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Adrian Kay Wong

The artist on discovering the process of making art, utilizing light as a unifying entity, and the importance of a prolonged relationship with work in progress.

How did you get into making art?
Honestly, it was an unintentional process of elimination. I wasn’t really exposed to art growing up through any family or friends. I always enjoyed drawing but it was just one of any other activities I did, no different than basketball or video games. While I had good grades in school, I didn’t have any particular ambitions. It wasn’t until my aunt suggested I applied to art school, based on the potential see saw then, that I considered pursuing a creative profession. It was also only later did I understand what that pursuit actually meant. In the end I knew that because there was no plan B, there were then no punches to be pulled. My successes and failures would be in my own hands. I definitely still retain a feeling of “catching up”, but luckily in a more positive sense of embracing the perspective that I can contribute.

What are you currently working on?
I’ve been thinking a lot about the overarching factor to the three bodies of work I am making: figural, which tends to be the most narrative and visually dense, non-figural, with a focus on space and discovering the subtle events that characterize it, and non-figural again, but with a focus on dissecting objects into their most basic elements and extrapolating that visual language. Across these bodies of work has been a retuning of the way I address light. I started thinking of it more-so as a tangible entity instead of being limited to how it affects the colors and values I use — more as something that we can feel on our skin or something with an origin and destination. With this adjustment in approach, my image-making processes have shifted — especially in the context of perception. For example, I’ve put much more thought into light as a directional tool in how our eyes move through the image. Or in a more graphic sense, experimenting with how the basic shapes that constitute the objects and motifs I paint work with one another. As a whole, I find myself coming back to the question of “What is observation?”. Can it be both documentative and suggestive? Passive and active? Retrospective and prospective? I don’t really have an answer to that, but I think I can find it through my work.

What inspired you to get started on this body of work?
In the summer of last year, I found a lack of engagement with my larger figural work — maybe it was a bit of complacency with the work I had been making at the time. I don’t think I can really put it in words, or exactly what the “issues” were, but I was investing more time into my smaller paintings of spaces and minimal, geometrically-focused work. In hindsight, I guess I was questioning the importance of the figure. This brewed in my head for a few months and I finally sat down and wrote out everything I wanted to address in my “new” work: possible intentions, areas I thought I could do better, subject-matter I wanted to touch on, and other notes. I’d have to say that, in the end, I find that all my work is figural. I only say “non-figural” as a descriptive term for my paintings that don’t have people in them. Nonetheless, my non-figural work are about the spaces we inhabit and the objects we interact with. They narrate who we are in what we do, where we live, what we eat, and, in totality, our everyday that we don’t mention when asked “How was your day?” It’s like taking a book and removing all the characters’ names. There is substance beyond immediate recognition.

Do you work on distinct projects or do you take a broader approach to your practice?
In the day-to-day it’s a broader more open approach. The only goal I have in mind every morning is just “Make more paintings.” That said, I treat each new work independently almost like a puzzle or a “figuring out” of visual constraints. The decisions in my image-making are dictated and informed by the particular set of shapes I’m working with. For example, when I draw out the curvature of a flower vase it then determines the curvature of the top of a chair, then the figure’s face, then the way her hair falls, and so on. Ultimately, my work is process driven. I’m engaged with exploring this visual alliteration that is a cohesiveness in how repeated abstract forms constitute a whole representational image. Touching back the day-to-day mindset of “Make more paintings,” it isn’t until I complete a breadth of work am I able to reflect on how my creative intuition has evolved.

Adrian Kay Wong in his studio, 2020

Adrian Kay Wong in his studio, 2020

What’s a typical day like in your studio?
I tend to separate my time between painting and non-painting work. Painting days usually start around 9 am and end anywhere from 8 to 11. I really value the prolonged one-on-one relationship with the painting and really sink into the meditative and physical process. Non-painting days tend to start slower. Whether it’s digital work, correspondence, documentation, or making proposals, I’ll either try to tackle these together or squeeze them in at the end of painting days. Some of these days are “drawing days”. I’ll flip through books, look at other artists’ work, cycle through references, and let some ideas flow. I probably spend most of my time here in the preliminary stages. My work is laborious in its intensity and attention to compositional elements, which I’ve found requires both focus but time so that choices are not forced. Often it feels like I could be utilizing my time more efficiently or that I’m slacking off. Sometimes it may take a day, sometimes a week, but I’ve come to accept that making great work requires patient intent — a tug of war between frustration and excitement.

The artist's studio with work in progress

The artist's studio with work in progress

Make
more
paintings.

Adrian Kay Wong

The artist's studio with work in progress

The artist's studio with work in progress

Who are your favorite artists?
I feel like my answer changes every other month. I like to look at a lot of art so different artists enter and exit my radar quite regularly. Some artists I really enjoy currently are Hiroki Nishiyama, Jackson Joyce, Caleb Hahne, Felix Vallotton, and Veikko Vionoja just to name a few. Recently, I came across Rene Groebli’s body of photographs “Eye of Love” and am completely in awe of them.

Where do you go to discover new artists?
The most immediate and accessible is of course Instagram. I treat it as a tool: a source of inspiration and way to keep up with the work of other artists. I’ll stop by book stores and just looking around the art section — that’s also been a reliable way to find new artists to look at. Going to galleries, museums, and shows are also refreshing.

Adrian Kay Wong is an artist based in Los Angeles. He was recently shortlisted for The Hopper Prize. To learn more about the artist:

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