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Friday, June 10, 2011

Going Against the Grain: A Profile of Local Artist Jeff Tang

26 year old, Jeff Tang lives in a quiet, residential community, off Manistee Drive in Costa Mesa. While the exterior of his typical two-story house seems to reflect a standard, humdrum suburban home, its inner workings prove to be anything but that.

Down the hall and to the right is Jeff’s room, which he shares with two other roommates, Ray Ricafort and Kota Shimojo. Jeff’s part of the room is in the back left corner, and marked by its contained chaos. Filmstrips hang from his walls, along with posters of his work from previous art exhibitions. One titled Robot Love hangs above his bed. His desk is filled with mounds of undeveloped film, papers, sketches, and his computer, along with an assortment of other miscellaneous items. A box in the center of his floor holds stacks of shirts he designed to sell at Coachella music festival. His disheveled bed contains his trustee army backpack and camera, which he is never without. Despite the clutter, this is where Jeff works, creating eclectic and prolific works of art, that are nothing short of brilliance.

Jeff’s main line of artwork is in graphics. Just this February, Jeff’s work was showcased at the Costa Mesa art gallery, Artery, with other local artists Pinky Taylor and Ryan Clemens. Curator for the art exhibit, Roxana Vosough, met in the winter of 2010 through mutual friends, to discuss his artistic endeavors. Upon looking at his portfolio she was instantly impressed.

“Jeff has a good handle for the juxtaposition of colors, and a keen eye of observation, not to mention great creativity. He was an ideal candidate for the exhibition Urban Modern: A Retrospective on Contemporary Street Art Influenced Work. He was the inspiration for the exhibition,” says Roxana.

Hell Hound, one of Jeff’s pieces, was the face of the exhibition. The exhibit showcased ten of Jeff’s graphic works. Family, friends and local art lover’s came to support and check out his latest pieces. Jeff’s works center on being social critiques, this collections theme focusing on societies ever growing dependency on technology. His work exposes the handicap that technology has placed on us all. Referencing networks such as Facebook, and technology such as the Iphone, Jeff discloses how all these mediums of constantly being connected have weakened our relations with one another. Another of Jeff’s pieces Altered Reality, is a discussion on the virtual worlds that we create with technology. Inspired by video games, Jeff critiques these virtual societies that are made through these mediums. Another of Jeff’s pieces, the one hanging in his room, Robot Love, is a picture of two robots hugging one another. Jeff explains that it represents synthetic love, or a false connection that again technology aids in making.

“I feel like there’s a lot of disconnection. Technology is changing our society. But how are we going to stop how fast technology compounds? We can’t, so my art is a critique on this virtual reality because of technology. But I’m critiquing us all, I’m a part of it too,” says Jeff.

While Jeff’s time and commitment centers on producing graphic work, his start with the arts was an unexpected accident. Back in high school, as a senior, Jeff was looking for an easy-A class. Intending to use this as a goof off period, he signed up for digital arts. Little did he realize that the class would turn out to be a catalyst for his now passion. The class taught him the basics of graphic design, and sparked a real interest with him. From there Jeff took it upon himself to learn more and experiment with the field using the knowledge he gained from the class. Jeff did some research and came across an online art community known as Deviant Art, a blog where anyone is free to upload and share their work. From the blog Jeff was able to teach himself more on graphic design, meeting friends through the network that he would collaborate with, creating projects to post on the blog.

“I would get inspired by looking at people’s techniques, so I would make some friends and join an art crew, and we would do little projects, like a project a month, and everyone would submit work with a specific guideline, and then we would just learn from each other. So I feel like I learned a lot from the Internet”.

