We had the good fortune of connecting with Kristen Liu-Wong and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kristen, how do you think about risk?
I’m naturally a more cautious type of person but in both life and art it is necessary to take risks. The first big risk I took was applying to art school- I knew that success was not a guarantee and while my mom has always emphasized the importance of doing what you love over having money, as a kid who was raised by a single mom and grandmother I also saw the realities of financial difficulties and I knew that there would be sacrifices. I went to art school, knowing that the likelihood of me having an independent art career were low but also having a backup plan- I could always find a job teaching art or another practical creative alternative but I wanted to get an education in art and I felt my happiness and fulfillment in life were worth taking that chance. Because of the sacrifices my mom and grandmother made for my education, I also felt pressure to make the most of my opportunities. The second big risk I took in my career was when I moved to LA 2 years after graduating and I decided to try to freelance full-time instead of getting a 9-5 job. After graduating I had worked in a printmaking studio as an assistant (in addition to doing my own work nights and weekends) and I had saved religiously every time I got a paycheck. Once I moved to LA, I figured I could live off my savings while I concentrated on building my art career. All of my risk-taking has been calculated- I went to art school (risk) but I worked hard, got financial aid, and because I made good work, my professors liked it and gave me career opportunities and guidance. I moved to LA without a job but that was also a calculated risk- I had saved from my previous job and I was willing to work for cheap and make the most of the few opportunities I did get in the hopes that they would lead to more. The content of what I paint is in itself is a risk- I try to make work that is authentic to myself and sometimes it doesn’t always work out for me because my work is deemed to aggressive or risque (I’ve often been censored or lost job opportunities). On the other hand, my favorite art has always been made by artists that weren’t afraid to make imagery that pushed the boundaries of what society deemed palatable and I think my work’s boldness has helped me stand out. Nobody ever made a difference by playing it safe and being forgettable.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
It wasn’t easy to get to where I am today. I don’t want to get into my personal story too much since but my childhood was far from perfect and my father was the type of man who taught me early on that people can be dangerous. My mother and grandmother did their best to take care of my sister and I but it wasn’t always easy since my mom is an elementary art school teacher and my grandmother was a retired kindergarten teacher (although she went back to work as a substitute to help financially). I was raised by strong and independent women who taught me that you can’t rely on others for your own success and stressed the importance of education and that is a big part of the reason why I have been so career-driven. I think because my mom encouraged us to be free-thinkers with an appreciation for the arts, I have always felt unfettered by society’s expectations of what I should be or what I should paint. Because my upbringing wasn’t the easiest, I also learned that you shouldn’t expect things to be given to you and you must work hard for everything you get (and sometimes even then it won’t be enough).
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Hmm it’s been so long since I’ve gone anywhere but in pre-covid times I loved the visiting the Getty (it’s free with an amazing collection and a breathtaking view), the Velaslavasay Panorama , and the swan boats at Echo Park Lake. I love Alias Books East in Atwater Village and Skylight Books and Blue Rooster Art in Los Feliz. Clifton’s is super fun to visit and eat at and I used to live near the El Zarape on Fountain Ave and they had the best tacos.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I want to thank my mom and my grandmother (who passed away before my senior year and never got to see me graduate). They made huge sacrifices so that I could get a good education and even though they knew it was a big risk for me to go to art school, they never tried to dissuade me, which can’t be said for all of my family members, some of whom thought I was wasting money and my good grades. I’m so grateful to my mom and sister who have always supported what I do and I’m thankful for my professors Kenichi Hoshine, Dennis McNett, Jordin Isip, and Chang Park who all helped guide and foster the artist I am today. Marsea of New Image Art was the first big gallerist to give me a chance and I still work with her to this day. I have amazing friends (both in the arts and out of it) who always support what I do and show up to my openings, even in the early years when some of those openings were empty. I’m also lucky enough to have found an incredible partner and fellow painter in Luke Pelletier- sharing my life and work with him has helped me grow as a person and artist.
Photo by Luke Pelletier