Los Angeles-based artist Kristen Liu-Wong returns to the city's Corey Helford Gallery with Hard Pressed, her fourth major solo show, which explores what it means to be good in this busy, modern world.
Running from 17 September until 22 October in Gallery 2, Hard Pressed will feature a variety of works by Kristen, including acrylic and gouache paintings on cradled wood panels, painted wood cut-out sculptures, and a large painting on 15-foot un-stretched canvas.
In these works, Kristen takes everyday occurrences from her life and abstracts them through nightmares and crude humour. And considering that she trained as an illustrator at the Pratt Institute, it's no surprise to learn that she tries to tell a story with every piece she makes. The result is a show with a highly personal yet slightly sinister narrative within each painting.
Inspired by American folk art, the cartoons she watched as a kid, Shunga and her appreciation for architecture, Kristen's paintings conjure a world like no other. One where athletic, spandex-clad women haul their worldly possessions up a mountain, feed their nosebleeds to a fish, and watch intently as ants carry away their picnic.
The use of vibrant colours and heavy patterning creates a dynamic contrast to the morbidly bizarre subjects in her paintings, and the heady combination allows the viewer to process and project their own meanings. Even though Kristen's work is highly personal, she has altered everything enough to allow individual interpretations to be applied to her paintings and stories.
Speaking about her upcoming show, Kristen says Hard Pressed is an exploration of the internal and external pressures people have to deal with. "Worry and strife are a part of the human condition, and unfortunately, over the past couple of years, it has become an ever-expanding constant in almost everyone's life as disease, social discord, war, and environmental issues threaten to overwhelm us all," she explains. "Pressures can also be interpreted as human impulses, forces in our very own nature, that inherently influence and sway us."
As she began to prepare her paintings and sculptures for Hard Pressed, Kristen adds that she often found herself becoming consumed by the pressure to balance her everyday responsibilities. For anyone who's ever struggled to maintain a harmonious equilibrium of professional, personal and societal obligations, it's sure to be a familiar concern.
"This idea of a barely stable balancing act, and being consumed or overwhelmed by the minutiae of life, seeped its way into my work," she reveals. "In these paintings, harried women contort themselves into impossible poses as they multitask; a figure grapples with her inner demon, a woman burns as people cavort around her, precariously balanced objects threaten to topple over, and there is a constant underlying tension as the figures in the pieces strain and strive in their existence."
There's definitely a female focus to Kristen's work in Hard Pressed, as men appear to be largely absent or relegated to background characters. This gives Kristen the freedom to shine a light on women and illuminate the unique struggles they are contending with.
"These women grapple with the pressure to feel good, to look good, to act good, to fuck good, to be good, and to define what 'good' is for themselves," she adds.
Women aren't the only recurring image in Hard Pressed, though. Eagle-eyed viewers will notice that whether they are feeding fish, lying in a snake-filled bath of lilies, or resting under a waterfall while being observed by a himbo bro god, complete with red cups, these women are connected by water.
"Water, serving as a recurring motif, seeps, flows, and spills over throughout many of the works, while problems that range from the mundane to the existential to the extraordinary play out as the viewers watch on," Kristen explains. What that means to the viewer exactly, as always, is left for them to decide.
Hard Pressed runs from 17 September to 22 October in Gallery 2 at Corey Helford Gallery.
Get the best of Creative Boom delivered to your inbox weekly