Indulgence and Innocence: Irene Chung's artistic journey through guilt and pleasure in women's lives

The themes of guilt and pleasure fascinate art student Irene Chung, whose latest work is influenced by a series of interviews with women working in the food and wine sector who are closer to daily temptations than most of us. Creative Boom had a chat with Irene about her multi-discipline approach.

Everyone has their guilty pleasures. Don't they? But what exactly are they? And why does the concept of pleasure needing to be accompanied by guilt seem more prevalent in the female psyche?

Illustrator Irene Chung explores that hypothesis by integrating her journalistic and healthcare backgrounds into her visual work. She highlights the 'guilt' women often attach to consumption and indulgence and how the concept shapes women's perspectives on their bodies and influences advertising in the Western world.

Currently pursuing her MFA in illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, one of the oldest art schools in the United States, Irene splits her time between there and her home city of Taipei, Taiwan.

Her latest project began last summer when she started interviewing female entrepreneurs in the food, wine and wellness industries about their experiences of 'guilty' pleasures.

Irene explained to Creative Boom: "As a young woman who went to a girls' high school and has always been surrounded mostly by female friends, I discovered that women have several female-only shared health experiences and feelings that are hard to quantify. Notably, there is guilt around consumption and indulgence.

"I am interested in how the narrative changes when putting these two opposite words, ' guilt' and 'pleasure', next to each other. I'm more than curious to know what factors make women feel guilty about their indulgences and the reasons behind it.

"I want to find out what the guilty pleasures are for women working in food, whether it is a decadent chocolatier or sweet doughnut shop if there are any," she explains.

That curiosity is partly fuelled by a journalistic background. Irene earned her Bachelor's Degree in Health Sciences and Journalism from Boston University. She focused on these interviews to inform her art thesis, centring on the theme of womanhood and femininity.

Irene has already made some interesting discoveries along the way, namely that the subjects she has interviewed have learned not to feel guilty about their indulgence any more, choosing to do things that make them happy.

She added: "I found that guilty pleasure is not just eating a piece of cake - it is a concept that ties into someone's childhood memories, upbringing and personal relationships with food and body.

"I am excited and grateful for this opportunity for women to show their vulnerability but also feel empowered at the same time."

But the work is far from over, and while she continues her studies, Irene is intrigued by the surprise her fellow students have when they discover her less-than-traditional route to art school.

Irene explains: "They question why I've chosen to do something different now. However, for me, illustration is a way to communicate and tell stories, especially for the subjects I deeply care about."

Increasingly, the illustrator has been drawn to the connected worlds of women, food, celebration and pleasure - all of which influence her upbeat work, which has been featured in the Boston Globe, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, and on the walls of La Vie, one of the largest lifestyle magazines in Taiwan.

"My creative process starts with real-life observation and sketchbook, and then I carry these ideas onto my laptop and iPad to explore more visual possibilities," Irene explains, adding that, as an artist in the modern world, she enjoys experimenting with different materials and tries to make use of technology by playing with different compositions and textures.

She also enjoys the effect that art can have on people and regularly focuses on the concept of joy.

"Sometimes life can be challenging for many of us, but by drawing these happy moments with so many smiles on people's faces, I feel like my stress disappears during my creative process, and usually, people also show their happiness when they see my work. This is also the moment I see the power of illustration – to tell stories, connect people, and bring joy to their lives."


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