On Saturday, I awoke to a message from a friend of mine who said I needed to interview this wonderful, Taiwanese artist he knew right away. (He’s on the other side of the planet, so it was about 6 a.m. my time.) I was intrigued, so I got out of bed while everyone else was still asleep and I introduced myself to 18-year-old Kuang via chat.
Kuang and I messaged each other for about an hour, and she told me all about her solo travels across the world in the past three years. During her travels, she’s met a whole bunch of new friends, taken giant risks, and, arguably most importantly, honed in on her creative passion — her colorful, whimsical paintings that are inspired by her daily life and her own imagination.
EG: Tell me a little bit about yourself, Kuang.
K: I was born in Taiwan. Then I lived in China for six years since my parents do business there. They divorced when I was two years old. I was in an American school first, then in some Chinese local schools, and then in an international school. I studied in seven schools in nine years. After grade 9, due to some family and school issues, I didn’t continue. I went back to Taiwan and worked for three months, then traveled around Taiwan islands. In the travels, I painted on the walls for a hostel for the first time. Then I started to paint. I mean, I always painted before, but I never took it seriously. Also, we have tons of things to do in school for keeping the good grades. I just didn’t really paint much, so it was just, like, not my thing.
Then I went to Spain, I was in a language school for three months first, then in an art school for five months, but I didn’t like it at all and I had some problems with my visa as I was only 16. So I quit school and had my backpacks and paints with me to backpack around the Balkans and Turkey for six months. The seventh month, I was in Hungary with some Chinese friends and in Holland with my good friends since they’re all there. In October 2017, I went back to Taiwan stayed there for ten months. In 2018, I was in Taiwan but I also went to the Philippines for a half month and Japan for a month and a bit more. I hitchhiked through half of Japan. And in October 2018, I came back to school in Spain. I’m in an art foundation program and I’m trying to apply for illustration as my study, but I’m not sure how it’ll go.
EG: What made you want to travel?
K: Well, I got difficult about the school, as I said, and the visa thing. And I didn’t know what I wanted to do and what I actually like. I thought about going back to Asia but I didn’t really have a place to stay there. So I looked on the map and found the Balkans and Turkey, and I realized I rarely meet people from that region. I’ve heard nothing about there and none of my friends had been there. So I decided to just go around there for a while and think about the next step.
EG: That’s a big leap!
K: Yeah, it definitely was. And I didn’t expect anything from that trip, but that was the best time ever in my life. It was also quite risky. I was 16 and alone, I didn’t have much money, and I didn’t know anyone from there. But I didn’t think that much about it. I just grabbed my bag and my paints and went. First, I found a cheap flight from Barcelona to Istanbul. I stayed there for almost a month. Then I found a cheap flight from Istanbul to Sarajevo, Bosnia. Two days before the flight, I met a Bosnian girl in Istanbul, and she was like, “Oh you’ll be there? We can meet there! You can come to my house stay in my house!” So I stayed in her place. Her house is somewhere two hours from Sarajevo in the mountains. It’s a really traditional, small Muslim village.
EG: Did you experience any culture shock at all?
K: I did for sure. Lots of things happened in those seven months.
EG: Yeah I bet. So when you painted that mural two years ago, that’s when you first realized you wanted to paint on a more professional level? What “clicked” for you during that time?
K: I didn’t get [challenged] while I was doing that. It was pretty easy for me. Also, I painted in exchange for room and board. You know how much it means for a 15-year-old kid! Then I tried to do more, and I was thinking I could probably take it as a profession since it’s easier than doing anything else for me. And of course, I enjoy it. I’m not a really patient person but I could be painting for so many hours.
EG: Your paintings are so beautiful! How would you describe your art style?
K: Hmmm, I think they are more like illustrations which tell stories. There is always a story behind a painting. They are also like my diaries.
EG: Where do you find inspiration?
K: Daily life and inside of myself. And being in different places meeting different people.
EG: What do you love about painting?
K: I like that paintings can express things in a very different way, and make people happy or sad or being in any emotion. It affects people! And in a painting, it’s an independence thing. It’s my own stuff — totally myself, not sharing with anyone. It can really be what I want and who I am in the painting.
EG: Do you think your art has changed or grown since when you first started?
K: It for sure has changed and grown, not only in the technique part but also the material and the scope of meaning was getting wider. And it’s a big part of my travel as well. I always mark the location when I sign when I finish a painting. The travels influence me very much.
EG: Do you paint them on location?
EG: That’s super cool. Whenever I try to mess around with watercolors, I always manage to make a huge mess. And that’s just at my kitchen table.
EG: What are your plans for the future?
K: It’s quite simple actually — I want to be an illustrator. At this time, I’m applying for illustration in Holland, but I don’t know how it’ll go at all. I don’t even know if they’ll accept my diploma, but I’m giving it a try. But at this time, I just want to settle down somewhere, improve my skill and ability, and be an illustrator. Also after running around since I was 15, I’m quite tired about that. I would love to start travel again, but I would like to settle down for a while first, make the way, and then go.
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Kuang is an 18-year-old, Taiwanese illustrator who’s been traveling different parts of the world by herself since she was just 15 years old. She’s currently in Spain going to school. You can see more of her art on her Instagram, @pandakuangillust, and her Facebook page.