kristen liu-wong’s world is erotic, horrific, violent and awesome
The artist paints normal girls who just happen to be terrorising the planet.
All Fotos. Kristen Liu-Wong
Kristen Liu-Wong is an LA based artist who creates colourful images of women and animals. If you stopped here, and left this piece now you would assume that she was another young woman, creating candy hued compositions of pretty girls and horses. Now you wouldn't be wrong, but along with the ponytails and puppies, Kristen's work is embedded with commentary on sex, violence, gender, abuse, fetishises and science fiction. Her muses are funny, but they're also dangerous, violent, confused and vulnerable. Speaking to her you realise how much of yourself you can see in a picture of a woman shooting a laser or having sex with an alien creature. That's saying: her art is complex and exciting, but so are women.
When I was preparing for this interview I kept thinking how your work is a mix of the erotic and horrific.
In my mind and in our culture those two ideas are really linked. The idea of danger is intriguing and very appealing so naturally they're connected, they both have elements of mystery and the unknown. Part of it is obviously fantasy—of course someone holding a knife to my throat during sex would be completely horrible and terrifying in real life. Sex can be dangerous and I like exploring that idea.
You see that in your female subjects, they're playing a seductive role but are also pretty violent.
I really enjoy portraying women who are appealing but also a little threatening. I think it's more interesting that way. If I chose to portray females who are only sexy, nothing more, I would be so bored. By giving them this sense of mystery or violence I'm trying to show more complex characters. Even though their figures are sexy, I often give them creepy black eyes or gross skin textures so there's something visually upsetting to offset that sexuality.
Are they semi-self portraits?
I'm pretty passive in real life so I enjoy painting dominant warrior women who run the show.
We've talked about sex and violence, but some of your images do carry echoes of sexual violence. Tell me about your larger narrative around those themes?
Like I said, the two are linked so it was inevitable it would come up. I guess that's why I try portray very commanding and strong women. So often we are victimised and preyed upon, but by creating these super-dominant otherworldly female figures, I'm trying to show how powerful we can be.
It feels like you have a pretty developed woman in mind when you make your work, tell us more about her.
Lately I've been painting these women I jokingly call "space witches." She's everything I am and want to be. She can be cruel and violent but she can also be fragile and completely powerless to her surroundings. She's sexy and ugly at the same time and a lot of her appeal comes from that power or vulnerability she displays.
Women are so rarely presented as aggressors, is there a part of you that wants to make work as intense as possible to divert that thinking?
Yes! I'm tired of seeing women shown as stupid, pretty little playthings. We're people, we have the potential to be both good and bad, aggressive and submissive, beautiful and hideous.
We've talked a lot about women, but animals are also clearly a favourite subject.
I've always loved animals and they've been such a comfort in my life. I think it's important that I portray them in my made-up world since they're a large part of my real world. Animals can also have these longstanding symbolic meanings which add another layer to the image.
I've been painting a lot of snakes lately, not just because that look great but also because they represent so many things: evil, sex, knowledge, danger. One snake brings up all those ideas in someone's mind when they see a girl caressing it.
I think animals should be more respected so I usually try to portray them as powerful in their own way. They usually act as loyal companions or a comforting presence to a figure. Sometimes they're protectors too. If they are being preyed upon, I try to use that to show how cruel it is to hurt someone that is so vulnerable.
Text Wendy Syfret
Illustrations Kristen Liu-Wong