|THE OPENING is all about delving into the fascinating, quirky and wonderful visual arts in Vancouver. Each week we’ll feature an artist, cover an exhibition, discuss a lecture and everything else in-between to delve deep into who and what makes art happen!|
Pretty boys kill Roselina Hung — not just figuratively, but almost literally as her meticulous drawings of hundreds of “pretty boys” caused her a crippling wrist injury that put her out of the art game for a few months following her show at Gallery Fukai earlier this year. She’s bounced back with a vengeance since then, most notably seeing her print, Love Is Touching Souls, released as an artist edition by Wil Aballe Art Projects this Saturday.
Roselina was kind enough to invite me over to her studio on Burrard Street to conduct this interview. It was a complete surprise of a space, opening up Narnia-like out of a long, bleak corridor that also served as a thoroughfare for a print shop and massage parlour. Sitting at her impeccably tidy desk, she spoke about her work with a mellow charm, honing into the reasons behind the continued resonance of Hieronymous Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights just as easily as she would dissolve into laughter telling stories about high school matchmakers. Her sophisticated, self-described “mash-up” aesthetic is one that pinpoints the beauty and earnestness in how we form our own mythologies.
Vancouver Is Awesome: What was the impetus behind ‘Pretty Boys Kill Me’?
Roselina Hung: The wallpaper installation was probably the first idea that I had for the project, because I had seen Charles Gibson’s “Gibson Girls”, which were drawings of girls’ faces that personified his idea of the perfect feminine beauty. They were turned into a wallpaper that I guess you could buy back then called “Wallpaper for a Bachelor’s Apartment”. I saw that, and wanted to flip the idea into portraying men’s faces and an ideal male beauty.
I was considering using print to create this work, but I’ve always been into drawing and painting and I found it more interesting to actually try to draw like a mechanical reproduction. It was fun to try and do the drawings and see how perfect they could get, though it would always get weird at the end. I started from the top right and did each face in full, one by one, instead of doing the whole drawing all together.
[As the drawing progressed,] the faces ended up looking more cartoon-like and a bit off, I guess, with less details than the first few — they lost their individual identities and became more cookie-cutter like towards the end.
VIA: It was interesting to see the contrast between that digital ‘perfection’ and the inherent flaws in your repetitive drawings. I thought about the painter Margaret Kilgallen, and how she would say that, while she was striving for perfection, she would end up liking the areas which she could never get perfect the most.
Could you tell me more about your experiences at the residencies you’ve attended? I know your Banff Residency influenced the artist series that you’ll be releasing with WAAP this Saturday.
RH: In this time period of one year and a half, I did three residencies. I actually completed my Banff Residency in 2011. It was a seven-week residency, the first that I had ever gone on. This work came after that when I went on a separate one to Michigan, where I made this piece from a photo that someone from my first residency gave me.
[Along with being released as an artist edition with WAAP,] ‘Love Is Touching Souls’ is also going to be installed at a large-scale on the outside of the Banff Hall in 2015. It’s part of a five-year project that they’re doing that involves one local artist, one regional artist, and a national artist. Every person’s work stays up for a year and a half each.
I was thinking that it was kind of funny that this project started off in Banff in 2011 and will be going back there in 2015!
VIA: What drew you to taking all these residencies back then?
RH: I had friends that had done the Banff residency before, and they told me about how great it was, so I applied and I got in. After that first one, I had such a good time while I was there. I made so much work and tried so many different things. I just felt that it was a good way to meet other artists and try things that I wouldn’t normally try in my own studio because I didn’t have the facilities or support to do it.
Each one was so different too; the first one was a very big institution where there was a huge campus with all these facilities. The second one was sort of just like going to camp in the woods at Oxbow, in Saugatuck, Michigan.
A lot of these places, I would have never thought to go to if it wasn’t for these residencies. They’re always within really amazing landscapes that are so different from what you see around here.
VIA: Did you find that these residencies changed how you worked each time?
