I reach KAI LIN ART gallery and immediately notice the large, sunny mural facing the space — a first sign of good omen. As I enter, I stop to decipher the neon word contained in a minimalistic piece by the door, a mirrored “kindness.” I’m sold.
Robie Duchateau, the gallery’s director of events, waves warmly and moments later, Yu-Kai Lin offers me his large smile, shakes my hand and leads me into his office: a vibrant and eclectic mix of colors and shapes.
Founded in 2008 by Yu-Kai, KAI LIN ART is a contemporary art gallery that encourages creativity, connection, and conversation through art. Working with both emerging and established artists, Yu-Kai maintains an accelerated exhibition program with new exhibits every six to eight weeks — all while selecting only the best, most provocative art.
His office is indicative of his curating style. He points to one of the many pieces peppering the space, a detailed sketch of a rabbit painted on an enormous sheet of notebook paper.
“This piece — this little rabbit — the artist, Larry Jens Anderson, is in his seventies and he started the Atlanta College of Art that later became SCAD. He has Parkinson’s and he was unable to hold a paintbrush. He taught a class on unconventional painting — he painted this piece with a branch found in his backyard and taught his class to use anything but a paintbrush to paint with. This rabbit is done with a stick and it’s amazing how much detail, how much quality and character he can get from just a branch. He then underwent a procedure at Emory that removed the tremors in his hands. This painting [points to “The Burden Collage,” graphite and ink on paper, below] was done after his operation, when he could hold a paintbrush again. Larry’s every single line has a story and a purpose and tells a rich tapestry of his own life experiences.”
I ask Yu-Kai about his own history.
“The more history a person has, the better their art can become,” he says.
His parents emigrated from Taiwan and Yu-Kai grew up in Georgia. He graduated from Emory in 2001 as a pre-med student with a degree in music — piano performance. A classically trained pianist, he teaches piano at his private studio near his home. He calls it his “Sunday, Monday, Tuesday job.”
“My youngest [student] is four, my oldest is 72. What I’ve learned through teaching privately is that where there’s a will there’s a way. We can all learn if we’re open to it.”
He describes himself as a day-dreamer. As a child, Yu-Kai spent his free time drawing and coloring, activities that garnered him awards. He began studying music in fourth grade — first violin, then piano and voice — and hasn’t stopped since. At Emory, he took art history classes combined with chemistry and biology for his pre-med requirements, all while continuing to sharpen his musical skills under the tutelage of Dr. William Ransom.
“Music and science go hand-in-hand, they really complement each other. The discipline it takes to read, learn, absorb music — it translates well to the discipline needed in sciences.”
Yu-Kai was part of the a-cappella group No Strings Attached and SPC (Student Programming Council) where he helped bring in entertainers like Jerry Springer, Goo Goo Dolls and Busta Rhymes. “That was so fun. It helped me because now I need to do a lot of event planning for the gallery: artist talks, openings, closings.”
After various internships in medical centers in Atlanta, he realized that he didn’t want “to see sick people all the time and work from 7 to 7.” Post-graduation, he took his medical school exams and did well, but took a leap of faith to pursue the arts.
He worked at two galleries before opening KAI LIN ART. “I had mentors. It’s good to have mentors, to find people that you trust, that you like —or even people that you don’t like but trust—so that you can learn from their mistakes and figure out what you’d do differently.”
While he is constantly surrounded by beautiful art at work, his job is anything but simple and pretty.
“It’s difficult [to own and run a gallery] everyday. It’s a challenge to sustain, to grow and to keep it all up in the air. It’s beautiful from the outside — from the inside it takes a lot of work, a lot of conversations and connections, thought and action for art to happen. The funding and the nitty gritty of finances are so important. There are so many artists and only a few galleries and a handful of art collectors — we have to carry the weight of all that. It’s not an easy role to have.”
I ask him whether his musical training informs his current work.
“Art and music are integrally intertwined. A lot of artists create their art while listening to music — there are just different types of art and I think they can all be meditative. Music is audibly meditative; paintings and drawings are visually [meditative]. They are all sensorial. Music helps inform being an art gallerist in that it takes a lot of diligence, practice, patience, dedication and self-motivation. You need all these to make things happen.”
Our talk shifts to a discussion about individual and collective purpose.
“That’s why we are here, to connect and to relate, to learn from the experiences of others, and the visions and the histories that artists carry with them.”
Yu-Kai believes we connect with a piece of art or a piece of music on a non-communicative, emotional “soul-level.” He believes this visceral connection allows us to open ourselves up to learning about the creative process and about the artist’s motivation and vision. We can then understand a little bit more of ourselves through the lens of another.
“What you see can be interpreted in so many ways and that’s visible now, especially with politics. One person can hear the completely opposite of what the other person hears. But art is a great equalizer —once the work of art is finished, it’s meant for the masses to enjoy, appreciate, internalize and reflect upon.”
