Find joy. 

These two words—this short–and–sweet sentiment—drive Ivy Deng’s (W '24) art. She cites life as her main source of inspiration, and though her work ranges from jewelry and clothing designs to surrealist paintings to interactive sculptures, at the heart of each project lies Ivy’s hope that you will derive happiness from the piece. 

“I’m a very happy person,” Ivy says. “I find joy in very mundane things, and I’m very grateful for a lot of things. I’ll see a really gross subway and be like, ‘Oh, I feel really happy that I’m able to be walking in the subway in the first place.' With all my art I try to capture that joy. When I look at things sometimes I’ll feel really happy, and I’ll see it to be more colorful than it actually is or [see] more movement than it actually has. I see art as a way to actually depict that [perspective] and show what I feel life to be.”

Ivy’s experience with art began in second grade when her parents placed her in her first art class. In that class and through the specialized art program she began in fourth grade, Ivy honed her technique. But it wasn’t until she auditioned for and enrolled in a high school visual arts program that she started developing her current style, which she describes as “funky—funky colors, funky shapes and weird things that make you go ‘ew’ but make some people go ‘ooh.’” 

Throughout high school, Ivy found herself gravitating more and more toward contemporary projects. “In more recent years, I started … ignoring the rules more,” Ivy remarks. “That was when I really started to fall in love with art because I was like, ‘That’s what art should be.’ It shouldn’t be this set amount of rules. And now, I sort of don’t like realism because if you’re going to draw a photorealistic thing, just take a photo, you know? It’s more of just go with how you feel and let your hand guide you.”

Her process reflects this philosophy too; Ivy prefers to jump straight into creating, rather than starting with a sketch, and figure things out as she goes. “My process is very unstructured,” she says. “There’s a lot of problem–solving along the way and a lot of critical thinking and trying to figure out how this piece will interact with this.”

Photo provided by Ivy Deng

One of her favorite paintings—a bright, extensive canvas featuring strawberries and a swirling pattern of a name her grandfather used to call her that’s a near–homophone for “strawberry” in Mandarin—was created in this manner. “The whole thing with this piece was to not think, just put whatever on the canvas and visually problem solve,” Ivy recalls. “You’re basically trying to tap into your subconscious and try to access a part of your mind that’s untainted by what people think art should be. It was really interesting to problem solve in a way that’s not math … and to put it together and see it grow.”

The strawberry motif that shows up in this piece has followed Ivy throughout the years, from Strawberry Shortcake sketches, to drawings inspired by a strawberry–scented Bath & Body Works gift set from her ex, to a felt sculpture of a strawberry. “It’s a recurring thing, and blobby shapes like this, I gravitate toward that,” Ivy says. “Strawberries are so easy to work into things and interesting to look at.”

Recently, she’s shifted into working more with sculptures, installations and interactive pieces. Toward the end of eleventh grade, she created a chair out of memory foam that she cut into “blobs,” coated in silicone, and decorated with spikes. “I just adore the chair so much. It’s squishy because it’s made of memory foam, and I find that so satisfying,” Ivy says. “If you sit in it, you’ll just sink into the chair, and that’s what I mean with interactive sculptures that you can touch and feel.”

With much of her work, Ivy finds that people’s reactions tend to range from disgust to intrigue, usually landing somewhere in between. “A lot of people are disgusted but love it,” she says. “Some of the stuff I do is weird, like the baby faces or even the chair; it’s a little uncomfortable. The chair looks like it’s writhing, and it has these weird prickly shapes that make it look dangerous, but it’s so colorful that you think, like, ‘How could it be gross and dangerous if it’s so colorful and fun?’”

This concept of highlighting both the antithesis and coexistence of disgust and intrigue, fun and danger, inspires her ugly collection, a line of clothes she designed and sells in her online store. The idea for the collection stemmed from a photo that her friend took of her sleeping in the car. “I like to find the beauty in really ugly things,” Ivy says. “[When my friend took the photo], I was like, ‘Holy shit, I look so ugly.’ But I was like, that’s a good thing because I try to find the beauty of me at my ugliest point. So I took a bunch of photos of me with a double chin, drooling and sleeping, and put them together to make something that was beautiful.”

No matter what she creates, Ivy hopes that her audience will be able to see the joy and beauty that she sees in the world. “It’s so cheesy, but I think there’s so much joy to be had,” she says. “Through my art I try to capture joy and concentrate it, so that when people look at it, they take a little bit of the concentrated joy and continue through their day a little happier.”