Bursting at the scenes of painted ladies from another universe, Los Angeles-based artist KRISTEN LIU-WONG illustrates a world run by her perception of the candid, dangerous everywoman.
Kristen Liu-Wong has a vision of color-coated tableaux drizzled with elements ranging from weapons and wildlife to boys and sex toys, all answering to one commander–a woman. Tracing taut features on her wide array of characters, the Chinese-American artist steadily walks the line of vulnerability and brutality, catching them in compromising positions, in anything but sweet dispositions, but turning this notion of voyeurism around. “So many intimate images have been created by men for men, which is exactly why I try to paint more pieces exploring these themes from my viewpoint,” she shares. Her canvassed creations and message haven’t gone unnoticed, being featured by i-D, Live FAST, Amadeus Magazine, and Juxtapoz. Having been raised by her grandmother and mom might’ve served as an early focal point of strong female presences, but her mother’s influence weighed heavy on her first exploration into art. “She’s an elementary art teacher; she would bring me and my sister to museums on weekends and have us make the sample projects for her classes. Eventually, I realized I was actually kind of good at art, and realizing that I could succeed is what eventually pushed me into exploring it.” Leaving her home in San Francisco for New York to take up Illustration at Pratt Institute, she stayed in Brooklyn a few years before moving to LA. “Once I got to Pratt, it was actually an incredibly tough couple of years, but I did get some amazing professors who taught me a lot and helped me grow both conceptually and technically.” Taking what she learned and marrying it to her visual language, she found her way to her very own aesthetic of a “candy-coated fever dream.”
“I don’t want to paint sexy props that act as a vessel for male desire. I want to paint sexual, complex women.”
While her description matches her art, there are a few things left unsaid of the NSFW nature. Other words that can hone true are violent, chaotic, and at times, sadomasochistic images on oil and resin paintings; so otherworldly yet the complete opposite of ethereal, purposely grotesque with their twisted smiles in colorful and painful erotica. When asked what her connection to these dominant characters are, she answers, “They represent the dominant and aggressive side of me that I sometimes wish I could express more in real life.” In one swift motion, she takes back what’s supposed to belong to the female: her sexuality. “I don’t want to paint sexy props that act as a vessel for male desire.” She continues, “I want to paint sexual, complex women.” Transforming scenes that could easily be painted as chauvinistic, she casts the light from a different perspective and brings the idea of the pleasure of women to the forefront. By slowly creating starring subjects acting on their own sexuality, their desire, or what they want, she’s created something new from the female gaze. “I’m just naturally drawn to the topic of sex as a human. It’s one of our most basic instincts, yet there’s still so much taboo and mystery around it so I find that very interesting,” she shares. “You’re always interested in what you don’t fully understand and sex is one of those things for me.”
[Art is] this shifting, undefinable concept that’s amazing, because it’s so incredibly human but also greater in its entirety than any one person.”
Starting out with a blank canvas, Kristen walks through her creative process: “I typically take a day or so to gather inspiration and think about what I really want to paint. From there, I go to a rough thumbnail just so I can figure out a vague composition, then I begin working on the final drawing on tracing paper. Once that’s complete, I transfer the drawing onto a panel that I’ve gessoed, paint from the background to foreground so I can get clean edges. My pieces can take anywhere from two days for little paintings to ten days for larger ones.” With her freestyle way of tracing trademark themes, her work doesn’t only revolve around her vixens as she paints concoctions of galactic space stories, Asian accents, and venomous creatures. “I’ve always really respected and loved animals, so they’re a big part of my world. It would be weird not to paint them,” she says. “I appreciate not only their aesthetic value, but also their symbolic value. Occasionally, they will act as reflections of the animalistic nature lurking in the women they accompany.” Finding her own flavors in her surroundings, the void of one muse alone opens up her mind to different sources of inspiration. “I don’t really have one particular thing that inspires me. Of course, I look up to other artists, everyday life, architecture, etc. for experience, but the greatest inspiration for me to create art is the idea of art itself. It’s this shifting, undefinable concept that’s amazing, because it’s so incredibly human but also greater in its entirety than any one person.” On the rare occasions where she doesn’t have a paintbrush at hand, she admits to watching trashy reality TV, but that doesn’t come too often. “Honestly, I’m a bit of a workaholic and, especially lately, it’s hard to find time for anything else too involved besides art. I released a capsule collection with Juxtapoz for the LA Art Book Fair last February, and I have a show with New Image Art this month. And in September, I’ll be having a solo with Corey Helford Gallery.”
By Janroe Cabiles