Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann 

Studio Visit – Live/Work space in Washington DC

May, 2017


Where did you grow up?

I grew up moving around every 2-3 years. Until I moved here (to DC) the longest place I had lived was college. My father is a Foreign Service officer, so we would spend our time shuttling between the DC area and various places in Asia. I lived in Taiwan, Korea, Beijing, Guangzhou, and went to high school in Israel.

I also spent a lot of time here in DC. I spent one half of high school, 2 years, in a suburb of Virginia and the other half in Tel Aviv. So I think that definitely influences my work. My paintings are very fragmented and I’m interested in combining things that don’t belong. I’m a bi-racial person; I spent most of my life as an ex-pat. This contributes to making work that is all about smashing together incongruous elements. 


What’s the driving force behind your work?

I want to make abstract, monumental, fantastical landscapes. I think of all my painting as landscape painting, even though it may not be obviously following those tropes. I want those landscapes to be extremely immersive and confuse space.

The ingredients of that language come from natural elements, decorative elements, and then stereotypically feminine symbols. I repeat those so many times that they become biomorphic and alien and maybe cancerous.



It’s about creating something that is immersive and escapist and fantastic but the ingredients of it come from something mundane. There’s this little tinge of over doing it, and maximalism

Do you have any routines or rituals in the studio?

I always drink tea. But really, now that I am a mom the routines are usually forced on me. Right now I am usually working with a baby strapped to my chest. And I work most effectively when the toddler is sleeping, late at night or during nap time, or else someone is bothering me the whole time. It’s just a reality right now. 

Do you have any hobbies outside of your studio practice?

Motherhood is obviously not a hobby but it takes up all my time. My entire day is either painting or hanging out with babies. I have a two year old and a four month old, so we go to toddler yoga or baby concerts, the park, playgrounds, various baby stuff. Other things that help keep me sane- I garden. I have two community garden plots. That’s a very meditative space,it’s the only chance I have to not be mothering or painting. Finding the time to have hobbies is a struggle.

What’s your biggest struggle in the studio?

Finding the balance between being a mom and an artist. I feel like I am always on one side or the other, like I am either not being a good mom or not being a good painter. Yesterday I spent all day doing kid stuff and then I spent all night while they were sleeping, painting in a hotel until 3 AM. Finding the right compromise is hard- it’s a constant fight get the time I need to work.


I’ve made my best work since my kids were born, but it’s also my biggest struggle. It’s not even just about time for practical painting, it’s the mental space, and research time, and to be thoughtful about my work and not just squeeze it in when I have a spare second. 


What do you have coming up that you would like to promote? Shows projects, etc.

The hotel project is a large mural in the lobby of the Pod hotel in Chinatown in DC. 

After that I will start working on a large outdoor commission for Pepco. It should be an outdoor series of murals on a building that will have ten panels, each are about 10’ x 20’ long, it will be a permanent piece. And the Bethesda painting awards are coming up, where we are both showing.


rooftop view at Mann’s live/work space (above)


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