Kristen Liu-Wong’s work is a pot of water about to boil over.
Working with bright acrylic and gouache, the LA-based illustrator blends crude humor with synthetic surfaces, creating portraits of modern women under diamond-mine pressure. Each painting holds tension, resting at the point of critical mass. “These women grapple with the pressure to feel good, to look good, to act good, to fuck good, to be good, and to define what ‘good’ is for themselves,” says Kristen.
Influenced by architecture, American folk art, and shunga—the Japanese term for erotic art—Kristen’s work appears in Hard Pressed, a solo exhibition at Corey Helford Gallery in downtown Los Angeles. The show includes a selection of new paintings on paper, cradled wood panels, and cut-out wood sculptures.
“In these paintings, harried women contort themselves into impossible poses as they multitask,” says Kirsten of Hard Pressed. “A figure grapples with her inner demon, a woman burns as people cavort around her, precariously balanced objects threaten to topple over, and there is a constant underlying tension as the figures in the pieces strain and strive in their existence.” Her patterned works pulsate with the pent-up frustrations women feel as they make their way through the world.
“Hard Pressed is an exploration of the internal and external pressures that we have to contend with every day,” Kristen explains. “Worry and strife are a part of the human condition and unfortunately over the past couple of years, it has become an ever-expanding constant in almost everyone’s life as disease, social discord, war, and environmental issues threaten to overwhelm us all.” Tightly composed and teeming with symbols, Kristen’s work piles on 21st-century anxieties with clarity, precision, and eerie accuracy. The crushing burden of modern life, reimagined as a lotus- and snake-infused bath—or as the iron-rich cocktail of blood and fish food in “She Had to Feed Him Twice a Day.”
If you’re in the LA area, stop by Corey Helford Gallery to see Hard Pressed, on view September 17 through October 22.
In Today’s Q+Art Interview…
Kristen Liu-Wong discusses painting painful subjects, why Hard Pressed is her most ambitious artistic undertaking, and how the pandemic taught her even an introvert needs connection sometimes.
How are these works different in terms of style and application from your previous works?
Kristen Liu-Wong: This is the most ambitious body of work that I’ve ever attempted for a variety of reasons. I have never made a single body of work this large and making sure everything felt cohesive, both visually and conceptually, was a challenge. I tried to push myself technically as well—in addition to making some of the most detailed work I’ve ever painted, I explored using different lighting techniques, color palettes, compositions, cropping, and visual tricks that I have never attempted before. I want this work to show that I can grow in new and different ways.
Do you have a favorite piece in the show or one that was particularly challenging to work on, and why?
KLW: My largest painting on panel (titled “She Burned All Night”) is definitely my most challenging piece, not only because of its size and complexity but also conceptually. I knew I wanted to make a piece that would be visually and emotionally jarring; since The Wicker Man (1973) is one of my favorite movies and Roe v. Wade had just been overturned, I decided to make a piece inspired by the current situation. I’m still completing the piece at the moment but so far, the most difficult part for me was to draw the scared animals that will be burning in the limbs of the wicker woman. Even if it’s an imagined situation and no real animals or people are hurt, it can be emotionally challenging to depict cruel or violent acts, but I also think it is necessary to push myself to make work that isn’t always comfortable or easy to look at. Refusing to discuss or portray things that can be upsetting accomplishes nothing.
What part of the artistic process do you enjoy?
KLW: I enjoy almost all of the process! It’s exciting to come up with a new idea for something and then figuring out how to execute it is even more fun. My favorite part though is when I’m finishing up a piece and I get to see everything come together!
Did the last two years (during the pandemic) change your practices or routines?
KLW: I don’t know that it necessarily changed my practice, since I work from a home studio anyways, but it was definitely extra isolating to have to quarantine, especially at the beginning of the pandemic before the vaccines became available. It obviously gave me a greater appreciation for my good health, but it also made me appreciate social events more. I’m naturally rather introverted but after a year of staying shut in, some small talk with acquaintances was actually rather nice haha.
This interview courtesy of Corey Helford Gallery. All photos published with permission of the artist.
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