From graphic designer to fine artist, David Linchen explores how symbols become entangled with identity

The Brooklyn-based artist talks us through his journey from animation student, to graphic designer at Nike Portland, and now, an artist.

31 March 2020
Reading Time
3 minute read

The son of two Chinese immigrants from Guangzhou – a tailor and poet – David Linchen would say that he didn’t grow up in a typical Asian household. Born and raised in San Gabriel Valley, just east of LA, unlike most creatives, David only thought about a career in the arts until after high school. After dropping out of college one year in, he decided to start over, this time in drawing and painting classes at Pasadena City College. It eventually led him to study animation and motion design, two disciplines that have greatly informed the artist’s work to date.

In the years that followed, there was a lot of jumping around, but in the end, David found himself graduating in both graphic design and art, and was quickly recruited by Nike to join their team in Portland. Fast forward a few years and David has left behind graphic design in pursuit of fine art. “The decision took much more internal searching,” he tells It’s Nice That, “I had to unlearn some of the things I was taught in the design world.” In spite of this, typography and grid systems still make an appearance in the now Brooklyn-based artist’s work.

Looking back on this decision, he tells It’s Nice That of an exchange program back when he was a student. While placed at London’s Central Saint Martins – “a seminal time in [his] life” – David got to see a lot of art from a lot of different countries which would continue to inform the creative approach to his work. It was a Mike Kelley retrospect at Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum which “changed everything for me,” remembers David. “His varied use of visual language and material to speak on a singular subject had a tangible impact on what I thought was possible at the time.”


David Linchen

So as the years rolled by, David combined his graphic design training with this mode of thought, honing in on his dynamic practice. Using the symbolism of recurring marks throughout his works, ultimately, David is interested in how symbols have the power to entangle with our identity. Incorporating collage, typography and even formal painting techniques when appropriate, David enjoys finding objects in the studio, or across the city or online, and transforming them into gestures.

“The element of chance is also important in my work,” continues David, “My works are usually layered together by these pieces. I want to think these different elements are in constant dialogue with one another and form a greater whole.” He poses questions to himself, getting lost in a list of reveries which then make its way into the works. “What would art look like in this alternate reality?” for example, or, “What if the moon fell to earth?”

Alternatively, in his recent work Evening, David blurs a narrative between self-destruction and salvation. With this piece, he pictorially balances between notions of the beginning and the end. Based on the Caspar David Friedrich’s 1825 painting Two Men Contemplating the Moon, in David’s version, “the body is fragmented, and the land meets the sea. It’s ambiguous whether they are coming apart or together,” an element of subtle mystery that appears across all of David's bold and original work.

GalleryDavid Linchen

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.

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