'Bound to Be Together.' All images © Kristen Liu-Wong

This Artist’s Neon Erotica Is Metal (and NSFW) as Hell

L.A. artist Kristen Liu-Wong paints beautiful scenes of bong-smoking, kinky warrior-queens.

|
Aug 13 2018, 5:58pm

'Bound to Be Together.' All images © Kristen Liu-Wong

If Lisa Frank made erotica, her sweetly psychedelic illustrations would look a lot like Kristen Liu-Wong's wild, NSFW paintings. The artist packs her fuchsia-tinged tableaus with so much subversive action, it's tough to pin down exactly what's going on. Serpents and warrior-queens tangle in sex acts—or acts of violence, it's hard to tell. Buxom nudes smoke packs of American Spirits and palm gutted fish.

There's a duality, an embrace of the saccharine and the morbid, that doesn't quite square. It's the kind of art that confuses old people, like Liu-Wong's sister's husband's grandfather, who once asked the artist how she comes up with her "crazy ideas"—since it's not the sort of stuff he thought a "normal person" would paint.

"I just told him I must have a good imagination," Liu-Wong told VICE.

L: 'Come Closer,' Kristen Liu-Wong. R: The artist, photographed by Parker Day via Instagram.

Truth be told, her saturated paintings, which blend the everyday with imagined nightmare scenarios, come from a highly personal place. Liu Wong grew up in San Francisco, and her mom was an elementary school art teacher, so self-expression was always paramount. "In high school, I was drawing lots of goopy vagina monsters," she said. "My favorite artists were Dalí and Man Ray, and they use very sexually provocative imagery. My mom, since she's very open to any type of art, never really censored what I was allowed to be interested in. She didn't mind that I was drawing oozing vagina monsters."

Free from suppression, Liu-Wong was able to explore her own sexuality through art. "[My work] has changed as I've changed. My earliest college work was probably even more vulgar back then, because I was new to sex," she said. "You're exploring all of it [...] and saying yes to all these crazy things because you want to try everything out."

"As I've gotten older, I feel like I've started to explore sexuality more personally," she added. "A lot of times, now, it's a singular girl. I used to do way more group orgy scenes—things like that. But it's more of a personal process now."



The detritus of modern life—bongs, cellphones, and empty cans of La Croix—litters Liu-Wong's work, grounding the surreal action at its core. Los Angeles's pastel, modular architecture and desert vegetation work their way into her neon compositions, as does pop culture. "I listen to a lot of true crime podcasts while I work, which makes you think about darker things," she said.

Beneath their sexy and dangerous veneer, Liu-Wong's paintings are quite morbid, too. "In the beginning of the year, I was going through a pretty difficult time and my life was completely upended for a few months," the artist said. "A lot of my work is dealing with that personal emotional pain, which also brought up anxieties about my mortality and made me reflect on loved ones I’ve lost and the inevitable loss that comes with any life. At the same time, I knew I would be making work for [art gallery] Superchief, and they’re always really fun and don’t care how explicit you get, so I made some extra raunchy pieces for them. Sex and death, am I right?"

'The Dying Girl,' Kristen Liu-Wong

While inspiration comes from all over, Liu-Wong's process is meticulous. She sketches ideas then collages elements into a final drawing on tracing paper. "I'm very picky about where I place things, which areas are full, and which shape object fills it up," she said. "I love making really crowded images, but every piece, I probably spend like… Sometimes it's stupid, I probably move something around by a millimeter a bunch of times on the drawing getting it to the right place." Once she's satisfied, Liu-Wong takes a looser approach to her final painting, finessing color combinations and patterns on the fly.

Rendering the messier aspects of humanity in meticulous detail makes the juxtaposition between beauty and horror that much more impactful. Liu-Wong says it's precisely this duality that gives her work resonance. "Something's definitely more creepy if you're not expecting it to be creepy, because at first it looks harmless," she said.

"No person is completely bad or good, so I don't want my paintings to be completely, like, rainbows and a happy, perfect world, because that's not what we live in," she added. "But also, I don't want it to be just ugly. I think you need a little bit of both to make something more interesting."

'Still Life With Death,' Kristen Liu-Wong
'Take It,' Kristen Liu-Wong
'I Couldn't Stop Myself,' Kristen Liu-Wong
'Angelita,' Kristen Liu-Wong
'Suffer With Me,' Kristen Liu-Wong

Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.

Kristen Liu-Wong is currently showing work in FERAL WAYS at Superchief Gallery in New York City. Follow her on Instagram.

Follow Kara Weisenstein on Twitter and Instagram.

More VICE
Vice Channels