LILY, What 3 words would you use to describe your work?
Fabric, colour, fantastical.
Lily, what made you decide to follow a creative career choice? Was it ever in question? Or was it inevitable?
I’ve always enjoyed making art and have never been very academic so I would say it was quite a natural progression for me to start looking at art as a possible career to pursue, instead of just something I enjoyed doing. My dad was all for me studying art at university whereas at first my mum wasn’t completely behind my decision to apply to the foundation course at Camberwell College of Arts. She was concerned about me choosing to study art at university instead of pursuing a safer career path but as I got further along on the course and went on to apply to do a BA in painting I could see she felt more confident in and supported my decision.
AND What was your earliest memory regarding art?
My earliest memory of art is going with my mum and dad to the Chinese library within the Charing Cross Library where I would draw out the illustrations in the children’s books. When I was younger I used to draw a lot from children’s books and Chinese animated films, one of my favourites was called ‘Lotus Lantern’.
Tell us about your process? How does each work come to fruition? Your paintings almost look like collages… tell us about your technique?
For my larger paintings I start by collecting together images from mass media and collaging them together with some of my own photographs, I then do drawings of each image and create a finalized collage with these drawings which I will project and draw onto the canvas. I usually use around 10-15 images to make up the collages for my larger works.
While the composition for each painting is pre planned out, I have no idea what the colours will be before I start painting. I like the certainty of having the composition planned out and enjoy the spontaneity that comes with not knowing what the colours will be beforehand and what the painting will therefore look like when finished.
Trying out different colour palettes and ways of mixing colours is something that I’ve always enjoyed experimenting with, over the last year I’ve been using a smaller range of colours - red, yellow, blue and white - to mix all of my colours. Going forward I want to try out more specific colour palettes, whether that be warm/cold, only using a limited amount of colours, or even just playing around with different seasons in my paintings - so instead of using predominately green for the landscapes I could try out browns and reds for an autumn feel, or white and greys for a more cold snowy landscape.
Tell me about the womEn in your work? What are their stories? What you hope to show through them?
I’m interested in creating alternative narratives around how women of colour and women’s bodies are portrayed/consumed in Western art history and the media, and in what happens when you repurpose found images. Through the use of collage, I repurpose images of women that I’ve taken from fashion magazines and re-represent them in often agricultural landscapes.
Through my paintings I am exploring my own gaze and how the intersections of my identity as a queer woman of Chinese and British heritage affect how I see and portray the people in my work, while reflecting on how my identity and my gaze has been shaped growing up in a heteronormative white-centered society, as a woman who appears ethnically ambiguous.
I hope to portray the women/people in my paintings as expressive complex individuals occupying space in these fantastical landscapes, but ultimately I would like for people who see my artwork to have their own dialogues with my work. For me there’s a real beauty in that every person who looks at a piece of artwork will take away something different.
How do you know when a piece or project is finished and needs no additional work?
It often comes down to the colours in the end, even if the painting is technically finished if I’m not happy with a particular colour or I feel the colours are out of balance as a whole I will go back and rework it until they sit together well. It’s that gut feeling that tells me when a painting is complete, something won’t feel right otherwise even if I can’t tell what it is in the moment.
What are your ideal conditions to paint? What is your studio like? And what are your artist essentials to work?
I share my studio with my friend Maia which is lovely! Creating art can feel quite isolating when working alone, there’s something comforting for me about sharing the space even if we are often in at different times. We have two windows in our studio which really open up the room and mean we get a nice amount of natural light.
Depending on my mood I usually listen to music/podcasts while I work, my artist essentials would probably be plenty of snacks. My side of the studio is pretty messy - sketches on the floor along with all my paint pots - I’m not good at tidying up as I go along which is something I want to work on, I’m a big believer of clean space clean mind.
Who or what is your greatest inspiration Lily? How does this inspiration come out in your work?
I get a lot of visual inspiration from fashion photography and photography in general, which comes out in the landscapes and scenes in my paintings. I love how in fashion photography the real and the imaginary merge together to create these fantastical worlds which both make sense and yet don’t.
What is creativity to you? Do you consider yourself to be creative? Why or why not?
For me creativity is a lot of different things I don’t consider myself creative at least in the traditional sense. I know when I like something/want to use a particular image in a painting whether that be the body language, the clothes etc. but I also don’t know what I’m looking for when I’m searching for images, I just know when I’ve found it which is both tricky and exciting as I have no idea when I start planning a painting what the finished composition could look like.
What is your greatest indulgence in life?
Definitely food, especially East Asian and Southeast Asian dishes. Dim sum is a big favourite of mine!
OH WOW. ONE OF MY FAVOURITES. LILY, What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in your field?
I would say that keeping up a sense of community really helps - going to see art together, going to each others private views, supporting each other is crucial. It goes back to what I was saying about how creating art can be quite a solitary process and it’s good to have a sense of togetherness and being a part of something bigger, a community.
What are you working on at the moment Lily?
I’m working on a few smaller pieces at the moment and looking to play around more with the landscapes in my paintings. I’m interested in finding a way to incorporate some narratives from my childhood in my work (Chinese films and stories, the Studio Ghibli films) although I’m not sure what this will look like yet! Going forward I would like to start photographing people myself and painting from these photographs as well as from the collages I create using images from mass media.
What is your ultimate dream project?
I have so many! One of my dream projects would be to work on a large fresco style painting, in general I love working on a larger scale as I find it gives me the freedom to play around more with the scene/composition and to create a narrative plus I like the idea of creating a more immersive experience where you feel like you’re stepping into the world of the painting. Another of mine would be to work on collaborative projects with other artists and designers, perhaps working together to create the scenes and clothes.
Favourite current practicing female artist?
A few artists whose work I adore are Nan Goldin, Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, Zhong Lin, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Rosa Loy, Michelle Watt, Antonia Showering and Ines Longevial
Who should She Curates interview next?
Tobi Alexandra Falade and Zeena Al Tai.
Do you have any upcoming shows we should know about?
I’ll be showing two of my larger paintings ‘Lights on’ and ‘Out to dry’ at South London Gallery later this year as part of this year’s Bloomberg New Contemporaries.