Tofer Chin is an astronaut of sorts, exploring space from his very own backyard. In his meticulously constructed home studio, Tofer re-interprets humanity’s inner architecture on the canvas via striking meditations on geometry and form.
Though natural light and a distraction-less environment keep Tofer’s creative soil fertile, it’s his family that inspires him to keep improving. CONVICTS caught up with Tofer in his studio and got his word on the importance of imperfection, the sometimes antagonistic relationship between technology and art, and unblocking the mind through meditation.
Hey Tofer, how are you? How’s your week been?
I’m good, man. Just working a lot and not sleeping enough…I finally caught up on my sleep last night. My daughter decided she didn’t want to sleep the past few nights, so party time.
How do you like living in LA?
I love LA. I was born and raised here and have lived here my entire life. One thing that’s kept me in LA is all the traveling that I’ve done. LA is a place where I can come and decompress and gather my thoughts. I find a sense of calm here, even though it is such a big city and there’s so much going on.
How do you gather your thoughts and decompress from the work you’ve been doing?
By taking a step back to enjoy life. Whether that’s traveling, getting out of town or even going on a hike, you have to step away from all the noise and take a deep breath. I don’t even have to leave LA for that…I can do that through going out, going on a hike. I have a daily meditation practice and a pretty intense yoga practice that allows me to step away from my work and get clarity.
Are there therapeutic qualities to being an artist?
There is something really therapeutic to being an artist. For me, it’s the process, that zoning out of outside noise. You zone out your computer, the internet, your phone, social media, phone calls and only focus on what you’re doing at that moment, what you are, what you’re creating.
Do you approach your work with a sense of order or disorder?
For the way my mind works, everything has to be organized and planned out. Lately, though, I’m really embracing that disorder. By breaking that disorder, I get to the order, so the disorder within my practice is important and is actually what allows me to grow and expand the tools needed to make what I want to make. A disorder is like a puzzle: you’re given all these pieces and you have to figure out how to put them together in the way that tells a story the way you want people to understand it. That’s one of the most exciting things about creating: giving the order to the disorder.
That’s interesting. Do you find yourself embracing that uncertainty or even creative discomfort?
Within my practice and work, the moment I get comfortable it’s weird. I don’t want to feel comfortable. I want to be pushed. I want to feel like I’m on the edge, constantly challenging myself to do better.
Can you talk a bit about your process? How does a piece of work go from ideation to actualization?
My work starts with me being present in the now. I have all of the tools and materials in front of me and I allow myself to experiment and sketch; to consume myself within the practice and then come up with the final project. It’s not thinking too far ahead. I have a defined concept in my mind that I want to get out, but actually making and creating requires letting go. Really, that’s what I’m coming to terms with: being as present as possible and not taking it too seriously.
What do you struggle with and how do you overcome those challenges?
When I struggle and have that block, it’s because I’m not present. That happens because of all the external noise. It happens because of social media, it happens because of distractions and phones and computers. When I get sucked into all that, that’s when the struggle starts to happen. Through meditation practice, I’m able to realize when that is happening, acknowledge it, take a step back and take breaths to become grounded again so I can move forward with the confidence and drive that I know that I have.
What feels especially beautiful to you right now?
I’m here. I’m living. I’m healthy. I have an amazing family. I have a beautiful and supportive wife who pushes me every single day to be better. My two-year-old is the most beautiful thing that I have ever created. Words can’t even describe the love that I have for her. So that right now is my driving force.
Talk about having your studio in your backyard and staying so close to family?
Being close to my family was something that we created an environment around. My wife and I knew we were going to have our first child and knew that we weren’t going to get these first few years of her life back. We wanted to create an environment that wasn’t suffocating — that allowed us to breathe because we all need space — but kept my daughter close to me. Being there to watch all of the moments through the first few years is priceless. I had to sacrifice some things for that but I wouldn’t change that for anything.
Tell us a bit about your studio space?
