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By Design: Joyce Lin

An appreciation for wood and all its possibilities has led the artist to the burgeoning art scene of Houston, Texas

Joyce Lin's headshot. She is an East Asian woman with short black hair wearing glasses and a flannel button up shirt.
Photo by Rob Chron

“Houston seems like a business city, a lot of people here are transplants who have just come to work,” says Joyce Lin. The Taiwanese-American artist grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, before studying at both Brown University and RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) in Rhode Island.

Lin, who is something of a genius, followed a dual degree in both interdisciplinary geology and design. “It’s a five-year program, and it’s very tough,” she admits.

But now she’s in Texas: her family moved here while she was in college, then a job came up in the wood shop at the TXRX Labs makerspace in Houston. It could hardly have been better suited to the designer whose work frequently questions the values we associate with this natural material and how it is used. Her Wood Chair, 2023, for example, is made in both wood and MDF, covered in oil paint and epoxy resin but looks like it was hewn from a single trunk. “It’s about the duality between the artificial and the natural,” says the 29-year-old.

A chair that appears made of tree roots in the foreground of a gallery space painted white and green.
Joyce Lin's "Root Chair" (foreground) and "Wood Metal Stone" (behind), 2023, on display at R + Company.

Having run the wood shop at TXRX for five years, she has now moved to just teaching there, as she strives to fulfill the orders for her distinctive and often humorous limited-edition pieces, which resulted from her first show at R & Company in New York this April. “The Lab runs a variety of classes and does fabrication for places including NASA and Delorean,” she explains. “Teaching allows me access to various facilities, and it’s allowed me to develop much more tolerance and understanding of people who aren’t professional artists. We should be able to talk to the general public to communicate our ideas.”

There is no art school in Houston, “so it’s not easy to find an assistant, you can’t nab a recent graduate,” says Lin. But there is a blooming arts community. “The quality of life is good here, and I don’t see how I could make my work in a different city. When you’re working with 3D objects, it’s a question of space and equipment. It’s a huge undertaking.”

When Lin left college, she tried living in New York and was an intern in the Chen Chen & Kai Williams design studio, which also focuses on the possibilities of materials including ceramic and wood. “But the economic cost was too much of a barrier,” Lin says. “Young designers are looking for somewhere else to go, and I think these centers will start to grow significantly. Philadelphia is already a magnet—and it’s close to New York. But in Houston, we have the great Museum of Fine Arts, with a new building focused on contemporary craft and design. There’s space to grow.” Something that Lin’s reputation is doing at a furious rate.


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