RH: While a lot of the time I’d bring some sort of project that I knew I wanted to work on from the start, I’d get new ideas while I was there from the environment I was in.
VIA: What are your major influences?
RH: A lot of this stuff is from art history. I studied art history while I was doing my fine art degree and living in Europe: I got to see a lot of the work in person. That really influenced me a lot. In a way, I learned to paint just by seeing the art in person. The museums were really close to my school, and I could go to them for free – so I’d go and look at work all the time.
VIA: On top of your interest in pop culture and how sexuality is portrayed or objectified, you also have interest in the zodiac and mythology. Could you tell me more about how those interests are connected, or how you situate them as you’re thinking about your work?
RH: The initial zodiac series came out of some quick studies that I was doing, when I was starting to work with animals – I had always done portraiture of people, but I wanted to start to bring animals into my work. It was something that I tried for fun to get into painting fur and other textures, but it’s recently come back into my work, especially into this new project that I’m planning.
It’s related to my ideas about myths and narratives and stories and, in this ‘Of Myth and Men’ series that I’ve done, using animals as symbolism. In the newer work, I’ve been thinking about how we use stories and create myths to explain things that we don’t always understand. Sometimes I think people don’t really understand how relationships work, and it’s easy to fall back onto something such as your horoscope to explain things. We don’t always believe in it, but it’s a comfort to have some sort of explanation for something that you can’t otherwise figure out.
There are all these things on the internet where you can plug in your birthday and see if you’d have chemistry with someone. I remember in high school, this company would come around and you’d pay them to do this matchmaker exercise for you. You’d fill out a questionnaire for fun and be matched up with someone supposedly compatible in your class – though in practice you’d be matched up with people you’d have never met before!
VIA: Could you tell me more about your new series?
RH: It’s something that’s been in the back of my head for a long time, but I haven’t worked out exactly what I’m going to do yet. I want to take the Eastern and Western astrological figures and mix them up to create a new myth, or a new story.
I’ve been looking up all the stories behind the signs – a lot of them are based on characters and stories, such as Greek and Roman myths or constellations and Chinese folk stories. I like mixing references – I have a background in art history, but I like contemporary things. It all sort of stems from this idea of the mash-up, and seeing where it goes.
I don’t really know how it’s going to take shape, but I do know that I want to make it at a larger scale, which will be easier now that I have a studio again. I was limited by space before.
VIA: It’s funny how the space that you’re working in can affect how your work takes shape.
RH: I started working in miniature when I was living in London, because I had a really small studio and I also had to take the work around on the tube. For a while I was working big and it was a real pain to move stuff around, so I started working smaller and smaller and ended up enjoying it. I like that I can work across the board in that way. I’m thinking that [for this new series] I want to work on a large surface but incorporate small things into it, where there will always be characters interacting with each other in some way. I like when [the viewer] has to get up close to the work and broach their personal space to see things.
VIA: Are your patterns hand-applied?
RH: They’re painted!
VIA: That’s crazy! They’re beautiful. They’re so precise.
RH: It’s that funny thing you were talking about before, about how you can work towards perfecting painting something but you’ll always see the hand in them. They’re patterns, but they’re actually not repeating patterns – it’s just so hard to do them. Because there’re such small groups of them, it’s kind of a trick that looks like it’s repeating.
I’d never really realized it before but I always used to do portraits of people in patterned clothing. I realized that I really enjoyed that I liked doing the patterns, although at first it was still on clothing that was painted realistically. I guess I took that and flattened it. I mixed it all up in the way that I started working with flat patterns but also still really liked to render people. A lot of people do ask me, when they see it, if it’s collage. The backgrounds add another dimension to the work, contrasting depth with flat blacks and raw wood arresting your eye as it moves around the piece. I think it’s good to keep your viewer’s eyes constantly moving around the work.
VIA: What’s next?
RH: I just want to get working on this new piece. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, but it’s not until you actually start working on something that it starts to take on a life of its own.
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