Flex Gallery and the Work of Fan Wu

by Zachary Johnson

In response to a lack of public art opportunities during winter, on January 11th, I launched Flex Gallery, a mobile public art space located on my left arm. For the project, I sent canvas armbands to six artists, requesting they turn them into artworks. Each artist works in a wide variety of media, and I provided them with no themes or limitations other than the dimensions of the band. In April, I wore the work of Fan Wu, an illustrator and 2016 Kendall College Excellence Award Winner originally from Beijing who now resides in Grand Rapids. I spoke with him last month to learn more about his work and creative process.

Fan Wu Armband
Fan Wu, Flex Gallery, Armband

Zachary Johnson (ZJ): How did you get started as an artist?

Fan Wu (FW): I‘ve always been interested in art…since I was young. I think I got it from my parents; both of my parents have an architectural background so I developed an appreciation for art at an early age. They really helped me grow artistically with their encouragement.

Zachary Johnson (ZJ): What are some of the ways your art has changed through studying at Kendall?

Fan Wu (FW): Before I came to Kendall, I was a silly high school boy who was obsessed with Japanese animation; I loved to make fan-art of my favorite cartoons. Me and my friends from different cities of China even started a group called Forest Bird, making fan-books, postcards and selling them at different Chinese comic-cons. But after coming to Kendall and being exposed to various other styles of illustration, I feel I am slowly evolving into a more varied and professional illustrator. I’m so glad I came to America and Kendall! It gives me a chance to explore different opportunities. I also met so many great friends and professors at Kendall who’ve encouraged and helped me to become a better artist.

Zachary Johnson (ZJ): What was your inspiration for this piece?

Fan Wu (FW): “Hug” is the key word for this piece. I came from Beijing, so hugs are not a thing between strangers, and I don’t remember ever being taught how to hug people. But I learned how after I came here, and I felt more comfortable hugging people. No matter your skin color, what language you speak, we all live on this planet.

Zachary Johnson (ZJ): Who is one of your favorite artists? Why?

Fan Wu (FW): I would say Wolfgang Laib is my favorite artist; I love how he brings natural elements such as rice, milk, pollen or beeswax into an art piece. There is no over decoration; everything is really clean and well thought-out.

Zachary Johnson (ZJ): What is your creative process like?

I think of ideas whenever I’m free, sketch them out, and choose the most interesting one or the one that the art director likes. I bring a sketchbook with me everywhere, so when I wait for my food order or when I’m on the bus I can always sketch them out. Then I do the line work and finish with the coloring. The piece for Flex Gallery was done on an ipad. I’m working more and more that way since getting one.

Fan Wu Friends From The Ocean

Fan Wu, Friends From The Ocean

Zachary Johnson (ZJ): What’s next for you?

Fan Wu (FW): After the year of OPT (optional practical training for international student after graduation) I am applying for an artist visa which will help me stay in the US longer to reach my illustrator dreams. So I’m crossing my fingers for that!


This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Posts by Zachary Johnson are also available via instagram and tumblr under the name Vis Ed. Fan Wu’s work is currently showing at the UICA as part of the exhibition Flex Gallery: A Public Art Project through August 2, 2017.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: