LA-based artists Luke Pelletier and Kristen Liu Wong have shown artwork together before, but never quite like what they’re doing at Greenpoint, Brooklyn’s Superchief Gallery. Their pieces do not simply hang beside one another on the black walls of a charming space that doubles as Tender Trap bar. Rather, the duo collaborated on a series of large-scale works—and one epic mural. Each painting contains stylistic elements of both creators, from figures to flourishes, color profiles and creative energy. Every vibrant work in this show has been touched by a healthy dose of sex or death (sometimes both), but what’s most fascinating is learning how two distinct artists shared a few canvases and delivered something that each of them feels represents their differing aesthetics and styles. While previewing the exhibition, we had an opportunity to speak with Liu Wong and Pelletier to gain some insight into what it was like working with each other so collaboratively.
First, how did this project come together?
Kristen Liu Wong: I was in a small group show here, curated by my friends. I came out to visit New York again, after I made the move to LA, and Ed [Zipco, Director + Co-Founder of Superchief Gallery] offered me a joint show. I had shown with Luke before, so Ed offered to let me show with someone else, but because Luke and I had moved to LA about the same time, we had been hanging out and I decided to bring him in on this. We decided to do a bunch of collaborative paintings. We were only going to do three at first and then each do our own thing, but we had so much fun making these paintings together that we just kept it going. To show work separately, we decided to offer some more affordable drawings. We have five large paintings together and then four more affordable drawings.
A lot of it was asking ourselves, “How do we make a good painting together when neither of us are in complete control?”
Can you talk about the process of painting together?
Luke Pelletier: The first painting was a little more timid. At that point, we were a little nervous about stepping on each other’s toes. It was very much, “You do this part, and I’ll do this part, and is it OK if I do this?” As we moved on, you stop thinking about what things you need to get done in the painting and what actually makes a good painting. A lot of times there are colors I would normally use that don’t look good with her colors, and a lot of colors she would normally use that don’t look good with mine. A lot of it was weeding that out and asking ourselves, “How do we make a good painting together when neither of us are in complete control of it?”
KLW: Painting together more made it easier. We started with a drawing we made together and then began painting on it. There is a lot of imagery that both of us use pretty consistently, so we thought about what would be cool. He paints alligators, so we thought we should have a girl wrestle an alligator. A lot of it came from that.
How would you each describe your style?
LP: I think style, to me, is a variable—depending on the project. If I am making a painting, there’s definitely a way I paint, but if I am making a sculpture, you can’t sculpt the same way. If some weird dive-y bar asks you to make a T-shirt, you can’t design in the same way. I think, “What would be a great dive bar T-shirt?” and it might not necessarily be something I call my style. I let it change depending on projects.
KLW: I tend to be more detailed. I try to pack on as much detail as I want, but I don’t really know how to describe my style. Someone called it “cartoon porn” once, which is funny, but I don’t think it’s that. I don’t show penetration.
Then what inspires you?
KLW: I definitely look at American Folk Art, patterns and quilts. I like patterning a lot. Because my mother was a textiles major, I’ve always been around that stuff. If I ever have a roadblock, I go alone to a place that’s visually stimulating—whether that’s a museum or just some place I find cool.
LP: I really like non-art stuff. I definitely look at art, but it’s mostly made by friends. I look at Kristen’s art and other people I show with, but for the most part I’m interested in flea markets and amusement parks and things that are fully immersive, that use art. We just went to a thing near our house in LA, the other day, it’s called Union Theater, and it’s an exhibit of an exhibit that was in LA’s World’s Fair about eskimos. It’s the exact exhibit that was shown at the World’s Fair—and it’s all wrong, the information is not right. That’s an art exhibit like no other.
KLW: Definitely, finding weird things to do.
And how did you two first meet?
LP: No, but I’ve been wanting to say that forever, though. I saw her work on Tumblr.
KLW: Yeah, we saw each other’s work on Tumblr. Luke was blowing up.
LP: I was curating shows in LA and asked her if she wanted to be in one. From that show, we showed two or three more times together. We both moved to LA on happenstance, two to three weeks within one another. We didn’t know anyone there so we started hanging out.
What’s the value in collaborating?
LP: Right when I met Kristen, my solo show was coming down from New Image. There was a small show, before she then had a split show there. The same gallery. I was completely in solitude.
KLW: You hermit yourself out.
LP: You’re in your studio for 10 or 12 days, not seeing anyone. We were both… not over it, but just exhausted. For these, it’s so rad to be able to take a break and the painting is still being worked on by someone you trust.
KLW: I used to work in a studio, producing work for someone else, but since I’ve moved to LA I have been trying to freelance. It became “all about me.” It’s nice to care about someone else’s work because then you can focus on the craft. This is a combination of both of us.
Do you take viewers’ potential emotions into consideration when you’re making your work? This idea of delivering a targeted reaction?
KLW: Yes, to an extent. I want people to feel something. I know certain things will be upsetting and that’s why I do them. I also make work that means something to me, but I use generalized characters and translate a lot through symbolism, just so that it can have a broader meeting to others. Even if it’s about me, it’s not me in these situations. Other people can transpose themselves into what’s happening.
LP: I go back and forth on this. For plans for new works, I do take into consideration emotional response. With my older works, I thought a lot about pop and how to make something where a gut reaction is, “Oh I like this.” It’s a surface response. I want people to enjoy things for the imagery whether or not they want to dig deeper into it. That’s what makes it pop. For this, that approach doesn’t work though. So much of this was just working with Kristen. When you are working with someone else, everything else kind of goes out the window and you begin to work on making the other person happy. You don’t have full control, so it becomes, “Are we having fun? Does it look good?”
Is there anything you want people to take away from the show?
KLW: I just want people to be excited that we are working together, which I think they are. It’s almost gained more excitement than either of us working alone, because it’s different. This whole thing is an experiment for us that creates a product that might not ever get created again. I don’t know if I will ever paint with Luke again, so this might be one of a kind.
LP: To me I see how we get more comfortable. I look at this as a documentation of how we got to know one another. It’s hard for other people to get that. It’s us trying to match purely aesthetic iconography from both of us. That’s why the show is called “Hanging Out.”
Images by David Graver