were women, people of color, non-binary or gender fluid. Therefore creating something more inclusive than what we see today.

So I applied for a grant through Rise&Art and received the first one as an emerging female artist. Most of all I’m really happy there are so many people helping artists who identify outside the norm whether as women, gender neutral, or non-binary creating these works.

I see the future as being gender fluid. Open to different identities.

Most noteworthy, especially in San Francisco, is how interesting an issue women being in tech is–I’m really happy I’m a small part of this movement adding more diversity to this type of work.

What comes next? 

First of all, I usually have a lot of parallel projects. While I’m going to be painting more and sharing my work more, I want to make sure that within this process I’m being honest with myself. Most of all that I’m being genuine and authentic. Currently I’m working on a book project where I’m combining my paintings with titles. Consequently I’m not sure if it’ll be a graphic novel or illustrated book, but I was really inspired by my viewers.

Since I create the titles for my work in a really playful way and I really like creating narratives with the text, therefore I’m really excited to be working on this project. Most of all to do that–combine all the pieces with text. As a result, I want to share more, not just my paintings but other types of work like my robotics projects. And I think other artists will understand how similar this work is to my paintings. Really I want to show this work to the public and get feedback.

Creating these paintings in virtual reality even?

Yeah totally, I’ve been working on creating 3-D versions. or adding a performance aspect.

I’d Like To Walk Around In Your Mind Someday



Qianqian Ye is a Chinese born artist and designer based in San Francisco. Emerging from an architecture background she explores the complexities of human interaction in various media including architectural design, new media, and ink painting. She recently just wrapped up her solo show ‘Alone Not Alone’ at The Laundry Gallery in San Francisco. Her work is a metaphor for ordinary human interaction. Each piece reveals the vulnerable and awkward aspects of daily social life, which normally remain unspoken. She deals with the moments that are mundane: an internal monologue, an uncomfortable silence, a night of petting a cat. Influenced by her study of traditional Chinese calligraphy from a young age, her recent practice depicts human interaction with ink and water. The minimal figurative shapes and narrative titles she chooses for each painting build an emotional structure, creating a conversation with the viewers that invites them to make their own stories. You can find her on Instagram @44ian.
*Edited from an earlier version


Art curated by FORTH art editors.

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