Gian Galang - Artist Spotlight

Gian Galang - Artist Spotlight

Every few months, Artbean collaborates with talented artists, showcasing their work in installations and selling the unique merchandise they create through our collaborations. You will see their work on our exhibition wall, on our shelves, and even sometimes in the offerings on our menu.  It is truly a sensory-rich delight blending two amazing things: coffee and art!

Artbean is proud to exhibit the work of artist Gian Galang.  The scope of his dynamic portraiture is awe-inspiring.  Reminiscent of the bold vibrancy of comic illustrations, Gian’s work is a reminder that there’s heroism among us all.  Chinatown Warriors aspires to inspire.  See Gian’s artwork for yourself here at Artbean; and, you may just come away with the energy of a Wushu athlete--a caffeinated one, of course!


The Origins

Powerful art moves us in various ways.  Getting goosebumps listening to one’s favorite piece of music.  Crying during touching parts of a movie.  Discussing the thought-provoking content of a good book.  And then, there’s some art that appeals to multiple senses, making the viewer feel the physical sensations of actually moving.  For dynamic portrait artist Gian Galang, art is movement.  It's the wind that moves through your hair with the passing kicks of a Wushu athlete.  It’s the compulsion you feel to clap and cheer with pride by the super-heroic imagery he depicts.

Gian kneeling in front of his exhibition, "Chinatown Warriors" at Artbean Coffee

And, movement truly is at the crux of Gian Galang’s story--both literally and figuratively.  Although born in Los Angeles, Gian moved to Hong Kong while still a baby, living there until age ten, and subsequently moving to Virginia.  “I say I’m from Virginia, given that I lived there from middle school through college,” Gian shared.  “But, my mother was a flight attendant, and my grandmother lived in L.A., so we were traveling every year.” 

His move to New York City came as the result of opportunity.  With warmth and nostalgia, Gian shared, “New York City was where I got my first job.  I worked in advertising for seven years, eventually becoming an art director.  While in advertising, I worked on building up my illustration career, as well.  So, I had the necessary training wheels before I built up enough clients to go freelance.  As an art director, it was such a great introduction to all types of creative fields; and, it taught me that painting and illustration were what really piqued my interest most.”

And for Gian, the rest, as they say, is quite an incredible, moving, history.


The Installation

Gian’s exhibit, Chinatown Warriors, is a continuation of the indelible mark he continues to leave on Doyers Street.  “Chinatown Warriors is an exhibit that’s an extension of the mural I did on Doyers Street last year,” began Gian.  “When I was originally commissioned to do that mural, I wanted to paint something that would bring energy to the community.  So, I painted Wushu athletes, which is the national sport of China.  Wushu athletes inspire me; and, I wanted to bring this energy to the community.”  With palpable humility and excitement, Gian continued, “A lot of residents have said that the Doyers Street mural reminds them of movies they’d seen as children.  It’s powerful to receive that kind of community feedback.”

Mural of a Wushu martial artist on a building wall outside on Doyers St.

The energy Gian seeks to inspire in his Doyers Street mural is a thread that’s continued in the Chinatown Warriors exhibit.  “In the exhibition, I have one large-scale painting that expands on this Wushu theme.”  With a smile, he added, “I wanted to bring a bit of that New York City street-vibe, though.  Chinatown today is a mixture of the old and new--it’s a powerful dynamic.  The figures painted reflect this.” 

Yes, Chinatown is a symphony that beats to a glorious drum--one that Gian recognizes with artistic homage.  It’s that unique beat sewn with the talent of business owners, chefs, and artists alike--artists like Gian.  And, akin to his work, like any good beat, it moves.  “Besides the painting,” Gian explained, “I will have a collection of Chinese martial arts themed prints of past work I’ve done, including a lot of pieces from my last gallery show, which was also Wushu themed.”


The Process & The Inspiration

“I specialize in dynamic portraits,” Gian shared.  And dynamic they are.  “I have always been fascinated with drawing my favorite action figures from comic books and video games.  So, a lot of my work I get hired for is dynamic portraiture.”  When asked to define the elements of dynamic portraiture, the love Gian has for his work and his process is tangible, as he readily shares it all with a smile on his face.  “It all starts with figure compositions.  With commercial work, other considerations go into it, like who the audience is, and color schemes and such.  But, usually, it will start with the pose, and the composition of the figures.  After that, my process aligns with illustration standards.”  Having gone to school for illustration and graphic design, it all tracks, of course.