I built my studio from the ground up, on the property of our home. I’ve had numerous studios throughout the years all over LA and rent was becoming so high and the travel time to the studio was bad, so I decided to build one on our property. Everything was planned out. I had to work with architects and structural engineers. I educated myself on the whole building process and built a space based on of what I needed in my previous studio: a space that I could open up and go outside to make work, a space with air flowing in. I wanted to create a space that brought that natural light, that energy, the glow and flow of air so that I could spend hours upon hours, whole days, weeks in here without feeling stuffed up.
It seems like you bring an architectural eye to your work. Can you talk a bit more about how the details come together in one of your pieces?
When approaching a public piece, I start with the idea of scale and how I want the person who’s viewing my work to feel. You have the scale and then there’s also color and color choice. I’ve been studying the psychological effects of color and the way people react to certain colors. On an architectural level, you have the overlays, the light and shadows, the movement that my viewer is going to experience when coming across say, a public installation or a painting. It’s kind of going to the idea within all my work: the keyhole perspective. You’re seeing what’s in front of you, knowing there’s a whole universe beyond that. My goal is to create that shift, that architectural shift into this other universe. I’ve been exploring not just the external architecture but internal architecture too, exploring thoughts, emotions, ego and everything that is inside of us.
Is perfection in your work something that you strive for?
Perfection is something I must have learned from my childhood. It’s just part of my personality. Over the years of my work, I was trying to be perfect. I was trying to create that perfect line, that perfect gradient, the perfect surface but then I asked, “Why? Why am I doing this? Why be so perfect?” We have computers that can print out these perfect images, we have Photoshop, Illustrator, all of these technologically-based tools that can create something that’s “perfect”. So I thought “Fuck this, I need to go beyond this and let go a bit.” Part of the meditation practice and the mindset that comes with it is letting go and being present, dealing with the now. The way things work inside of you is very fluid, so let’s bring that into the work. Now I’m allowing the material to dictate the end result. I know my strengths and now I am trying to accentuate my weaknesses. Not even my weaknesses, just other elements, other ways of working. It’s about going beyond what you’re comfortable doing and I’d become very comfortable in making something seem perfect.
What do you mean ‘seem perfect?’
What is perfect? You could call it clean, where it looks like there are no imperfections. But now I want to see imperfections, a flow. It’s seeing the human hand within the work. It took me a while to get to that point, but that’s part of this whole process.
Changing gears a bit…how important is it to step out of the studio and catch a reset?
It’s so important to get out, be in the real world and reset from consuming yourself with the work. With life, there needs to be a balance. You need balance with your work, your family, your personal life, everything. Because my studio space is on the property of my home, there are days that go by when I don’t even leave. Sometimes I just need to get out and go get a coffee because I haven’t left. It’s important to separate yourself from the work, get that perspective then come back to it.
Talk about that feeling of getting cooped up in your own head?
Yeah, that can happen. Then again, with artists getting in their heads and all that, it’s the same way with everyone. No matter what career path they’ve chosen, every person has to deal with that. That’s why I’ve chosen to take those moments every single day and step back and remind myself to be present, be here, breathe and allow everything to flow. To not get stuck inside my head the consistent thoughts. There are patterns that humans to grow into and we need to break those. We really need to break those patterns to grow and to be a better person. You can do that. You don’t have to actually get outside to do that. You can do it by just taking those moments throughout your day: close your eyes, remember to breathe, and just focus on nothing.
Right on. Last question: why keep making art?
Because it’s what I love. I will be making art for the rest of my life, especially painting. I fell in love with painting the moment I picked up the paintbrush. I knew I could do this for the rest of my life and had no concept of survival or making money off of it. It was a sense of joy and happiness that just shot through me. Obviously, I have goals and aspirations and all this stuff but creating things makes me happy. I haven’t found anything else that sparks those feelings inside of me.
Respect. Thanks for your time Tofer and best of luck with everything.