Christine Wu: Sleepless in the City

By Anna del Gaizo

Anyone who has been on this earth for more than a few years knows life is far from simple. It’s made up of transient moments, some blurred, others striking, with plenty of gray area in between and even more confusion. Turmoil is inevitable, and personal chaos is guaranteed. No contemporary artist puts these facts into visual effect like Christine Wu. The Los Angeles-based fine oil painter presents us with skillful layers giving way to a sense of intimacy that’s forthright, not precious, and she reminds us there’s strength in vulnerability. Actually, it’s highly possible one can’t very well exist without the other.

Wu’s subjects are reflective, semi-hidden under a tangled mass of bed sheets; uncertain, blindfolded with fingers that look as if they’re itching; awkwardly lovely, folded into fetal positions in underwear on a couch; and expectant of life’s next moment, camisole-clad in a waterless bathtub. They are sexy, stylish and sometimes gasping for breath. Many may have assumed resting poses, but they are anything but restive. There is always something impending in Christine’s world, as it goes in the “real” world, while her very human creatures are permanently suspended, perhaps in a memory, seemingly unsure of what’s next.

When did you first start painting? Or would you say you were always painting, in some manner or another?

I have always been artistically inclined, though I never thought I’d make a career of it until I had already made a career of it. I officially started oil painting my second year in college. I didn’t like it much at first because I don’t do things in a traditional manner.

Much of your work depicts women. Do you identify with them on a deep level or see your subjects as fragments or forms of yourself?

I am a woman, I identify as a woman, and the level of that identification runs through my bones. My subjects will always be fragments of myself because the nature of art is projection, whether or not it’s intentional. The work is about women and how we activate any given space.

There’s also an element of vulnerability that I think is apparent in many of your paintings. Is this a conscious choice or would you say it’s more by default, a result of the subject matter?

It’s definitely both. I want the feeling of vulnerability to be felt on a deep and subconscious level, but I also want the viewer to be able to easily identify the source of that feeling.

Who are the individuals who have inspired you or inspire you most when it comes to your work?
My work is driven by all the people I’ve had intimate connections with. I am inspired by the ethereal art moments when looking at the works of Aoi Koshiro, Katie Eleanor, Alex Kanevsky and countless of uncredited images on Tumblr.

If you had to pick a single emotion or effect that your work would have on people, which would it be?

I want people to feel a bittersweet sense of longing. All my work is nostalgic and has to do with memories and how they pick at our minds.

Do you listen to music when you’re working? Any specific bands or artists?

I often work in silence, but when I do turn on music, it is usually something more rock-oriented. Lately I have a dark and moody playlist going with PJ Harvey, Federale, Chelsea Wolfe and White Ring, to name a few.

How do you choose your models?

My models are almost always my friends. I prefer to work with people I know because my work always has a sense of intimacy.

When painting clothing, makeup and accessories (a lace bra, dark manicure or tongue piercing, for example), do you consider them a stylistic or even stylish choice? Or are those elements there by default, since they’re also what contemporary women wear?

I think of accessories as a compositional choice. I will purposely paint something to be darker, lighter or of a different color to serve the overall unity of a painting. They are also personal touches because those are the things that show someone’s personality.

The lines between beauty and pain, elegance and vulgarity are often blurred. What’s your definition of beauty?

Beauty is probably one of the least of my concerns. I don’t like to make for beauty because beauty shouldn’t be something that is caught and held onto other than in memory. The pursuit of beauty causes more confusion than clarity, and I’m more interested in the pursuit of truths. Beauty is something that shouldn’t last.

Your work has been described as containing “morbid imagery,” but I happen to think the opposite, that it’s full of life, as life and death are inextricably linked. What do you think? Or is your work about delineating the dichotomy of both, living and dying?

It’s about both, but never in a literal sense. It’s more of an awareness or the ephemeral: letting go and moving on.

If you were to paint a famous person, living or dead, who would you choose?  

Johnny Depp’s daughter, Lily-Rose.

If you were to get on a plane right now and it could take you anywhere in the world, where would you go? What would you do there?

Somewhere clean and quiet, where it’s not too hot or too cold, with a lot of good food.

Do you consider yourself a rule-breaker or a rebel of sorts?

Not exactly, more like an underdog. I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of the “popular” crowd; I don’t think I ever will be.

What is something you’ve done that’s generally considered to be prohibited?

That’s quite a loaded question.

Then what are some things that are prohibited you feel shouldn’t be?

When the morality of a select few are used to decide the fate of the masses. Example: Old white men deciding how much control women can have over their bodies.

Do you have a ritual after you finish a work of art?

Go to the corner bodega and get myself a brownie.

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