621 Gallery Presents:

An Interview with Nan Liu

By Isabella Falbo

Preceding his exhibition here at 621 Gallery, I had the privilege of speaking with artist Dr. Nan Liu about his practice and his life. Over the course of the conversation I learned a great deal about him, such as his inspirations, his education, and the journey that led him to where he is today.

Dr. Liu is originally from Tianjin, China where he grew up and lived until he graduated from Nankai University. After his undergraduate program, he moved to Beijing in 1997 to study art education at Capital Normal University. In 1999, he moved to Arkansas to finish his graduate studies where he worked as a painting assistant there while he studied art and art education. Following his interests of art education and painting; he moved to Tallahassee in 2002 where he gained a Master in Fine Arts and a Ph.D. in art education from Florida State University. Ever since then, he has lived and worked here in Tallahassee. Graduating in 2008, he began working at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in 2009 and is still teaching drawing and painting there today.

Even though he was exposed to a lot of contemporary art during his MFA program at FSU, he was never as captivated by it as he was with more traditional art. From a young age, he was taught in a more traditional fashion in China that included copying Chinese brush paintings, creating still lives, and studying Greek and Roman statues. Over the course of his education in China, he only had two weeks of formal training in oil painting, and was mostly trained in water based media. Despite this, he began exploring oil paints in graduate school and it remains one of his main mediums he works with today. Dr. Liu is primarily influenced by the naturalism and realism movements and the landscape and figure painters within them. He is inspired by artists such as John Singer Sargent, Rembrandt, and Jules Bastien-Lepage.

For Dr. Nan Liu, inspiration comes from teaching at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University. As a professor on campus he is surrounded by the vibrant culture and bustling student life. Dr. Liu is fascinated by the different aspects: fashion seen on campus as well as the technology that he sees play a role in the students’ lives.  “New Naturalism – Figure Paintings” at 621, this February (2020) was inspired by his students at FAMU. There he is exposed to lots of different cultures on campus, but primarily black culture, and he is constantly inspired by how it presents itself. He is inspired by his many interactions with students and their presence on campus. For this body of work, he used a mix of photo references as well as just his memories.

His main advice to young artists today is to have a goal and work hard towards that goal. Even though it may be difficult as an emerging artist, putting in the time and the work will always be beneficial. Dr. Liu has learned how competitive the art world can be and how you are not only competing with other contemporary artists but also with all the artists that have come before. He advises young artists to seek opportunities to show their work in any capacity that they can and to apply for grants to help support their practice. Even if there aren’t many opportunities in your area, seek elsewhere and seek often. 


Nan Liu on opening night