Chau Xhien: Venice Foo, Our Very Own Nature Inspired Artist From Sabah
While scrolling through my explore page on Instagram I stumbled upon an embroidery of sunflowers with octopus tentacles. Did it catch my attention? Yes. Was I repulsed? Absolutely not. As a person who loves flowers myself, I was intrigued by the concept and the colour combination of the whole piece.
It was when I went to the artist’s page that I got even more excited to have found out that she was a Malaysian. A proud Sabahan with a whopping 14.5k followers on Instagram that goes by the name Chau Xhien.
It was right there and then, I decided to make it my quest to have her for an interview and so I did! We were actually supposed to meet up in KL last March but due to the coronavirus, we opted for an email interview instead. Here’s what she has to share with us!
Introducing Chau Xhien
Chau Xhien or preferably addressed as Venice Foo is an artist based in Sabah. She started doing full time in 2017 as a mural artist. The feeling of crafting or creating something with her own hands has always been a devotion to her. Hence, after 1 year of painting murals, she decided to work with a different medium by experimenting on crochet, embroidery and cross-stitching.
Before becoming a full-time artist, Venice worked in the F&B industry as a manager of a cafe for a few years. She made every effort to make art whenever she could while she was working in the cafe. It was either during lunch break and even during her free time after work ended.
Venice also mentioned how she was lucky to have supportive friends who would commission her to make and create something for them. Slowly, more and more people started reaching out to her for her art and by then she decided to take the risk and work full time with her art.
Nature As Her Main Source Of Inspiration
One thing I have noticed about Venice’s work is that she implements nature in most of her artwork so I asked the humble artist for the reason. This was her answer.
“My grandmother has a really beautiful garden.”Venice
Venice spent a lot of time in her grandmother’s garden during her adolescent days. Everyday, the plants never looked the same to her. She found it magical and was deeply inspired by it. “It was a small world filled with colours and endless possibilities.”
As an adult her love for nature grows with her and she can be found spending her free time hiking or walking in nature.
“It grounds me and as corny as it sounds, that’s when inspiration flows in.”Venice
Apart from getting inspiration from the peaceful nature around her, Venice mentioned that whenever she sees children create art, she would adore their paint strokes and how they make art without any rules nor plans on how to do it. It’s their uttermost freedom, which adults often lack, inspires her the most.
The Challenges Faced
As an artist, was there ever a time in her life that she has encountered where she finds making art is more of a chore than just out of passion? Here’s what Venice has to say.
“Oh yes, but only for a very short period of time!” Most artists would agree with Venice as when she first started working as a full-time artist, she didn’t have the choice to be picky at jobs. In fact, she accepted most of the jobs because not only she had to pay rent but she also had to make a living.
Venice challenged herself by making art in different styles so that they could fit different clients’ taste and vision. It was at that time where she really felt like making art is more of work because she couldn’t choose projects and jobs that include creativity freedom.
Projects By Venice
Speaking about creative freedom, one of the projects that had drawn me even more towards the artist is her Yarn Bombing.
For those who have heard Yarn Bombing for the first time like myself, it is a form of street art where yarn in any form (knit, crochet, latch, hook, cross-stitch, amigurumi or simple wrapping) adorns an object in the public environment. Or in other words, you’re putting on knitted sweaters on trees and lamp posts.
Venice did her very first yarn bombing in 2019 last year. It was basically a non-profit project where she made this huge colourful blanket out of discarded yarn and installed it on a tree.
She has always admired the street art culture where artists would make graffiti overnight and the next day it would leave the public in wonder and amazement when they discover it. Venice thought that she could do something similar but instead of using the common spray paint, she could use yarn.
The only underside to this project was that this movement was done without a permit and it could be considered littering, which is why Venice had to quickly install it so that she won’t get caught, and most of the time the artwork would be taken down before she could even have the chance to recycle it.
