Sit Down With Our July '22 Featured Artist
Christina Kwan is an Atlanta-based artist known for her abstract and floral works on paper as well as large scale murals. She was born and raised in Florida and moved to Atlanta after graduating from University of Florida with a BFA in Drawing. A decade and many different career paths later, the work she creates now is an ongoing exploration of her Asian-American identity and the internal struggle of feeling incomplete or existing in-between, having to reserve space for a variety of imposed cultural influences. Calligraphic brush strokes obliquely refer to her East Asian heritage, acting as a yearning for permanence and a search for ancestral ties. The movement in her compositions hold a delicate tension, somewhere in-between action and rest and embodying the myriad of dualities we hold within.
We exist in-between identities, in-between states both physical and unseen... blooming, falling apart, and starting the cycle over again. The work I create is a study in conscious and unconscious impulses and how they reflect a state of identity that is fluid and impossible to hold onto. I mainly use acrylic ink – pouring, mixing, washing – as I alternate between stages of steady meditation and frenetic mark-making. In the past, I used flowers as a starting point to later abstract into an exquisitely tense oblivion. Now, I start with the oblivion and see what forms reveal themselves from within.
There is an East Asian heritage that permeates my work, through the calligraphic strokes and references to natural landscapes. This influence was never a conscious decision. On the contrary, I was raised to prioritize my Western-born identity as a pathway to success and financial stability, the American Dream. I find myself being ever more drawn to the aesthetic sensibilities of my ancestors even though their legacies remain a mystery to me. My mark holds the energy of their lineage and the unnerving feeling that a filial connection is possibly forever lost. Each piece is a part of the psychological journey, an effort to map out a sense of self that is fully realized.
Artist Image Credit: Sawyer Baird @sawyerbaird
When did you first discover your love for art?
I honestly can't remember when, so it must've been when I was really young. I'm pretty sure it was when I was in grade school because I was always desperate to go to art class over everything else!
Did you always want to be an artist?
Yes, always. I asked my parents to go to an arts magnet school for both middle and high school, but it didn't happen. I never let the love for art die though and so I majored in Drawing at University of Florida and now I'm here, finally doing what I had always dreamed of.
What is your favourite thing about being an artist?
There is a deep satisfaction that comes from creating what I want and having an audience that responds to that. I've never felt comfortable with words and although I had other talents growing up, painting and drawing was the only time I felt truly free to be myself. I am so grateful that the activity that gives me the most inner peace in my life also happens to be how I earn a living and how I connect to other people. There are a lot of challenges that come with being a full-time artist, but I don't see how I could do anything else now.
What is the most challenging part of being an artist?
Constantly putting yourself up on the chopping block, at risk for rejection. It's a process that happens over and over in many forms whether it be the cold outreach or simply in making and showing artwork itself. At some level or another you're always exposing a vulnerable part of yourself and showing it to the world. That insecurity doesn't ever go away, at least not for me. And it's even scarier when your livelihood depends on it. But somehow you get used to it with enough practice, like going to the gym. But it never stops being challenging.
Do you think you style has changed over time?
My style has become a lot more abstract, more fluid, organic, and expressive. The more I allow myself to rely on my own instinct, the more open my work becomes.
How do you stay motivated and inspired?
There's always something you can be doing to keep yourself motivated and inspired even if it doesn't look like it while you're in the moment. I'm a big believer in living your life and being a human being - stopping to smell the roses, if you will. Experiencing life itself, the good the bad and everything in between, is what keeps me going. So even if I'm not painting, I'm always doing things that will support the energy I'll need when I come back to the studio. It's a shift in perspective, but it's really helped me understand that taking rest and breaks is a huge part of the overall equation
What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?
Have patience and trust your instincts. Don't water down your creativity to make more sales. Do what feels right for you.
Do you have a favourite time of day that you like to create?
No, I just create whenever the mood and energy strikes me!
Who/what are your biggest artistic influences?
Julie Mehretu has long been my biggest art hero. Her work makes me feel the way I want my work to make others feel. The enormity and depth of what she creates strikes me over and over again, without fail.
What is your favourite medium to work with and why?
Paper and ink. I have always loved the materiality of paper - how it acts like a fossil of whatever has been done to it. There is an intimacy and immediacy with paper that doesn't happen with other substrates. Ink is similar in its properties. I can make a quick gesture with ink on paper that will dry and hold the energy of that action forever. It's hard for me to do that with any other materials.
Do you think where/how you grew up has affected your artwork? If so how and why?
Even when art isn't autobiographical, there is going to be some element of the artist living within that piece. My work, as abstract as it may be, will always have the imprint of my hand and thus the imprint of my life and who I am layered into it. I grew up as an Asian-American daughter of immigrants in the US and creating artwork was always second nature to me, it has always been a part of who I am. So the feelings my work evoke are emotions that have always felt woven into my identity - transience, uncertainty, longing, confusion over what "belonging" ever really meant. And the feeling that there is a beauty in that very human experience
What do you like to do to relax?
Taking a long, hot bath. Sort of cliche, but it definitely soothes the senses!
What is your favourite genre of music?
Indie singer songwriters of the 2000s. And Taylor Swift. Basically just the music of my young adult life. Spotify says my music taste is wistful and romantic