Currently, Jeff has his own blog, 12FV Labs, which is a compilation of his photographs and graphic designs. Jeff dabbles in photography as well, taking beautiful photos of everyday things (to get a glimpse of his photos check out his blog at: http://12fv.com/). The site features photos that Jeff takes during his leisure time and outings, his travels, and special events he covers, some of which are for friends. Later, Jeff uses these photos and with his graphics talents, tweaks them, implementing digital designs that are his own. On May 10th, Jeff shot behind the scenes coverage for Jeannie Shin, friend and member of UC Irvine’s Fashion Interest Group’s Spring Runway Show. I came along on this shoot to watch him in action. “Hey Jeff, you’re here! Feel free to go wherever, we just need shots of the models behind the scenes for the web, thanks!” says Jeannie before running off. Backstage, mulling over which type of film to use, black and white or color film, Jeff decides to go with black and white. Capturing the production of the show on and off stage, Jeff snaps shots of the models getting hair and make-up done, following designers as they make necessary adjustments and corrections to their line, and then off to the show room. Bright lights, music bumping, the room is full of energy and excitement. Jeff seems to tune this out, focusing on where he needs to go in order to capture the best shots. He starts off by snapping a shot of the stage from a far, then makes his way to the very front. Searching, he quickly kneels as a model passes by. He takes her picture and is off again. He is constantly moving around, searching for the right angles, and spots to shoot at. He successfully covers the entire room, capturing the models on stage as well as their moments off the runway. This past month Jeff has covered the fashion show as well as a couple of weddings in the area. Aside from shooting for friends and events at which he is hired to cover, Jeff mostly takes photo sessions of places in town or neighboring cities. Another night he invited me along with a couple of his fellow photo fanatics and friends Rocky Halim, Andrew Truong, Andrew Phan to Irvine Valley Center Community College to do a little shooting practice. The quad walked around the campus experimenting with its lighting and the new photo gadgets they had brought along. Such outings are a frequent activity for Jeff who is constantly looking for new places to explore, shoot, and experiment as a way of honing and further developing his photography skills.

Jeff’s blog 12FV Labs and brand name he has made for himself, began in high school where he first started his own clothing line. It began with a class project where the students were assigned to make up a brand. His original name Riot Five was shortened to Riot F V E, RFV and then over time evolved into the name 12FV. The 12 comes from the old school pager coding system, where certain numbers reference letters, and 12 represents R. And thus 12FV was born.

“The meanings I’ve instilled in the name I guess goes back to the riot, or going against the grain, but that’s what inspired me to do art at first I guess, and that’s what I want to do, social commentary through art. I don’t know if that will ever work or if it will ever be effective, but basically I want social change through art”.

For this reason, 12FV Labs is certainly conducive in facilitating such social change by working with in the system and institution of the Internet to get his art and ideas out to the world wide web. It’s instantly accessible to a large network, and anyone can start one. The challenging part for Jeff and concerns he holds over his art and putting it out there, is its subjectivity with who dictates or decides what’s good or bad art.

“What makes art good is really subjective, so I think that’s the hardest part. A person high up can say something is really good, so then it becomes really good. It’s like anything else in life, who you know, who can recommend you or what high up artist or art blog or magazine can say your stuff is good. It’s just exposure. But how subjective it is, is pretty challenging. But I guess that’s why it’s art, there is no formula”.

So what does the future hold for this self-taught artist? For right now, Jeff works his day job for an online wig company, shoots weddings and events, creates business cards and web pages for local bands and DJ’s on the rise, and then is and sketching and expanding his graphics portfolio anywhere and everywhere in between.

“I don’t know where I want to be yet but I know I’m not complacent with my day job and just hanging out. I have this other entity I’m trying to cultivate. I don’t know what the future holds, but let’s say hopefully I can do art full time- I don’t even know if I’d want that,” says Jeff.

He worries that if art became his main profession or source of income, there runs the possibility that it could be tainted, or its artistic integrity could be jeopardized for money if that’s his only source of income.

“So who knows, maybe I’ll just keep art as a hobby, which I’m fine with”.

But for just a hobby, there’s an obsessive amount of time and energy he puts into this, so why go through all the trouble?

“Having a voice, using your art as your own personal voice. That’s why I do it. It’s like I have this channel that I can dictate anything that comes out of it. It’s your own ideas and it’s out there, and if people like it then they can receive it and if not then they don’t have to like it. It’s rewarding when you put yourself out there and people like it or get inspired by it”.

For now Jeff is busy keeping up the riot, so be on the look out.

Reporting notes:

1-hour interview with Jeff.

Shadowed him at IVC , FIG photo shoot, and Coachella.

Info on blogging:




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