Becoming a renowned artist is a long game – it takes years of perfecting a style, a craft, and a personal brand. Not too far removed from becoming an entrepreneur, building a career as a painter takes patience and a lot of faith. Dominique Fung has been committed to painting for a number of years, fresh off a gallery showing in Toronto and a large move to New York City. Her art screams cultural messages that are near and dear to her heart. Gaining momentum as a young talent to watch, her style is signature and her focus on building a longstanding career as an artist is something to relish in.
I spent a few hours in her gallery over the summer, and watched eager art enthusiasts, prospective collectors, and content buyers interact with Dominique. In atypical artist fashion, she struck up easy conversation with each person that took the time to view her paintings, and offered reassurance for those coming up in art, and insight to those who came to meet her. Here’s the rest of it:
What was the process like, in deciding that painting was what you wanted to do?
I think it depends on the person you are. For me, I wanted to dabble in a bunch of things. I started with a bit of photography, a bit of graphic design, print illustration, fashion illustration. I tried all of those things, and as fun as each one was, there wasn’t that excitement or spark compared to painting. Making a living as a painter was always a struggling idea for me, because of the way I was brought up. Most people tell you that artists can’t make money. That was something I had to decide to overcome.
I decided to paint on the side. The more I painted, the more addicted I became. I decided that was all I wanted to do.
“The more I painted, the more addicted I became. I decided that was all I wanted to do.”
People say that painting is therapeutic. Do you feel that same way when it becomes your profession?
Yes and no. It depends on the state of mind I’m in at that specific moment when I’m painting. Usually when I start the painting, it’s therapeutic. Mid-way through painting, I feel anxious and stressed about how it will look in the end. Towards the end, I either hate it or am okay about it. It’s not until about a month later I reflect back and realize I enjoyed it.
Is the process to complete a painting pretty systematic for you?
A part of it is intuition and part of it is systematic. I’m not one of those artists that just can splatter paint on canvas. I need more planning and direction for me to feel comfortable. It’s too stressful to start with absolutely nothing.
It has to do with my everyday interactions too. I’ll take photos with my iPhone for things that inspire me on the street based on color and lighting. In the moment, I’ll snap those images, and later I’ll go through them piece by piece, and work off of a reference point, and start painting.
You have a couple different narratives with the types of paintings you’ve done. Your most recent gallery has a lot of cultural themes. Can you think back to the last five years of how you grew into being an artist?
I’ve always made references to my own culture. My culture is so prevalent in the way I was raised – Canada is such a multi-faceted place, and I find it’s so important for me to speak on being an Asian woman in this world. We are some of the least privileged.
Growing up in Ottawa, it was more about my childhood memories and nature. I left when I was 17. From Ottawa to Toronto was the bridge to taking the next steps of my career. It was pure transition, being in school, figuring out what I wanted to do. Toronto has a bigger arts pool to dive into. I built up my voice and my artwork in Toronto, and it gave me the confidence to go to an even larger setting – New York.
When you’re working independently, how do you continue to grow your craft and turn your ideas into something tangible?
What’s beautiful now is having the internet and so many resources. I remember during school there weren’t quite so many places online that could offer up information on the arts. A lot of it is looking at artists through video, going to workshops. It’s important to remember that you’re never going to be “finished” with learning new techniques, skills, and ways to translate your idea to something tangible.
You talked to me about a lot of the mechanics of showing your work at a gallery, and conveying value for your work.
Showing at a gallery is about finding a match – you need to find one that fits your style of work and what messages you’re trying to convey. You really need to also find a gallery that believes in you. Depending on where you are in your career, is when you’re able to approach galleries to collaborate with you. It’s not quite like you can wander in with your portfolio. What’s helped a lot for me has been to share my art openly online – not being shy with showing your work. If you have good work, people will recognize it. Eyeballs help, and the idea of “good work” is completely subjective.
“What’s helped a lot for me has been to share my art openly online – not being shy with showing your work.”
It’s interesting to hear you talk about working with different galleries and brands, while maintaining art that’s true to yourself.
That’s the most important thing – developing art that is 100% true to yourself and your message about where you are in your life. Deep down inside you know if you’ve created something that is completely yours. It’s about finding that truth for yourself when you’re creating. I feel a sense of satisfaction when I complete a piece of art, and I know that something is completely mine. Nobody else paints like me, because I’m the one that spoke my own truth. It’s about having confidence and ownership over that.
I love that, because it’s universally relevant for most things we desire. It’s just hard because you get distracted.
It’s about focusing. I think if you really want to make it in any industry, it’s about having 100% focus and give it your all. I’m really excited to be in New York to work on my next body of work. My next steps are about taking what I’ve done and multiplying. Doing twice as much work, twice as many projects, and also understand the lay of the land in another city. I feel like I’m starting fresh, and learn like the underdog. At the end of the day, I really do think that if you do good work to the best of your ability, you’ll find somebody who appreciates your work, or somebody will find you.
“At the end of the day, I really do think that if you do good work to the best of your ability, you’ll find somebody who appreciates your work, or somebody will find you.”