A Studio Visit with Kris Chau

by JL SchnabelPosted on

Philly based artist and Space 1026 member, artist Kris Chau creates a fantastically sensuous world imbued with a careful balance of humor, heartbreak and modern femininity in her crow quill drawings and colorful acrylic works. Focusing on a stream of consciousness, Chau weaves snips of text about her life and on-hand inspirations into the poetically quirky works, adding an emotional depth to her luminescent figure drawings and portraits. While preparing for her upcoming exhibition on September 1st, ‘Brown Eyes Black Ink’ at The University of Maryland, we were able to visit her studio and interview her about her inspirations. View more studio images and read the full interview below.

How did you get involved with The University of Maryland?

John Shipman John Shipman John Shipman. He is a wonderful gallery director and is incredibly supportive. My boyfriend at the time was doing an installation at the Art Gallery and put John in contact with me, and since then John and I have collaborated on the Poetic Aesthetic show and now this. I am so excited for this show and very grateful for this wonderful opportunity.

Your work tends to alternate between crow quill and ink and acrylic on wood panels. How do you choose which idea is created with which medium?

I am naturally a drawer, and my crowquills have turned into another limb. It’s really incredibly intuitive to draw this way for me. Painting on the other hand is a completely different process that is not as natural for me. So I choose simpler larger subjects for the wood paneled paintings. The paintings are still evolving, I would like to spend the next year just doing bigger more detailed paintings since I haven’t signed on to do more shows next year.

How does the landscape of your new studio effect your work?

My Studio at the wonderful art collective that is Space 1026 is an important chapter to my art making. I’ve always had a studio in my home. Making art has always been a part of my life that didn’t need special attention. Making art was something I couldn’t help but do, so it lived without much food. Moving forward with the studio, was making a descision to give it it’s own place. My computer is not in my studio. I have a really big desk now that accommadates much bigger drawings. I also have the most wonderful studio mates that make great art and push me everyday.

Can you talk a little bit about your current inspirations?

My current inspirations are these wonderful Ben Shahn books that were left in my studio by a lovely friend. My inspirations come from all the amazing artists surrounding me at Space 1026, and also of course all the Top 40 hip hop that gets blasted in cars all around me in Philadelphia.


Your sketch books are amazing, such a prolific documentation of your work. Can you talk about the transition between sketch and final piece?

Sketchbooks, Scrambles, Draw Jamms, doodling while on the phone or in meetings, these are all very important to my work process. Making art is a visual language, and these sketches are widening your visual vocabulary. You allow yourself to practice new ways to say the same thing or completely new images get formed through these casual means of making art.  

I often get sad that the sketchbooks gets left out of shows, because they are half the process. So I am very excited to let them out of there cave and out for full viewing. Embarassing, beautiful, wonderful, terrible drawings, are all different paths to get to where you are in your mark making. The books will be strung up and hung on hooks for easy viewing.

Snips of text are often woven throughout your work, is this an organic addition or is the work sometimes create around them?

The bits of text are always fragments of whatever is currently going on in my brain or heart. The images are created first and then as a crowning touch the words get placed in last. Mostly it’s music that is playing around me, lyrics get ripped off in pieces and thrown into my imagery. And somehow it always, always pinpoints whatever feelings I have in my drawings. It’s a very unrestrictive look into my life. For everyone who is a part of my life, it gets pretty embarrassing.

You also have a pretty serious creative full time job. How do you balance both?

Oh man, the cats out of the bag, the jig is up! Yes I have a very serious creative job in the morning/day time 5 days a week. That part of my life is also very important to me, and somehow uses a different part of my brain that I didn’t think I had. I design clothes for Free People, which for me isn’t so much about fashion, or shopping, or looking cute, but is incredibly nerdy. It’s about fabrics, it’s about making anyone who buys it look their absolute best because the smallest part of a woman is often right under her rib. It’s definately hard, my personal life suffers the most. People in my life have been seperated into, people who are mad at me for not hanging, and the people who are simply happy to see me. My day job is my stable, kind, handsome, well-to-do husband, and my art life is my rock n roll boyfriend.

How does living in Philly effect your work as opposed to living in San Francisco or even Hawaii where you’re from?

Living in Philly is where I learned to make the kind of art I make and be the kind of artist I have become. Living in San Francisco/ Bay Area, is a very specific art scene. I went to school with so many of those absolutely amazing people, but i knew i needed to leave to make whatever it is I was going to still make. This is where the cost of living and what you make, makes a direct connection. My studio and rent is pretty cheap, for the quality of life I live. This enables me to worry less, have the money to buy materials to make whatever it is i need to make pretty easily and prolifically. For this I am eternally grateful for the dirty, fickle city that is Philadelphia. Being from Hawaii is a different story ,same situation, it’s an island in the middle of the Pacific, on the equator where the next closest places with metropolitan cities are Japan and California. It is a place where people are struggling with the high cost of living, and also there love for living in that wonderful place. So instead of spending money on art, you spend it where it’s immediately needed. So it is harder to have the motivation to make art when people are thinking about simply how to make rent and put food on the table. But I think with the internet connecting artists and the world, this is changing pretty fast.

What is it like to create work based around Linda Pastan’s poetry? Can you talk about this experience?

My experience with Linda Pastan’s poetry was an absolute joy. I was trained as an illustrator at school, so pinpointing imagery out of text was something I was well versed with. But something about Linda Pastan’s poetry was kindred to the type of art work I made. A little sad, and little dark, but hidden in a beautiful seemingly innocent way. It allowed me to make artwork a little out of my normal imagery range that I enjoyed and I think pushed me to continue onto this path. I was very excited to get to do another set of poems for the University of Maryland show coming up.

Do you work with models? If so, are they people you know? How does this choice effect the tone of the composition?

I don’t work with models as much as I would like. I would love to work with more models, and I am making it a point to doing so in this year long break. Seeing things in front of you is different from seeing things in your brain. And practicing that, is very important. The people I know are always in my drawings, my feelings for the people in my drawings have to be positive. it’s strange, i can’t visualize people that i dont feel postive about. It’s very telling about my feelings for you when i can draw you.

What do you consider to be the true heart of your work?

I’d like to hope that the true heart of my work is basic good honest drawings. I have a vision for art that is postive, well done, and flexes the fact that I am a sick ass drawer.

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