Take 5 with Artist-in-Residence Jasmine Chen

November 8, 2023 by Stewart Ikeda

Artist Jasmine Chen in her studio at The Umbrella

Jasmine Chen is The Umbrella's Fall 2023 Artist-in-Residence. A visual artist originally from Beijing, China, she is currently based in Boston. Her work is in the permanent collection of the Danforth Art Museum and has been exhibited there and at Matter and Light Fine Art, the Jackson Homestead Museum, and elsewhere. It was also featured in a solo exhibit at the New Art Center. She has a B.A. from Harvard and PhD from Brandeis and studied art independently.

We were able to “take 5” with Jasmine earlier this week and visit her studio.


We are so thrilled to have you as the Fall 2023 Artist-in-Residence at The Umbrella.  You are a self-taught painter. Can you identify 3 key moments in journey that you think "trained" you as an artist?

I don’t have an art degree but took many classes at RISD, the Museum School (now part of Tufts University), and the New Art Center, in painting, drawing, film-making, and ceramics. Still, it was early childhood experiences, so clear to me now, that seeded my passion for the visual arts and, more than anything else, were my art school. 

When I was two, as part of my application to a boarding pre-school (a type of institution that is wholly alien, even frightening, to most Americans but was common in China!) I was asked to draw a self-portrait. As a new kid in my class there--age two--I followed others’ examples to draw loose cartoons of “erliuzi” (idlers). 

A few years later, when I was five, my father made a portrait of me with colored   pencils. I was wearing a pale-green, buttoned shirt with embroidery in the front, of a flower and leaf vine, and a round collar made of ruffled sheer fabric, and multi-colored striped pajama pants. I’ve replayed that memory a thousand times like a movie clip.  

Between the ages of six and ten, I did not see my father. He had gone to America as one of the first cohorts of visiting scholars from China. Twice in those years, someone brought back a two-inch tall pile of photos of my father at various sites in the U.S. I remember going through the piles to remember what he looked like. 

I know your residency project is shaped by your own memories and experiences. Can you tell us about a little about your background and connection to Concord?

I first arrived in Concord from China when I was fifteen, to attend Middlesex School on a full scholarship. I was very focused on my studies and received much support from my teachers, staff members, and fellow students. I entered Harvard College after that and studied applied math and economics. Later, upon finishing my PhD in economics, I returned to Concord as a young mother, to teach, coach, and be a dorm parent at Middlesex School for one year. 

Can you tell us more about the project you are working on during your residency and what you expect to present in the Artist-in-Residence show in August/September 2024?

I have been making a lot of portraits of other artists this summer, while at the Vermont Studio Center residency, and during my solo exhibition at Storefront Art Projects titled “BodyWork + Practice.” At the Umbrella Art Center, I started making large-scale self-portraits.  I have started two so far and I plan to have a few more by the time of the exhibition in the summer or fall.  On top of revisiting my selfhood, I am taking this opportunity to reflect on my body and the healing process. 

How would you describe your painting process, color palette, and style?

I first learned to paint by copying Van Gogh’s paintings from high-quality large prints of his work. I found that I could mix his exact colors using primary colors, white and black oil paints. That gave me the confidence and freedom to mix my own colors with a small selection of colors. I think we get attracted by and appalled by certain colors and color combinations we encounter in life and art, and those reactions must have something to do with my color choices. 

Recently I have been making very quick portraits with oil paint or black ink. The time constraint forces any thinking out of the making process and demands a kind of intense concentration that results in a direct transfer of energy from the sitter to the canvas via my sight, body and paint brush. 

I also make large, multi-layered and complex paintings, built up over time from multiple runs of editing. These paintings are not planned ahead of time and the process is based on intuition that at moments shouts out what the canvas demands. Often times, this intuitive thinking and making process results in imaginary landscapes with creatures in them, reflecting the thoughts and emotions that went into the making. In these complex paintings, I like to mix in other media beyond oil paint, such as gold leaf, candle smoke, and spray paint.

What has your experience been like at The Umbrella?

I have found the Umbrella to be a friendly place with many talented artists who are also very nice people. Stephanie Marlin-Curiel, the Visual Arts Manager, has been a great support and presence. I also enjoyed meeting the next artist-in-residence, Catherine, and her baby. It so happens that Catherine has taught kindergarten in China, and I was a new mother when I taught in Concord.


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