To the greener eye, it is easy to look at a painting and think that is how it all began.  But, for Gian, the act of painting follows a specific planning process.  “I create thumbnail sketches; and then I flesh those out by blocking in the darks and the lights.  Once that’s figured out, then I go to the canvas.”  In this moment, it’s hard not to make the parallel between the artist and the figures he paints.  The ferocity and strength of the figures aren’t characteristics that occur overnight.  For the Wushu athletes he paints, there’s arduous training and dedication that occur prior to the display of such athleticism.  For Gian, his dynamic portraiture is, in fact, most dynamic because of the precision entailed in his planning process.

Gian painting a black and white mural while standing on scaffolding

When asked to expound on his inspiration, Gian shared, “For me, martial arts and arts have always gone hand-in-hand.  I was always an ‘art kid’ with the things I would draw always being my favorite characters from my comic books.  Then, when I was creating my personal work in my advertising career, I began doing UFC fan art.  That’s kind of what got me on the map.”  With a smile, Gian continued, “Luckily for me, the MMA community is a tight one.  Some of my fan work blew-up on the MMA tumbler with one of my pieces making its way to an athlete who used it as his Facebook profile photo!  From there, that helped me get on the MMA Reddit, which led me to doing editorial illustrations.”  With noticeable gratitude, he added, “That’s how I was able to build-up my audience through a super-niche online market.” 

The Artistic Training

“While in college, I double-majored in illustration and graphic design,” Gian began, continuing, “my thinking was to have the art foundation when being introduced to all of the avenues you can go down.  I knew I loved illustration, but I wanted to ensure there was a clear path for me to both use my art, and to develop it, professionally.”  Gian’s professional inspiration was the result of  a campus visit.  “Someone visited one of my classes senior year who was an art director.  I realized that you can wear so many hats doing this work, constantly being exposed to various types of creative styles.  And, I thought it would be a great blend of the art I liked.”  The gusto and focus of the genesis of his artistic work is boldly reminiscent of the figures he paints. 

The Median, Evolution, & Identity

“Since moving more into the fine art world, I have been a lot more conscious of surface.”  Perhaps sensing my curiosity, he specified, “what I mean is the actual texture of when you see the physical artwork in person.  Often, when doing fan illustration, I’m doing rough illustrations and scanning them in.  So, it was more about the graphic impact.  But, as I started having more gallery shows, I grew more concerned with working in different kinds of techniques like collage that give you more unusual visual impacts in person.”

His wife, Ilana standing in a gallery in front of three large paintings he did for his Wushu series

Of course, art, like the person behind it, can evolve and change, in a type of dynamic movement all its own.  “I started out with MMA themed work, and the different types of assignments I’ve gotten since have been varied.  That’s included some movie posters, which has forced me into thinking about different subject matters.”  For Gian, professional opportunities and life experiences have shaped the inspiration behind his art.  And, maybe that’s precisely what’s at the heart of it all.  Allowing one’s life to effectively move and bleed into one’s art may just be the physics behind what makes it so powerful.

The Wisdom

When asked to reflect upon the start of his artistic journey, Gian thoughtfully advises, “Don’t be afraid to work within a niche, no matter how small it is, as long as it’s something you’re really psyched about.  A lot of people asked me how I got into MMA work,” and with a smirk, added, “I just liked drawing action figures. I watched MMA, so it was about following my passion.”

Like so many, Gian isn’t exempt from second-guessing.  “When I’m planning a project now, especially for gallery work, there aren’t any rules.  So, I may second guess myself sometimes.”  WIth a pause, he added with certainty, “but, I think if you can listen to your gut, go with instinct, and create art you’re really passionate about, that’s usually the right call.”

With excitement, Gian shared, “Develop your tastes.  Actively develop your tastes!  Before I went into illustration, I didn’t really have a concept about what illustration really was.  My exposure to art as a kid was really comic books.  But, when I learned about illustrators in school, it exposed me to what kind of techniques and style I like.  Then I moved into graphic design, I learned to appreciate different things there.  As an artist, if you can actively work on developing your taste, it will give your work something to be grounded in.  If you don’t have exposure to many things, you may not be able to take your art as far as you can.”

And therein lies it all for Gian Galang’s art.  Taking things far--to its limits--isn’t just about showing the depths of the dynamic figures he personifies.  It’s about potential--reaching it, developing it, redefining it.  For Gian, his subjects and content are always in a moment of movement.  But, for visual art to move the multiple senses his does, the potential of the artist has to move, too--to its limit, towards a constantly moving barometer of redefinition.

- By Courtney Adams, @ahhcoocoo

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