Kristen Liu-Wong is a 23-year-old illustrator, painter, whatever living in Brooklyn [her words not mine]. The recent Pratt Institute grad is putting out some pretty rad art and getting plenty of attention because of it. Her body of work is significant and spans a series of mediums - oil & resined paintings, illustrations, silkscreens, self-published zines, embroidery, glassware and videos. Her themes often reflect a blend of brightly colored folk art, bizarre narratives, sex and violence. Guess what we talked about.
Above, she hangs a new piece for her group show EVERYTHING'S COOL AND NOTHING SUCKS opening tonight (7-10pm) at the New Image Art Gallery in West Hollywood, CA. It's gonna be packed so get there early. Also showing are Luke Pelletier, John F. Malta and Bryan Peterson. The show runs through March 7. Thanks to Marsea Goldberg (director) for letting us in!
All that said, these are the results of a conversation not suitable for children...seriously.
BEN: So, starting with the obvious. Why art?
KRISTEN: I chose art because I like doing it and I thought I was good at it in high school and it sounded easier than going to med school.
When did you feel like you landed on the style you're working through now?
It took me a while actually. In high school I was really going for the realism thing. So I was determined to prove that I could recreate an image. Freshman year at Pratt really kicked my ass. Critiques are brutal, but I think it was the very end of sophomore year where I realized that I should stop doing things that I thought other people would like and I started looking at things that I liked more. And it just kind of grew out of that. And then I had some really great teachers junior year.
What did they instill in you?
They were just really encouraging. I really admired the work they did which helps because it always helps to get critiques from someone who you look up to and you respect their work. Because if you don't respect someone's work, then you don't really care what they have to say.
Did you like the school part of school - homework and whatnot?
I feel like I need deadlines. Plus I like to have the structure already setup for me because it puts the fear of god into me. Then I just work.
When I first hit you up about your work, I asked about the nudity and sexuality in your work. You said people take sex too seriously.
Yeah I do think people take everything too seriously. Like sex and nipples and things like that. I don't know. I think it's no big deal. I'm just not ... I can't imagine myself as a very ... I don't like to take myself too seriously. So I'm just terrified of anything being too real. So I don't know. I guess I always like to have a humorous twist on it.
Have you ever been in love?
No, I have never been in love, which might explain why I'm so whatever about sex. I don't know. Maybe one day, but not yet. They're like "you should have sex with someone you love. Blah, blah, blah." It's like if we all waited to genuinely love someone before we had sex, we'd all be waiting a really long time I think. Because people think they're in love sometimes and they're really not. They're in lust.
Totally makes sense. Any good stories behind specific pieces?
I mean one of my newest paintings, it's actually this girl sitting on this guy's face. And it's the first time I've painted an erect penis because I usually paint them flaccid because whatever. And then I was...right before I painted in the penis, I was like is this too obscene? And then I resented the fact that I was censoring myself. I was like oh I'll totally go for it now. And so it's the first time I painted an erect penis and it's like a landmark painting for me even though it's not one of my best paintings.
The way you say that, you don't think it is a good one?
I mean it's not one that I put the most time and effort into, but I still like it just because it's really funny and it's actually about the time I was with this guy and he randomly asked me to sit on his face. I was cracking up while he was like smelling my butt. I'm like this is so stupid. Why are people into this? It was a hilarious moment.
Other than sex, violence seems to be a recurring theme.
There have been some personal reasons I'm fascinated with violence, but mostly I've just always been interested in serial killers. Not in a creepy I worship them sort of way, but they're just strange things to be because I can't even squish a bug and so the idea that people are so sadistic and they like to torture people has always fascinated me. So I'm always watching Investigation Discovery and bad crime shows. Sometimes I feel like I am just completely removed and looking in, like an observer.
Do you feel like you're sending out a message with what you're creating?
It really depends on the painting. I don't know that I'm ever sending a message because my paintings are so personal to me. That's why I make them so weird because I don't want to share too much. I like to translate it through imagery. So I don't ever have a specific message. And I think that it's more relatable and universal if the message is never too specific to me. I like to leave it just open enough that everyone can project whatever they want onto my stuff.
Totally get that.
Yeah. Violence is bad. That's my message.
Anything in your sketchbook where you thought, "there is no way in hell I'll ever show this?"
No, not really. To be honest, the reason why I never kept a diary - and for a really long time I didn't keep a sketchbook - is because I've always been afraid that if I die someone will find it and then they'll see all my sappy shit. So I try not to have anything too personal down either. And also it's really embarrassing to look back at what your 15-year-old self wrote. And you're like oh my god I cared about that so much. So I just try to stay away from the too-personal things. And I just keep it in my mind.
That's probably the safest place.
The conversation continues on, but I gotta stop this train somewhere. Go check out Kristen's work. Trust me. If you're in LA, come to her show group show at the New Image Art Gallery. Showing until March 7, 2015. If you're anywhere else in the world, get to know her work. This is an artist on the rise and we're proud to have her on S6.
Here's a fun section from our convo to close out the interview with...
Finish these sentences.
Naked people are funny when
The weirdest dream I ever had ended with
a Backstreet Boys shoot out in a warehouse.
If you were a character from your work, you'd be
one of the animals because the people are busy getting fucked over and fucked up.
The last time I partied hard
I'm so old now.
Naked people are not funny when
they're crying because that's just bad.
The New Idiot
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All images courtesy of artist.