Like all street arts, unless done with the permission of a host organization or a private property owner, yarn bombing is illegal. If you are installing something without permission- it IS graffiti. However, the big difference between yarn bombing and graffiti is the reason behind it.
While spray painting is usually seen as vandalising despite the creative imagery displayed, yarn bombing adds colour and warmth to the cold city-like environment. But truth be told, yarn bombing can still be damaging so make sure you do your research before attempting this activity.
Pillars Of Sabah 1.0
Venice mentioned working with Red before and one of the biggest projects they’ve worked together was for the Pillars of Sabah 1.0 back in 2018. And here are her thoughts about it.
“Oh, it was a wonderful experience!” Venice was ecstatic when she found out she got chosen as one of the 30 artists who were going to revive the pillars. She has also said she made new friends who made art in different forms.
“Thank you to the organizers for gathering all of us together, the art community here in Sabah has grown stronger and more lively after this POS event.”
‘Pillars of Sabah’ features the works of 30 Sabahan artists honouring 30 people from Sabah who have inspired them. Each artist was allocated a pillar where they paint their chosen portraits on one side and their own self-portrait on the other.
Venice had painted the ever-inspiring, Jess Boubie. An ultra-marathoner who made headlines back in 2019 for answering an English interview in her mother tongue, Dusun. In some races, you could even find Jess wearing Tobilung, a traditional Dusun costume paired with colourful accessories, to promote Sabahan culture. (source)
Artists Venice Admires
When asked to name three artists that she’d like to be compared to, Venice answered, “I can’t think of any artist that I’d like to be compared to so far… I’m still a baby!”
Venice continued by mentioning she has a long list of artists that she admires. One artist, in particular, is her absolute favourite, none other than Red HongYi. An established Malaysian artist well known for making artwork and installation with daily-life objects such as chopsticks, socks, salt and more. Even before Venice started working in the art industry, she had been looking up to her and now it still feels surreal that she got to work with Red in a few of her projects.
Other than Red, Venice mentioned that she is also a fan of James Jean, a Taiwanese American visual artist, and Jana Brike, a Latvian painter. Venice finds James’ way of storytelling to be unique and there’s a distinctive flow in his works that she greatly admires about. Whereas Jana shows an intense level of emotional rawness in her paintings, which is rare and daring to the audience.
It’s no brainer to see Venice admiring these great artists and I won’t be too surprised if one day, we would see the name Chau Xhien next to these big names in the future.
Venice’s portfolio is such a treat to the eyes. She has done portraits, paintings, murals and now she’s into embroidery! We asked her if she has found her true calling in embroidery or we can expect more sides from her in the future.
“I don’t know yet for sure but I am excited!” The local artist said she enjoys embroidery at the moment, but is still hungry to try different ways to create. She feels that if she were to put herself in one box, she would miss out other possibilities out there for her.
She would love to try something new in the future. It could be sculpting, woodworking or even oil painting!
Advice For Aspiring Artists
What is the best piece of advice Venice has ever received?
“Be patient, kind and open-minded throughout the journey.”Venice
What would be her advice to all the young aspiring artists of this generation?
“Firstly, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there! That’s how I got most of my painting jobs when I first started working as a full-time artist.”Venice
Venice encourages aspiring artists out there to create a portfolio. She suggested a couple of platforms like DeviantArt, Etsy and even Instagram that could be used to show your artwork. Venice added that word-of-mouth is a very powerful tool. Tell your friends or your family that you’re planning to make money with your talent.
She concluded by advising that you should invest your time to learn about money and career management. “It may sound daunting at first but you’ll find it extremely useful afterwards.”
Having found Venice through Instagram myself, just proves how social media works wonders as a sharing platform. It is an absolute honour to have the opportunity to share Venice’s story and showcase her talents to everyone here.
Venice is currently working on her first solo exhibition that will be happening this coming November!
To see more of Venice’s amazing artwork, you can check out her website to purchase them online!