Christine Wu is another one of the fantastic artists bringing their art to San Francisco for the EMPTY KINGDOM SUMMER ART SHOW! Her work deals with mythos, sexual tension and the emotional depth and trauma inherent to relationships. Check out her work and interview:
What was the first piece you made that you were proud of?
This is a particularly difficult question because I do not like to present work that I am not happy with. In fact, I really can’t give this question a straight answer because it ranges from successfully making a pillow when I first learned how to sew as a kid to my first successful painting when in school. The feelings were relative to the time they were felt and at this moment, there is no way to gauge a first.
What did you study at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena? How has formal education helped you mature as an artist? How has it helped you mature as a person? Artistically what kind of experimentation were you doing in college? How has your technique/approach changed since then? What are you experimenting with now?
I studied Illustration at Art Center, but do not consider myself an illustrator by any traditional terms. Art Center provided me with the discipline that would not come naturally to many artists in general, and I was given a place to explore. I may not be able to truly credit going to Art Center as a means to maturation, since I don’t really consider myself a fully matured person, but I must say that I have a hard time imagining myself getting to where I am today had I not gone to Art Center. The school has definitely given me the technical skill set that I needed to achieve what I want, but mentally it was a mind fuck. When I was in school, every teacher had their own way of teacher, and their own way of pushing students, so being constantly pushed by several different teachers in several very different directions, while trying to complete assignments satisfactorily, in a timely matter, was quite a bit to disgust, and created an unsustainable creative environment where students were prone to “burning out.” I thoroughly experimented when I was in school with many various media and techniques, but did not arrive at my current practice until much later in my college career (when I was panicking that it seemed everyone else around me had already established a distinct personal “style”). I think I’ve managed to fine-tune many aspects of my technique where a good handful of things flow like clockwork, but there is definitely enough room for painterly experimentation. I am currently playing with different ways to create layers, whether it’s a printmaking method or traditional glazing with oil paints.
You say that you live in the land of the lotus eaters, where exactly do you live and how do you think it parallels the fable? Are you yourself a lotus-eater?
I live in Los Angeles. The lotus-eaters were a people who lived on an island in Homer’s Odyssey, where they ate the lotus flower, which caused them to become blissfully apathetic. A friend of mine is actually the person who can be credited with this creative comparison of Los Angeles. I feel like the majority people of America or even much of Western modern culture for that matter, may parallel these people. There is a very heavy emphasis on happiness: achieving is, retaining it, and owning it. This emphasis places too much importance on one emotion and causes the others to feel invalid. Though, of course being happy is fantastic, and preferable to being miserable; however, I often sense that we are not allowed to feel anything but happy, and to do so would be a major faux pas. This relentless pursuit of happiness has paved the way for the wide acceptance of instant gratification, which is typically unsustainable. A lack of self-awareness permeates our culture, and I get the impression that people are okay with it, especially because there are popular movies, music or books that may give a sense of self-analysis but cannot truly give an individual an understanding of themselves. I must admit that there are times when I nibble on the lotus, and I do not know a single soul who would deny themselves the momentary possibility of freedom from responsibility, despite its artificial flavor. Everything should be taken in moderation. As far as philosophies go though, I like to ascribe more to Voltaire’s idea that “we must cultivate our garden.”
What part of yourself does the overt sexuality of your work reflect? What do you hope the viewer to see or perceive in your work? How do the themes of your work parallel the themes of your life? How do they diverge? In what ways is art an escape for you, a pursuit of fantasy? In what ways is it venting, exposition on your own situation?
The overt sexuality is not a direct reflection of myself, but rather a commentary on vulnerability and control. My women have more to do with discovering and exploring femininity rather than being objects of sexual desire. Human are sexual beings and denying that would be to deny the continuation of our species.
I am open to other people’s interpretations of my work and enjoy hearing what people can perceive in the images. I don’t want to guide a viewer too much with what I intended any given piece to be, the feel of the whole thing is much more intriguing than what someone might “see.” Because art is a reflection of culture and that artist, I am definitely present in my work. The exact themes become a bit muddy, since the pieces are an amalgamation of my experiences and likes. For one, there are very few things I like more than morning sunlight on crumpled sheets, and I think this will always be a recurring motif in all of my paintings. I value intimacy and privacy and want to put these ideas into the images that may give viewers a voyeuristic discomfort, or excitement. I do not see much of fantasy, escape or venting in my work, though the ambiance may be surrealistic and dreamlike. I am striving for honesty and clarity.
Tell us about the piece that you are bringing to Minna. What is it about? What are the themes?
The piece for Minna is titled Disce Mori, which is learn to die in latin, or know death. To me, death means acceptance more than anything, and this can refer to an actual physical death, or any form of metaphorical death. The piece is a reminder of our mortality and ability to grow as people.
How have you been challenging yourself? How would you suggest starting artists to challenge themselves? What in your most recent pieces is a new frontier for you, whether technique or subject matter? What are you working on next?
Whenever I complete a body of work, I like to take some time off and do things that are not art, or at least, painting related. When I do return to the studio, it’s as if I am starting fresh and there is always a little bit of a struggle to get back in the hang of things. In a way, the struggle is kind of like I forgot how to paint, but then the muscle memory takes over and I remember how to do things, but within that struggle, I always learn something new. Any place that is outside of a comfort zone is a ripe opportunity for learning, as long as someone is willing to be open and learn. Artists can constantly challenge themselves and never learn anything from it if they are not receptive and open minded. I am currently trying out different painting techniques and deciding what kind of brushstrokes I like best, despite my comfort levels with the outcome. I’m putting together a small body of work for Parlor Gallery in New Jersey that will open in September.
What did you do today? The entire day, not just the highlights?
Today I read the news in bed on my phone, then proceeded to the bathroom to do morning wake-up things. I made myself a little sandwich for breakfast, fed the cat, then washed some fruits and vegetables to have for lunch. I then headed to my studio where I spent the next 3 hours printing character building packets for my DnD group while the printer jammed at every 3rd paper. I thought, fuck this, and continued where I left off on Friday with answering these interview questions while tending to my temperamental printer. I will be going to yoga class later, after I finish a stack of drawings. As of now the printer is still struggling.