Editor's Interview: Frank Wu

Reprinted from Lenox Ave. ezine, issue 2, August 2004

Your colors and lines are very striking and bold, quite different from much fantasy artwork.  What drew you to this method, or what drew you away from "standard" fantasy art?

I sometimes use really bright or contrast-y or conflicting colors, like in some of the pieces here.  Sometimes I use more sedate colors, but I often find these pretty but boring.  I think my color sense was really skewed by TV.  I grew up watching a tiny grainy black and white TV in a smelly dingy basement, and I loved collecting poorly reproduced fotos from magazines about old sci-fi movies.  That skewed me toward loving high contrast images.   Then when we finally got a color TV, the first thing I remember watching was the ďStar TrekĒ episode ďThe Doomsday Machine,Ē and all those bright pinks and fuchsias really wacked out my sense of color.

What do you feel your art says about you?  (Or, what do you hope it says?)

I want my art to express my different emotions.  Sometimes I feel so happy, sometimes I feel so sad, sometimes I feel so happy, but mostly you just make me mad.  To quote Lou Reed.  I want happy art, sad art, angry art.  I donít always succeed, but thatís what Iím trying to do, create emotionally visceral pieces.

Iíve heard writers say about rejection letters that magazine editors arenít rejecting you, theyíre just rejecting little bits of paper.  In a way, thatís a lie.  If you feel passionately about something, it should come out in your writing or art.  No tears in the author, no tears in the reader.  The audience can tell if a writer or artist was emotionally invested in a piece. And, so, in a way, a magazine editor is rejecting you.

What has your art taught you about yourself?

I find that sometimes I hide behind my art.  Sometimes I think that Iím not all that interesting a person, but my art can be.  Sometimes I prefer to talk about my art than about myself.

When and where have you, or do you, learn most about art?

I think artists need to be omnivores.  An artist should be familiar with all different art styles, from pulp artists to Japanese prints to Abstract Expressionists to cave paintings to electronic landscapes to Constructivists to Futurists to Greek icons to photojournalism to Broadway set design...everything.  The world is full of interesting images - I love electronic micrographs of insects and fibers.  One of the most interesting books Iíve ever seen is a thesis on fine cell structure, which was micrographic cross sections of cells.  Everything is interesting to look at, and anything can be an inspiration for an art piece.

What do you see as the greatest challenge to you as an artist?

The greatest challenge I find as an artist is to humble myself to accept other peopleís advice when Iím wrong about something.  It was a great relief to hear that the writer Jay Lake, whoís sold a hundred stories, still humbly submits each new story to a readerís group.  They give him feedback and he edits the stories again before sending them out.  Artists can easily fall into an arrogant, self-important trap, and itís important to remember that just because we think weíre great, that doesnít mean our art isnít perfect
or canít be improved.

What would be your "dream" project?  The cover of a favorite book?  A mural on a favorite building?  etc.

My dream as a creative person is to be mentioned on ďThe Simpsons.Ē  Then Iíll know that Iíve made it.

Frankís Comments About the Pieces on Display:

Love is the Plan - The Plan is Death

My mind works by trying to make connections between things, sometimes between things that aren't obviously related.  This piece was inspired by two things: James Tiptree Jr.'s classic story about male insects who give their bodies for food, so the females can survive the long winter.  And Michelangelo's Pieta, about the Christ who gave his Life so that we might have eternal Life.

Indifference and Ad Astra (cover):

I still believe that rock and roll can change the world, and that art can change the world. One thing that makes me sad is that there are so many shocking things going on these days, and very few, if any, sci-fi or fantasy artists are addressing these issues.  I see cartoonists and political artists doing this, but not genre artists.  Why?  In "Indifference," I wanted to address the problem of homelessness.  Why do we just casually throw people away?  Here we see robots walking by, ignoring a homeless guy.  I used robots because every time we pass someone in need and do nothing, it costs us a little bit of our humanity, until we have none left.

In "Ad Astra," I revisited the theme of "Indifference," but with a difference.  What I wanted to show was the march of technological achievement, symbolized by the space age.  Recently George Bush promised to help us return to the moon and go to Mars.  This is great, but we have to remember not to leave people behind here on earth.

So many things are going on in the world.  I had been planning on doing a magazine cover commenting on the mistreatment of prisoners at Guantanamo.  Before I started the piece, though, the release of photos of U.S. soldiers humiliating Iraqi prisoners horrified the world.  And rightfully so.  Pictures of men stripped naked, hooded, piled up like cordwood.  A cackling female soldier, cigarette in mouth, pointing, thumbs up, at a naked manís genitals.  The same soldier leading another prisoner on a leash.  Even worse photos may be forthcoming. How can people act this way?  How can her family members deny that she did this, or whine that the fotos must have been faked?  How can the government cover this up these atrocities for months and months, pretending it just didn't happen?  And how can we, as artists, not shout out?


Sometimes, with "Indifference" and "Ad Astra," it's important for me to get on my high horse and address Important Issues.  Sometimes, though, it's just fun to kick back and have fun.  This piece was an excuse to paint a battleship and a Chinese dragon.  The painting is part of a series I'm doing with William F. Wu that I call "Dragon v. Dreadnought."  It's about dragons fighting World War I tri-planes and tanks and early subs, and... battleships, all in an alternate history.  There's no special meaning here, this piece was just for fun.