“It isn’t my job to tell people what to think – I would rather spark an inner dialogue where they can draw their own conclusions from my work.”
In this interview, Kristen Liu-Wong talks about her style, the goals of her work, her perspective on the role of women in arts.
What was the first time you understood creativity and art were your way to go? How has your route been up to now?
I first began to seriously consider art as a career path when I began to think about what colleges I wanted to apply to my junior year of high school. My mother is an elementary art school teacher so I had always been raised to appreciate art but when I got to applications, I realized art was one of the most fulfilling aspects of my life and I decided to apply to art schools as opposed to more traditional colleges. I majored in Illustration at Pratt and graduated in 2013. Upon graduating, I tried to get hired as an illustrator but every art director either didn’t respond or said my work would do better in a gallery. I got a job in a printmaking studio and made personal work at night and on weekends. Simultaneously a professor who liked my work from school was asked to curate a group show and put me in it.
I put everything I had into that show and even painted a small mural- from that I was invited back and at the next show, the gallery owner’s friends invited me to be in a group show and the ball just kept on rolling. In 2015, I decided to try living in Los Angeles and moved out here with my best friend. I didn’t have a job lined up so I decided to live off of the money I had saved from my printmaking job while I tried to make my freelancing career work. It’s been 5 years of doing art full time now and while it isn’t always easy or perfect, I am incredibly grateful and I’ve had some seriously amazing opportunities that I never expected for myself.
Nickelodeon style cartoons with a pink soul for strong images that describe an unconventional and provocative world. Where does this quite unique style of yours come from? What do you aim at with this particular combination?
My “style” wasn’t a conscious decision- it came after years of trying different things, looking at so many different artists’ work, experimentation and copying, and eventually, you just find something that feels right and you keep on exploring in that direction. Nickelodeon and the classic cartoons of the 90s that I was raised on are of course a huge influence but so is American folk art, ancient greek art, Japanese woodblock prints, the Surrealists, the Mission School arts movement, great architecture, textile arts, the opera, Japanese and South Korean cinema… I appreciate a wide range of things so it feels natural to draw on all of them for inspiration.
I get quite strong social and anthropological feelings from your art…what cultural issues would you like to address with your work? Is there a specific role you think an artist should have in society?
I don’t start out a painting by thinking this is the cultural or political issue I want to address – some artists do but I am not an especially political artist although, since I am a person who is a part of society, it is inevitable that these themes will come up. I tend to think in broader terms – a lot of my work is introspective and reflects my musings on human nature and the human experience. It isn’t my job to tell people what to think – I would rather spark an inner dialogue where they can draw their own conclusions from my work.
Many of your female figures are the images of potent, free, and assertive beings. How much of this is a statement of your ideas on gender relations?
I create images of strong, complex women because I admire strong complex women and oftentimes I have not felt strong so I am drawn to painting amplified versions of myself. Women haven’t received the best representation in the arts so I do believe that I need to make the most of the opportunities I’ve had and, part of that, is being able to paint women who I feel are more authentic representations of what a woman can be. I want my figures to both challenge and reflect the viewer.
Is there another creative medium you would like to express yourself through?
I want to design a fountain. I would love to learn more about weaving (my mother was a textile major and we grew up with 3 looms in the house). I used to take ceramics lessons as a kid and I want to relearn how to throw on the wheel. There are so many projects and mediums I want to try but time and money are often low when you’re a freelancer.
An emerging artist you want to give a shout out to?
It’s kind of difficult to judge who is emerging because someone’s social media presence isn’t always representative of their actual CV and I don’t know how old people are or how long they’ve been showing but some younger artists who I’ve been enjoying the work of is Jamiya Lowe, Rel Pham, and Ellena Lourens, there are more but yeah, a lot of exciting work being made!
Next and upcoming projects?
In November I’m having a collaborative show with Luke Pelletier at 1700 Naud (curated by Superchief LA). We’ve made a bunch of paintings and giant wood cut outs and we’ve also had some mini bronzes made that we’re very excited to share! Then in May of 2021 I’m going to have a 3 person show with Corey Helford Gallery and November of that year I have a show planned for Hamburg that I’m REALLY excited for- I love being able to show internationally!