We then delve into a conversation about the way art negotiates time.
“We build buildings just to house art, we build museums just for our artifacts. We don’t do it for objects, we do it for creativity. There are so many strides to place art in rooms and boxes and frames that are completely sealed so that nothing would come to hurt the work. It’s pretty fascinating when you think about the life of art. It encapsulates a period of time, it encapsulates the creativity of its artist, and we want to carry it on so that generations from now people can still see it and appreciate the meaning of it from that time when the person lived.”
Art combines past, present and future into one. Yu-Kai believes that we are all collages of our experiences, our pasts, our yearnings for the future, our parents’ histories and their joys, their turmoil and their cultures.
“I feel like every person is an artist, we are all here to create. We don’t know our time frame for that creation, but everybody is creating every single day. A doctor is creating to help somebody and their art is knowing how to move their hands to know how to fix your lungs, a lawyer is in the art of crafting thought, of crafting words that have meaning and carry weight for justice. Everything that a human touches is art.”
SPECTRUM, KAI LIN’s summer series, is the gallery’s fifth show for the year and features the works of five talented artists: Jeremy Brown, Blockhead, Tim Kent, Chris Hobé, and Kevin Palme. SPECTRUM emphasizes the various ways color and form can evoke meaning, memories, and ideas. These pieces play on gradients, abstraction and forms beyond the 2D picture plane. Visitors can enjoy the series through September 8.
Yu-Kai takes me to one of the gallery rooms displaying Kevin Palme’s dreamlike paintings. They are all colorful, faded and beautiful, like soft memories. They take about two months to complete because of the layers of paint on them. “Palme mixes his paints, it’s chemistry really: two parts lint seed oil and one part acrylic paint and one-and-a-half part oil. He changes the consistency of the pigments to create this reflective quality, as if you’re looking through water.”
We step back into the main room where Tim Kent’s work glows bold and courageous, a cheerful example of sculpture-meets-paint.
I ask him how he selects the art for his gallery. He tells me he’s a fan of color, like me.
“We choose artists who have a narrative in their work, whether it’s abstract art or representational art. At the end of the day, it has to be an artist I get along with, because we have to work together and it’s all based on trust and symbiosis. Together we can create the environment for art to happen and the conversations for art to thrive.”
I ask Yu-Kai what his personal artist statement is and he’s a bit taken aback and pauses —he’s more accustomed to being asked about the gallery’s purpose than about his own.
“For me it’s important to follow what I’m passionate about, to pursue what I’m inspired by—which is art and music. It’s important to find the people that can help us take it to the next level. We’re all here to help each other. We’re all on the same path and we have to work together to grow together. We have to work through differences and challenges to learn.”
Yu-Kai explains that his twenties and thirties have been crucial in teaching him that dire times are the best times for self-discovery.
“We have to adapt ourselves to continual change, to continual growth through that change. Unlike school —where we take a test, write a paper or a thesis, or give a presentation and then do all of it again, in a cycle —in life there’s no structure. That’s the wonderful and daunting thing. Some people thrive in structure, but in art, music, and in life, actually, there isn’t a limit to what we can create beyond our own beliefs and stunted views of what it is we can or cannot do.”
He believes in “many and mini connections” [between people and events] that help us propagate and grow.
“There’s no limit to what we can attract to ourselves. The internal dialogue in the theater of our thoughts really determines how we interact with the world. Whether we trust people, or we don’t trust them. Whether we think we can or we can’t. When people don’t open the door for us, we learn how to go through the window —it’s good to hit a wall, to run into people we don’t relate to or whose point of view we can’t understand because that experience helps us learn about ourselves and then we grow and we help to shift beliefs and envision new possibilities.”
Yu-Kai resembles people to flames that can be ignited —he blows air and gestures a large, loud bomb as he describes the process.
“Some days you might not be ignited and then you need somebody to re-ignite you. We are sponges, we absorb the energy of others, not only their thoughts and knowledge. And then we impart our own energy and knowledge so that another’s life can be bettered by it. I want to influence and inspire and give, so that I can receive.”
Echoing the neon “kindness” sign by the entrance, his credo in life is “Be kind, be flexible, be humble.”
“We’re always in a state of becoming. It’s great to let go of everything that happened before and to let go of what we want everything to be. Nothing ever happens as planned, but we still plan. Then life throws things at us and we go not in the direction we wanted to go, but in the direction that is natural and organic based on what comes to us.”
He advises aspiring artists to start where they are, to start then and there, and to be open to adapting to the shifts and changes of the environment they put themselves in. “Start. Just start. There’s no time like now to start.”
Putting his own advice into practice, Yu-Kai isn’t resting on his laurels waiting for things to happen.
“I’m an instigator, a connector, I’m purposeful with my intention to create and help others create. I’m a steward of art.”
By Loli Lucaciu