Originally hailing from San Francisco, Los Angeles based artist Kristen Liu-Wong doesn’t hesitate to admit that what fascinates her are subjects considered by most to be taboo or “NSFW”. Her candy-colored paintings play out complex scenes of figures often engaged in erotic acts of sex and violence that draw both horror and giggles from her audience. Among her inspirations, Liu-Wong cites 90s Nickelodeon cartoons, the intricate patterns of traditional American folk art and Native American pottery for specific motifs, and figurative artist Alex Katz, whose earlier Japanese woodcut inspired works can be seen in the way Liu-Wong composes her landscape of rowdy characters. Specifically, Katz looked to Japanese artist Kitagawa Utamaro, whose most famous prints were set in the world of the pleasure districts with the highest degree of artistic, social and aesthetic refinement. In the context of Asian erotic art, there is an element of Liu-Wong’s explicitness that should not be considered entirely crude or pornographic- instead, it also holds a certain flow that comes directly from her imagination.
Of her 2014 exhibition, “Through the Thicket”, she said, “When you look through a thicket you’ll see something that was obscured… the ‘thicket’ is my head, and I’m letting people see all the stupid, funky things that are in it.” Other themes found in her work include “Seppuku” (“stomach- or abdomen-cutting”) a form of Japanese ritual suicide, as well as the exploits of serial killers, played out in fluorescent, glittery murder scenes that confront Liu-Wong’s disbelief about the sadistic, evil side of humans. Some works are less graphic and more playful, as in her more recent “Lost in Space” series of paintings, depicting images of alien abduction and body experiments, offset by her unique sense of humor, cartoonish stylization and cheerful color palette. Her ability to present dark, secret, and deep-rooted feelings with visual euphoria is undeniably disarming, but throughout, her characters and blunt, angular compositions become a symbolic foil for her unrestrained inner consciousness. “I think it’s a representation of how I perceive the world around me and occasionally how I wish the world would actually be,” she says.