ILLUSTRATOR & PAINTER | LOS ANGELES
read our interview with Kristen below
HOUSE OF THEODORA CHATS TO KRISTEN
KRISTEN LIU-WONG IS A PAINTER & ILLUSTRATOR FROM LOS ANGELES WHOSE CANDY COLOURED ART IS WEIRD & WACKY & sassy & curious. all the things we REALLY love.
What’s it like being an ARTIST in LA?
It’s been pretty unbelievable. I never anticipated being able to make art for a living full time and even though it’s been almost 4 years now, I still feel surprised and excited- like wow, I get to do my dream job! Of course every career has its challenges and stressors but I don’t want to complain too much or seem ungrateful because I recognize what a privilege it is to be able to do something you’re passionate about for a living.
What’s your artistic process?
I usually start out by giving myself a little time to think, look and be inspired. Once I have something in mind, I thumbnail a bit to get a rough idea of composition and elements. If the piece is a painting I gesso the panel and draw the final drawing on tracing paper before transferring. I paint background to foreground and elements, like color, pattern, texture, etc. are figured out as I work. Illustration jobs are a bit different and my process varies depending on what the client wants.
Art these days is so accessible - hop on Instagram and art comes at you faster than a horny teenager. How has the ease of accessibility impacted you as an artist?
I think the ease of accessibility of art has had both a negative and a positive impact. I gained success and recognition much more easily than I could have in the old analogue days because you can share your work with such an expansive audience. I’ve been able to meet so many incredible artists, galleries, and clients because of the internet and many of the opportunities I’ve had have happened because people saw my work online. There are a lot of negative aspects though. People can steal your work more easily. Things feel a little less sacred now- people can scroll through work quickly without even having to actually digest an image and I think it can also make people take for granted how much time and care it takes to actually create something. A lot of people mistake my paintings for digital work and don’t bother to look into things on a deeper level- I always believe work is experienced best in real life and I hate it when people assume I’m a blogger who will sell their makeup brushes or headphones for them just because I have a lot of followers and I use pink in pieces. It’s always important to me that I’m making the work for the work, not for the IG likes or follows. People ask me for advice on how to get more followers when they should be asking themselves how they can improve their work and challenge themselves to grow.
What was the last piece you worked on and where did you draw inspiration for that?
The last piece I completed was actually a big commission that I can’t discuss yet but the piece before that was a painting that’s part of my ongoing series based on a deck of vintage Hustler cards that I have. I hope to eventually interpret the entire deck (100 cards) into a series of 6x6 in paintings on wood panel. I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of erotic art and what defines the fine line that distinguishes erotic art from porn and what that line is for me. I believe that erotica reflects something of its maker (and the maker’s society) in it- it isn’t simply for consumption, rather it is a reflection of its creator’s personal desires and sexuality, and by reflecting its creator in a personal way it is able to speak to the human experience on a deeper level than porn aims to do. By reinterpreting these cards I hope to redefine the sexuality that is expressed by them and in some ways reclaim it for myself as a woman. The cards are reinterpreted so that they are no longer made to satisfy some anonymous male gaze- they are now intimate portraits of a woman, expressing and exploring her sexuality. My most recent piece in this series is titled “Lola.” I was struck by the pose of the original card and decided to expand my piece on that pose. Although the card is meant to be sexy, the woman actually looked rather gloomy and contemplative to me. I’ve recently experienced a loss and the sadness and vulnerability in her nudity spoke to me, so I decided to make my piece about how sometimes you’re just sad and naked and a mess. Despite her nudity and exposed genitalia the piece isn’t about sex, rather it’s about emotional vulnerability and grief.
Your style is instantly recognisable, it’s bold, bright, busy, kind of like a really good psychedelic dream. What do you hope people take from your art?
If I’m being honest I don’t think about it too specifically. I hope that people are able to see something that speaks to their own experiences in my work but my pieces are highly personal and I don’t have some universal message I’m trying to communicate to everyone.
Who are the women you paint?
They’re me, they’re who I want to be, they’re who I’m afraid I am. Sometimes they’re inspired by people I know or someone who I find particularly interesting.
If we were a spider on the wall and watched you in your artistic element, what would we see, hear, smell? Paint a scene for us.
Haha well if you were a spider on my wall you’d see me freaking the fuck out because I have an intense fear of bugs and even when I paint them I have to look up cartoon images or drawings because it’s very hard for me to even look at photographs of them. But anyways I usually work in long blocks best and I paint at my desk. I listen to music (Enya when I’m stressed but I have pretty eclectic tastes) and podcasts (This American Life, Hollywood Crime Scene, You Must Remember This, Casefile and Behind the Bastards are a few of my favorites). At night I usually turn on Netflix or something so that I feel less weird about working alone all day, although I just got a new intern for a study abroad program so I’ll be having company for a few months. I smoke weed while I work (especially when I do more freehand patterns because they always make me nervous) and I drink a lot of redbull since I tend to stay up pretty late. Also I wear my pajamas all day although now that I have an intern I put on pants.
Sexy, sensual, erotic illustration is under constant threat on social media and yet for so many artists, Instagram is a key sales channel. How do you deal with censorship?
I mean it pisses me off but I put up with it because as I mentioned, a lot of my jobs come from people or companies who follow my work so I don’t want my account to be suspended. It sucks because every time I get censored I feel compelled to speak out, since I have the privilege of being able to do so when countless artists before me haven’t had the platform to do so but I also hate it because then the piece or job always loses its original context and now the thing I was excited to share has been tarnished in some way.
What female artists, living or passed, would you share a plate of nachos with?
Damn that’s a good question because you want to share your nachos with people who would enjoy the nachos and one of my favourite artists, Tamara de Lempicka, would definitely be grossed out by them, haha. Maybe Margaret Kilgallen and Leonora Carrington would be good nacho mates.
What are you currently working on?
I start on a mural in Brooklyn this week! Wish me luck!
LOCATION: los angeles, usa