Every Friday, BULLETT’s introducing our favorite Instagram profiles and getting to know the people behind the posts.
Kristen Liu-Wong’s paintings are like classic art on acid. Combining characters loosely based on the TV shows we all watched as kids with Greco-Roman style vases, made-up technology and technicolor cans of La Croix, the San Francisco-born artist creates a world that evades social convention and chronological time. Inspired by her own humanity, Liu-Wong says her visuals trace back to her childhood, having been raised Catholic in a cluttered home and crowded city––which makes complete sense because there are snakes, weird sex scenes and forbidden fruit everywhere throughout her art. But the dark and dogmatic undercurrents of her work veer away from the sexual shame often associated with organized religion. Instead, the 25-year-old artist is more interested in extracting the core of Greek myths and biblical stories out of their traditional context, in order to explore the uglier parts of human nature, on her own terms––and with as much neon paint as possible.
“Don’t Tempt Me” OPENING TONIGHT 7-10 pm in Portland for @stephaniechefasprojects !!! I’m gonna have some pieces in “Neon Love” along with AMAZING work from @sopopomo @merylpataky @erikmarksandberg 💗💠😍 I can’t make it out for this one but definitely stop by if you’re around tonight!!! #art #painting #color #neonlove #temptation #pomegranate #thorns
Name: Kristen Liu-Wong
Your paintings span from lighthearted subject matter to really dark imagery. What themes do you explore?
For awhile it was violence, but recently it’s been sexuality, and my most recent body of work has been focused on conflict and aggression. I’m really interested in exploring our violent, aggressive natures––even our sexual aggression––that’s why a lot of my paintings combine painful images of snakes biting women, but they’re still receiving sexual pleasure.
Why do you combine classic imagery with elements of modern technology?
I really like mashing up old imagery like Greek pottery, classic symbols like snakes and scorpions with newer tech stuff, just because those are my interests. The tech interest is left over from me liking Inspector Gadget as a kid––I was really into tech, having everything you need in one place, and it all just unfolds. But I also like reading old books, I like opera, old art. I was raised Catholic so I have this weird old imagery of good and evil symbolism in my mind.
Does your Catholic upbringing influence your art?
I don’t believe in God, but I’m still afraid of the devil. It’s just my language––it’s what I’m familiar with. Snakes are sexual, snakes can be evil, snakes represent knowledge––it’s just because of that stupid story of Adam and Eve. But it works.
How does the Inspector Gadget-style technology you illustrate connect with the classical imagery?
In my imagination, there’s this world where old and new just coexist without anyone noticing. There’s obviously a lot of tech in my world, but there’s also magic. I like the idea of priestesses performing rituals and bloodletting ceremonies. Witches are super popular now––everyone loves magic. We all have iPhones. I like to think maybe they worship this tech god, but I haven’t fully thought that out yet.
So is your world more escapist, or indirectly confrontational??
It’s more escapist than it is confrontational. It’s confrontational about our nature––we’re violent, we love sex, we’re lazy as fuck, we like things that are pleasurable. But it’s escapist in that all these figures are superhuman––they’re stronger than I am, more courageous, crueler. That’s why I like old literature, opera, and Greek mythology––it’s a world that connects to ours, but it’s entirely different. Theirs is just a world that reflects ours.
What are some of your influences?
I really like priestesses––I like the opera, Norma, which is about a priestess who killed herself after her Roman lover betrayed her and they’re found out, and she’d had illegitimate kids with him. I think all the Greek mythology imagery has stuck in my head––men being torn apart, huntresses with arrows, and all those sexual dalliances they have. I just really like the drama of it all.
How would you describe your female subjects?
They’re badass warrior robot priestess girls––but they also just kinda like drinking Fanta and lounging around. I like to deal with the darker side of the human experience, but also the mundanity of it.
What do you want people to take away from your work?
I hope that if someone sees it and likes it, they like it for more than just its colors––I hope it says something to them.
Then why do you stick with such bright colors?
I paint ugly subject matter, so I think at least one aspect of it should be attractive. And I like the balance of a gorey image in bright colors. If it was just gorey, I’d be a whole different type of artist, a little more macabre. But that’s not who I am.