Growing up on his grandparents’ farm in Taiwan, James Hsieh, MFA Fine Arts ’17, was surrounded and inspired by nature. “Moving to New York City was a culture shock,” he explains. Navigating those two disparate environments helped shape his vision as an artist.
In 2018, Hsieh was commissioned to create his first public art installation, celebrating Christmas at Queens Crossing, a busy plaza in downtown Flushing, New York. He was excited at the opportunity to create art for one of the most culturally diverse places in the world. “The installation needed to speak to all of the diverse communities in Queens,” says Hsieh.
The centerpiece of Hsieh’s Pentagram Invasion installation was a sculpture of a star, a symbol he identified with Christmas in his native Taiwan. But Hsieh saw his star not as an emblem representing one religion or one holiday but as something that everyone could relate to. “We’re all living under the same sky,” he says. “And we all make wishes on the same star.”
The star sat atop a pedestal mural depicting a whimsical, otherworldly landscape of shapes, colors, and fantastical characters representing the diverse experiences and people in Queens, particularly immigrants. An immigrant himself, Hsieh is aware that “people see you differently sometimes.” The botanical elements of the mural suggest the human connection to the natural world and reflect Hsieh’s nostalgia for the lush green environment of his home in Taiwan.
Hsieh currently holds an artist residency with the community-based organization Art on the Ave NYC, at Fulton Center in lower Manhattan. There he maintains a studio space, where he has begun experimenting with recycled materials, which enables him to incorporate sustainability into his work. “It’s new for me,” says Hsieh, “but it’s very exciting.”