I remember when I first saw Jolene Lai’s Mimics Series, my first reaction was, “Wow, her style is so refreshing and unique’, and it wasn’t long until I fell in love with her liquid girls. Her works reveal a very beautiful, yet lonely world and, the following interview, you will get a sense of why she decided to create this world. Ladies and gentlemen, today I want to introduce you to Jolene Lai.
Hi Jolene, thank you for letting me to feature you on Swide this week! I know that you were raised in Singapore before going to UCLA to study graphic design, how does this cultural background influence your works?
There are many aspects of Singaporean culture that influence my work, but something that is currently drawing my attention is the folklore and mythology that I was surrounded with growing up. Being born and raised in a community whose tradition and culture revolves much around Asian mythology, I grew up well acquainted with the knowledge of various Chinese Gods and deities. I love the countless stories as well as movies that draw attention to Chinese myths and legends.
It recently dawned on me, that despite recognizing majority of the Chinese mythological characters, I bore the lack of understanding how each God came to be. This spurred me to research on the history of some of the popular Gods and deities, which in turn led me to my fascination with Chinese folklore. I am currently working on a new series of paintings that are inspired by this theme.
This is interesting, as I didn’t expect you were so heavily influenced by the Asian mythology. Now, I have a new understanding on your works and I can’t wait to see the new series you mentioned. From your website, I know you do both paintings and mixed media art works, which presents greater challenges?
I think they both present varying degrees of difficulties and challenges. Painting for me requires constant learning of the materials you are working with, whereas mixed media is an avenue that provides ground to experiment. I try to incorporate techniques learned from painting into mixed media works, and similarly, inject experimental ideas derived from mixed media pieces into my oil paintings. So at the end of the day, the two art approaches complement each other.
In my opinion, I think both your paintings and mix media works are simply amazing. Getting back to painting; if you could only use 3 adjectives to describe your painting style, what words would you use? Why?
I would describe my works as dark and whimsical fairytale realisms. Being an only child I was very much a loner. Most afternoons are spent at my secret hideout, which is really the hallway of the fourth storey of the building I lived in. I would be attempting to 'train' my Syrian hamsters to climb flight of stairs or creeping past under my neighbors' windows so they would not discover I was loitering at their corridors.
In some ways, that eccentric part of my younger days are reflected in my works. The characters in my paintings are often immersed in melancholy, and placed in scenes that project alienation. Yet amidst the gloom, there is the presence of the lingering desire for the silence to be broken. The paintings portray fairy-tale like narratives that blend into realistic urban spaces.
Yes, I do feel the alienation element in some of your works and I want to get back to this in a moment. For now, I do have one specific question that is related to the girls you have created. I find that some of the girls in your artworks are like liquid, is there a particular reason why you want to portrait them in this way?
That is a new and refreshing take on the characters. I have not intentionally try to have them appear that way. But colors are definitely something I look forward to playing with on the canvas. Hence, the colors of the clothing the characters have on are applied to have them complement with those from the background. It's a constant reminder of mine to work towards paintings that are like movie scenes from a Wong Kar Wai's film; good plot, interesting setting and beautiful colors.
I have a good feeling you can explore this liquid element more in the future as somehow, I think this can be one of your signature illustration styles in the future. Now, let’s discuss the theme of alienation; when I look at your works, I do feel the loneliness from the girls and I am just wondering, do some of your works actually reflect personal experience? If so, do you think these works have helped you to express your feelings to the world?
I would be lying if I said no. A gallery owner once shared with me that when you buy an artwork, you are not just paying for a piece of art but a phase of the artist's life. I thought to myself how true that statement was, and his interesting point of view has since been stuck in my mind.
My paintings are a documentation of a part of my history. The urban spaces I feature are places I have came across. The characters I created are inspired and borrowed from personal accounts or stories told to me. When the two elements are fused, they create a fantastical picture of the twisted imagination of the places and people I have encountered in my life.
Nice, people will actually look at the pieces and wonder what you have gone through during that particular period. You also mentioned that you works are very colourful and I have this fun question for you: if the world we live in right now could only consist of two colours, what colours would you choose? Why?
Red and green. It would be very much like one of my older works "Ms Lugubrious". I would like to wake up in a place with shades of green, like a field of wavering tall grass. In the midst of all that green, there would be a red flower that stands in solitude. I imagine a scene like that would help me forget for awhile, the melancholy weaving in and out of my head.
I can imagine that world already and I think it would be a very romantic, beautiful, yet lonely place. Since I am a guy, a question popped into mind when I looked at your works: Male characters do not exist in your paintings, why is that?
My works are a manifestation of what I have encountered and imagined that is personal, therefore there is that natural tendency to feature femininity in my paintings. There is definitely an obsession with the play of the feeling of loneliness in my works. The only 'real' figure is always the main female character, while the other figures are usually made into mannequins or puppets. The current series of oil paintings I am preparing for a year end solo in Singapore with Sogan Galerie and Art, does include a piece that would showcase the first male puppet. So surely, a great possibility of introducing more male forms in my works in the near future.
I’m interested to see how you portray a male character in your future work. Last but not least, I read from your biography that you like to look at fashion editorial photos to understand the composition and narrative concepts. Have you ever thought of using clothing from the latest runway collection to enhance your work? If so, is there particular a piece from Dolce & Gabbana F/W 2013 collection that you think will work for your future art piece?
There is always a great temptation to simply paint a piece of clothing that is already designed. But that feels to me like taking without asking. I usually do referencing and abstraction of the interesting elements I find to create the garment for a character. This way the character is suitably attired to better fit the background, thus resulting in a more effective narrative.
All said, it would be really cool to be able to illustrate for a fashion designer in my painting style. The idea of being able to collaborate with a fashion designer and present a show that will feature both painting and fashion has popped into my mind numerous times.
Dolce & Gabbana's F/W 2013 collection contains tons of very intricate embroidery and floral prints that I am crazy about and hope to bring into future works. There is a plan to work closely with the theme of Asian supernaturals in 2013, and there is the desire to experiment with details like textile prints, embroidery, and vintage design. As my painting style grow and evolve, intricacy is one of the components I hope to be showcasing more in my works.
Credits Jolene Lai