Burke Residency 5: Adrian Kay Wong•
Posted on February 02 2020
Emma: Hi Adrian! Thank you so much for sitting down to answer my questions.
Adrian: Thank you for having me!
E: To start off, since we are fresh into this new decade, I’d love to hear one of your personal intentions or aspirations for this upcoming year and...if you’re feeling ambitious, for the upcoming decade.
A: First off, Happy New Year! While I don't really have resolutions per se, I do think it's a good opportunity to refocus and dial in on my priorities. I've always been someone who challenges and avoids complacency – I push to be more diligent or efficient. But in this past year and going on into 2020, I've been learning to also respect my limits. My pursuit is a marathon, not a race, and maintaining a steady, persistent conviction allows for the most benefit creatively, mentally, and emotionally.
In terms of my art practice, I would like to take on more experimental projects. I really enjoyed working on “Reshape”, the installation I did last year at the A+D Museum in Los Angeles. It was an eight foot tall / 87 plus feet high piece of work that leaned against the gallery walls. I enjoyed the monumentalism of it and the difference in engagement between not only the work and the viewer, but the work and myself as well. This also extends to my mural work – I'm hoping to tackle some unique site specific spaces.
E: Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what brought you to your artistic practice and where you see yourself expanding in this area?
A: Yeah! My name’s Adrian Kay Wong and I’m a visual artist working in Los Angeles. I actually never intended to pursue a creative profession; When I was younger I mostly treated it as a hobby and a past-time. Can't say I was very invested in it. Long story short, I eventually decided to apply to a few art schools on a whim only after my aunt suggested it to me. Going to SAIC was really my first step into developing a practice and from there, it’s been a long yet rewarding journey to where I am today.
What has remained the same since I was young is a drawing-centric approach to my work. All my work begins in a sketchbook and I spend a lot of time drawing, sketching, redrawing, and adjusting. I enjoy this “figuring out” part of my process – kind of like solving a puzzle. Often times, paintings will manifest themselves from a single dynamic between forms. The half circle of the setting sun is duplicated as a protruding bulb of a lamp which then extends to the shape of a flower. Sometimes it's like trying to find the “right” steps are dictated by previously made drawing decisions.
So far, the surface of my paintings are many modular abstract shapes of solid color. I’m hoping to expand on this through different methods of mark-making or pattern while still retaining the dual functionality of each form: independently abstract while still lending a hand in constructing a representational image.
*photos by @ywywmlt
E: Your work turns the collapse of the visual field into a quiet poetry that is tender and riveting. Was dimension always a primary focus for you or did your style follow the concept or feeling of your observations?
A: I think dimension has always been a focus in the sense that by removing it, the visual hierarchy that is depth and foreground versus background is disrupted. This allows more contextual details to stand in more equal footing. I'm especially interested in allowing more subtle parts of the painting to come forward or recede through their qualities of color, value, and complexity of form.
Looking back to my paintings beginning from 2013, the flattening of surface was really a method to simplify the images I was working with. I had just moved to Los Angeles into a tiny studio off of Crenshaw Blvd. Within the confines of that apartment, I was trying to develop a sense of what my paintings were really about amidst an unfamiliar and daunting environment. Over the years, its been an
evolving progress of approaching the visual field in a relatively pragmatic sensibility.
Recently, dimension has become more prevalent in my work as I’ve expanded to utilizing depth in a more traditional method. While the environment is a bit more recognizable and digestible, they still stretch the perception of realistic space. These non-figural paintings are often smaller and take opportunity in finding interesting “events” in our daily surroundings. In this way, they're almost like vignettes of the concept or feeling.
E: What I find so striking about your paintings is that their location is that of intimacy and evanescence rather than place or geography. Can you talk to us a bit about how do you approach space when you begin a new piece?
A: I approach space very similarly to how I handle other aspects of my work. Most of my decisions are made with a focus on developing a visual language or system and how I can use it to build, accentuate, or influence an image. In a way, many of my “locations” are a collection of modularly combined motifs — like doorways, windows, casts of light. Because many of these motifs are familiar and recognizable, I think viewers often find an immediate personal sentiment or attraction to the image.
So you’re definitely right: for me, I view location less as geography and more in the sense of a time and feeling. It's sentimentality and nostalgia. Whether that's a positive or negative emotion, the destination in which my paintings bring viewers is abstract. The specificity of place or geography is created not by me, but by the viewer and their reception of my painting.
What it really comes down to is being observant – really, actively observant!. To always have an awareness and appreciation of seemingly minor events. This occurs in my daily life and ritual to the point of a bad habit. Like sometimes I find myself frequently pausing movies because the corner of the shot has an interesting or unintentional still life. Or when walking to another room late at night, I'll notice the light peeking through the crack of my door. Wherever I get these little observations from, I’m usually starting with that reference and then building an image from that. It's through the compilation of many of these small moments that constructs the visual narrative.
E: Along those same lines, even though many of your paintings reproduce quiet moments, the visual alliteration you produce through the repetition of shapes and forms creates dynamic rhythms within your pieces. How do you understand the relationship between stillness and rhythm? Is abstraction the key that unlocks this relationship for you?
A: I think it’s important to note that stillness to me exists in a spectrum of active and passive. Things that are bold or loud or noisy are the most immediate and obvious in their effect. I would argue that the other side of the scale such as complete silence, blankness, and openness are equally engaging and intense. Often times we perceive these ideas to be an absence of active rather than the presence of passive.
Things like the dead of night, the quietness you experience on a hike, or the slow wash of colors changing in the sky during a sunset are all incredibly profound experiences, it may be just a little harder to be present and appreciate them. In a time where there is a limitless overabundance of stimulation, I hope to present an opportunity for calmness and sentimentality. By painting these moments that are often missed, overlooked, and what many would consider the mundane part of our lives, we can find value in their potential for reflection and clarity.
In regards to abstraction, it is for me a way to expand the specificity of an image and universalize, to varying degrees, the experience of it. The images I paint may be drawn from a particular origin, but are representative of my focus which is something broader and expansive. For example, even though I say “green tree” and you can repeat the words “green tree”, we all think of one of different size, shade, and backstory. I present the window to these scenes; the viewers fill it with meaning.
E: Finally, is there anything else you’d like to share? A random thought you had this week or a secret you just can’t keep to yourself any longer?
A: I was in Joshua Tree last week and as I was descending Ryan Mountain, I was watching the sunset and was struck how profoundly quiet it was. There weren't too many people around since it's winter – really passing only a couple people here and there. The view was ridiculous – essentially an unbroken view of the horizon that stretched beyond my peripheral vision. I have a bunch of photos documenting the changes of color in the sky. Amazing half hour to stop and spend it in thought; everything I needed in the moment was in the view.
E: Thank you, again! I can’t wait to encounter your paintings at Burke!
A: Thank you! Looking forward to being there!
Adrian's artwork will be on display and available for purchase in store only from February - April 2020.