Artist: Kristen Liu-Wong
by Kate Zaliznock
Kristen Liu-Wong is one of our favorite forward-thinking artists. Based in Los Angeles by way of San Francisco, Kristen creates otherworldly depictions of the modern feminine in its many forms. A former student of Illustration at Pratt Institute, Liu-Wong’s pieces combine a studious foundation with vibrant colors and pleasure-shock imagery. We sat down with the artist to talk audience reactions, aliens, robots, and symbology.
You’ve made waves through your distinct imagery of modern female empowerment. What have been some of your favorite reactions to your work?
I was once painting a mural outside and a woman came up to me and told me how she was a librarian and she showed the issue of Juxtapoz that I was in to her little daughter who also loved to draw- she told her that she could become an artist too one day! And we talked about how not enough children are taught that it is possible to go into what you love and make a career out of it and it’s just so awesome and humbling that I was able to be an example of that to this amazing mom’s daughter!! I’ve had people who have lost someone reach out to me because a piece I made reminded them of their lost friend and they wanted a print and that was incredible and very meaningful to me too- I’m super lucky that I am able to reach as many people as I do and I hope that I can continue to do so!
A lot of your work features women alongside animals or extraterrestrials; what do you see as their dynamic in your paintings?
I love and respect animals so much and some of the most meaningful relationships from my life have been those with my family dogs. A lot of times they act as a source of protection or comfort or companionship in my pieces. Sometimes however they represent our more animalistic and feral qualities; other times I use them as more traditional symbols of death or evil or knowledge (based on the animal). I don’t often paint extraterrestrials but when I do they tend to be in more fun and silly pieces. They represent the idea of the unknown but I also like to show them having human characteristics- it’s important to recognize that you can still have something in common with the symbolic “other.”
You also sometimes include futuristic touches, such as robotics and artificial intelligence. How do you foresee technology further affecting future artists?
Honestly I have no idea because I feel like the possibilities are so endless and vast that my puny human brain can’t even conceive of what the future holds. I do hope that some art can still remain analog though- there’s something about seeing the painter’s or draftsman’s actual touch in a piece that is so special.
The juxtaposition of sexual fantasy alongside violence is as old as time, yet there seems to often be a certain “shock” reaction when these images come from young, female artists. Do you often feel prompted to defend your work? How do you describe the motivation behind your modus operandi to questioning observers?
Yes, I’ve been trolled or censored more than a few times but honestly people have the right to not like everything and I’d be doing something wrong if literally every single person didn’t have a problem with what I make. Good art creates a dialogue and can provoke people so I try not to take it too personally when people have a problem with my work (although it can be difficult since art is personal and people can get pretty abrasive on the Internet). I think the link between sex and violence is inherent to human nature and if we want to understand ourselves better we can’t look at only the better angels- we have to consider ALL parts.
Tell us a bit about the symbology you feature in your work.
I draw on a lot of symbols for my work. I’ve been trying to use flowers more specifically- lotuses represent purity of mind, body and speech and detachment so it adds another layer to the painting when you place them near scenes of a gritty death. Cardamine flowers represent paternal error so when I put them in the same space as a woman masturbating it’s a reflection on how the relationship with my own father has affected my sex life and my relationship with my sexuality. As I mentioned earlier, animals can act as symbols of our more aggressive animalistic qualities, etc. I was raised Catholic and while I no longer am practicing and I don’t believe in God, I still find myself drawn to the symbols and historical imagery that I was raised with like crucifixes and fish. Other symbols like pools and lizards are more specific to my personal history.
What draws you most to your palette (pink being a particular unifier in your work)?
They’re the colors I like and I’m aesthetically drawn to them. Of course I think that the contrast between the colors and the content creates an interesting dichotomy that’s reflected in the ideas behind my work but on a more basic level, I just think they’re pretty haha and I like to use them.
Who are some fellow emerging artists our readers should know about?
Hmm there are so many! In no particular order, I love the work of Emily Pettigrew, Yarrow Slaps, Heather Benjamin, Lolo YS, Tara Booth, Rachel O’Donnell, Jillian Evelyn, Jonny Negron, Rebecca Morgan, Parker Day, A Kinninmont honestly there are way too many to name everyone!!
What do you have coming up that we should know about?
I will be doing a four person show opening July 27th at SuperChief NY with some of my favorite artists: Boy Kong, Lolo YS, and Kashink!!! It’s going to be super fun and we’re all going to do a mural and I’m making a bunch of work! Then next year I have a show I will be in around February that is in Madrid and I really hope I will be able to go out there too since Madrid looks incredible! And then in September of 2019 I will be doing a two person show at Corey Helford Gallery with Jillian Evelyn and that will be so much fun since we’re pals and I love her work so much!! Sorry for using so many exclamation points but I am very excited and so grateful for all these opportunities that I get :)
Check her out on Instagram @kliuwong