Designer Erica Zhu Of 'Black Pigment' Takes Us To The Quietest Place In NYC

Arm Candy is a series in partnership with Samsung Gear S2. We’re spending a day in the life with talented women on the rise, from self-made YouTube celebrities to budding athletes to visual artists to our fellow editors. 

As we search for a place to spend the day with Erica Zhu, we think a lot about her visual identity. So far, everything we know about her is through her Instagram accounts, @monbraee and @blackpigment. In other words, we don't know her, and she makes no effort to reveal much about her life on her very popular feeds. Her ‘grams are pinned to places as far-flung as Dubai and Copenhagen, but she appears to work within certain visual (and personal) boundaries. 

Her photography draws from a limited palette of colors. She seems particularly fond of museums, with their blank space and perfectly placed, curiously shaped objects. Each image makes you feel as if you’ve entered a serene, sealed place. They’re not just minimal; they’re quiet. 

Of course, there were a lot of nice-looking places we could have gone, but every place in New York just felt way too crowded. And loud. And public. After asking around, we ended up at Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, Queens. They’re currently showcasing work by emerging artistsso we thought it would be a perfect place to get inspired. 

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We learn that Erica is currently a graduate student at Pratt Institute, studying graphic design and freelancing as a photographer. She's very inspired by fine art and quick to name her influences. (Admittedly, I have to Google most of them.) 

After we wander the park, she suddenly realizes we're a 5-minute walk from the Noguchi Museum, which is one of her favorites. We hang out in the serene rock garden for a bit and talk about her latest projects. As we leave, she spots the play of shadows on the concrete wall and asks us to take a snapshot. (Another thing we learn about Erica is that she's always looking; always noticing.)

Though our time with her was short, we got a little closer to knowing the girl behind the quiet rooms. Here's a bit more about Erica Zhu -- in her own words.

Where She Calls Home:  Shanghai, but currently NYC for her graduate studies.

Where You’ve Seen Her: On Instagram, either as @monbraee or @blackpigment. Or wandering NYC's museums and galleries, from Chelsea to Queens.

In One Word: “Free.”

"I'm deeply influenced by minimalism, Bauhaus, and Constructivism. My design and photography represent a minimal aesthetic. At the same time, it is vivid and natural." 

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“My day usually starts at 10 a.m. Making a fresh and delicious breakfast for myself is important."

"After checking all of my emails and inquiries, my schedule varies. There might be an event I'd love to attend or a project I need to shoot, so I adjust accordingly. After that, I start doing my projects for school and my freelance work."

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“Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso are my all-time favorite artists. My graphic works are influenced by Russian artist El Lissitzky. I think Stephen Shore, Viviane Sassenand Laura Letinsky are amazing photographers." 

"The Noguchi Museum was built by the artist himself; it used to be his studio. Isamu Noguchi is one of my favorite artists. The stones are endowed with life under his hand. "

"He studies textures and organic forms, then turns them into a complex visual and physical language. The architecture expresses a pure, minimal aesthetic and the sensibility of a Japanese garden."

"I recently did a book project called "Brunch in New York." I really enjoy expressing the idea of slow living through different projects. Last year, I shot some photos of architecture and people for an upcming book for Studio Est. I'm looking forward to the outcome."

When I ask Erica about what she wants to do after she's done with her graduate studies in New York, she demurs. She says "probably graphic design," yet it seems unlikely that she'll stick to one medium. We're familiar with her photography, but her portfolio also showcases a penchant for furniture design and fine-art inspired graphic design. Shanghai is still her home: "The city has developed very quickly, and I'd be thrilled to be back with my family," she says. "But New York is is such a dynamic and creative city," she continues. "So many talented people live and work here, and it pushes me to become a better person." 

No matter where she goes, we'll keep following her online. The Internet could use a few more quiet places, and we're glad to have found one in her presence. 

This post is sponsored by Samsung Gear S2. Featured above: Green Basic watch face and media gallery, which allows a user to receive photos from an Android device. 

Photos: Lauren Perlstein; Hair: Bennett Grey; Makeup: Joy Fennell; Locations: Courtesy of Socrates Sculpture Park and the Noguchi Museum; Artworks: Isamu Noguchi; Full Tilt, 2015, by Charlotte Becket and Roger SayreSite on Sight: 2 (The Door Of No Return), 2015, by Torkwase Dyson.

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