by Samantha Zhao
⚠️ Content Warning: This article contains artwork related to sex and violence ⚠️
Kristen Liu-Wong is a 27-year-old Chinese American artist currently based in Los Angeles, California. When you come across her illustrations, you find yourself sucked into a story that you never want to end. Each vibrant artwork features all sorts of topics; sex, magic, war, feminism, self- exploration, mythological creatures and more! Sorjo chatted with Kristen on how she gets inspiration to create such magical and vivid illustrations and being a Chinese- American artist.
When and how did you start becoming interested in art?
My mom is an elementary art school teacher and has always encouraged my sister and I in our interests in art and literature so I guess my interest started at a young age. We would always go to free museum days and the library and were given art supplies or books whenever we complained about being bored. And I was always the overachiever in classes- I spent way too much time on my class dioramas or book report covers. I began to consider art more seriously as a future career in my junior year of high school when you start thinking about what colleges you want to apply to and I realized that art was something in which I felt relatively confident (which art school would later definitely challenge, haha) but also made me super happy. I applied to three schools- Pratt Institute was my long shot, California College of the Arts was my second choice, and then I had a back-up that was a state school. I actually got accepted to Pratt and I decided to enroll in the Illustration program since some of my favorite living artists were illustrators.
Your mesmerizing artwork has a distinct style as it focuses on sex positivity, radical feminity, combined with other eye-popping themes such as sci-fi and gore. How did you gain inspiration to choose your style of art?
I never really “chose” the style I work in- it came through a lot of experimentation, copying the style of artists I admired, and learning about new things. When I first went to art school, I was making work that I hoped would prove to others I was good at art and I struggled quite a bit because I wasn’t wowing professors (which really upset me since I’m a perfectionist) and I wasn’t even making work that I especially liked. Then I saw the documentary Beautiful Losers and that really helped to open up my idea of what a modern-day working artist could be. I realized I needed to stop trying to prove myself and just start making work that I had fun doing. I’d like to think I’m still evolving and learning- I think work always develops as the person making it develops.
Each of your artwork displays a story, whether its a woman slashing a sword into a snake or someone simply pleasuring herself. How would you describe your creative process of how you come up with these fantastic “stories”?
I majored in Illustration and I’ve always loved to read so I think I’m just naturally drawn to stories and I tend to express myself that way. When I’m making a new piece I sit and let myself think and look for awhile. Usually, some sort of image or emotion will jump out to me and I start to craft my piece around that- I decide what the figures and the general theming will be first and then as the drawing develops, so does the narrative that it’s telling.
I’ve noticed that some of your artwork has references to Greek Mythology. Why do you implement Greek myths into your work?
As a kid, one of my favorite books that we owned was an illustrated children’s book of Greek Mythology. I became greatly interested in ancient Greek and Roman culture/mythology. As I got older I read Homer, Sophocles, Ovid, Euripides, Virgil, etc- I love all the drama! How can you not find stories with gods, goddesses and mythological creatures interesting? But I also like that despite the fantasy and how far removed those stories are from my own time. They’re so deeply human, relatable and interesting. There’s murder, war, love, magic, incest, cannibalism- it would be almost impossible to not be inspired by them after learning about them!
As an Asian American, we’re expected to follow traditional expectations and be pious and quiet. However, your artwork breaks century-old stereotypes of how an Asian woman should be. Why do you think it’s important to create the art that you do and what do you hope other Asian Americans would feel from seeing your work?
Haha, well I still I have serious doubts about whether what I spend all my time doing even matters so I don’t know that it’s important that I make my art, I just hope it is. It would be great if other Asian Americans could see me doing what I’m doing and realize it’s totally possible to make a living from art and it isn’t a made-up career. Even if you don’t get to James Jean heights you can still make a decent living and work on cool projects and meet new and interesting people. And at least you won’t hate going to work every day. And I hope other that other Asian girls will see that although traditionally we’re expected to be sweet and innocent all the time, we don’t have to be and we don’t have to exclusively make sweet cute work (though if that’s your thing, more power to you- I obviously have nothing against cute imagery and colors).
What artists/musicians/writers/etc. have you looked up to throughout your life that has influenced your work?
Artists: Man Ray, Grandma Moses, Tamara DeLempicka, Margaret Kilgallen, Barry Mcgee, Hokusai, Clare Rojas, Yayoi Kusama, Olafur Eliasson, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, James Jean, Jonas Wood, Kerry James Marshall, Alex Pardee…
Musicians: Enya, Neutral Milk Hotel, Leonard Cohen, Spencer Krug, Pixies, Joanna Newsom, Yo-Yo Ma, Aimee Man, Bjork, Kate Bush…
Writers: Emile Zola, Mikhail Bulgakov, D. H. Lawrence, Edith Wharton, Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, Honore De Balzac, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Joris-Karl Huysmans…
What advice do you have for other artists that are struggling to find their own unique style?
Keep your mind and your eyes open to everything- the world is an endlessly inspiring and interesting place if you let it be. And while I do think that it’s obviously helpful to copy the work of artists you admire and you can learn a lot by experimenting with their methods, I also think that you don’t want to fall into the trap of making work that is derivative. Make sure that what you’re making has your voice in it otherwise there’s no point making work that someone else has already done and done better.