Los Angeles-based artist and illustrator Jolene Lai’s stunning new pieces for the group exhibition Elysium continues to showcase her rich use of oil and velvety color palate. The intricate details within her composition is weaved a world of whimsy and melancholy. Our interview with Jolene Lai discusses her post-show rituals, creative process, and desire to have a mini-Lai.
Join us for the opening of Elysium Saturday, November 10th from 6 pm to 9 pm
SH: What was the inspiration behind this latest body of work? What ideas or themes were you exploring?
JL: Mostly slivers of childhood and what it is like looking back at them from the perspective of someone all grown up. I’m portraying a certain sense of nostalgia through the juxtaposition of these two perspectives.
SH: How do you approach developing a new body of work and capture ideas for pieces; do you have a sketchbook on hand or is it just a note to yourself in your phone?
JL: Sketchbook scribbles on phone, post-it notes, mental notes – I have done them all. Lately, I have been thinking about using a little voice recorder to document my thoughts like Agent Cooper in Twin Peaks.
SH: What excites you about your work / creative process?
JL: I like the challenge of telling new stories and subject matters with images I have yet to attempt to paint.
SH: What frustrates you about your work / creative process?
JL: I need noise in the background when I work — it weirdly helps me stay focus on what I am painting. I end up spending a significant amount of time in the morning before I start work looking for a show that I can follow without looking at the screen but that is still entertaining enough. I have tried music and audible books, but find that actual dialogues between people much more soothing to listen to when I paint.
SH: Is there a particular piece in this exhibition you feel really challenged you? If so, why and what makes you proud of this piece?
JL: ‘Key Keeper’. There were several elements within this piece that was challenging. There was a fair bit of fine work put into painting the ornamental frame. I wanted the bell jar to have some reflection but not too much that it might take away the presence of the key, so I paid close attention to that. I also experimented with various compositions and perspectives to see how I might best display the little girl in the bell jar and still have her environment complement her size well.
It’s a tiny 12 by 12-inch painting, but it involved an extensive amount of exploration and pre-planning before achieving all those intricate details and elements I have never attempted in previous works.
SH: Who is an artist; musician, director, any art form – who would be a dream collaboration for you and what would you create?
JL: The lovely band Cigarettes After Sex. I love their music! Would be kind of cool and refreshing to come up with an art installation specially created for their music and used as a backdrop for an on-stage performance by the band.
SH: Has there been someone or some event that has made a significant impact on you that lead you to where you are now? An artistic catalyst of sorts?
JL: In a weird way, Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ which I read while I was in art school. It left a strange macabre feeling in me about painting portraits. While I do paint human figures, there’s something about painting faces that I still feel uneasy about. In my earlier years as an artist, I tried to overcome this eccentricity by painting mannequin-like figures. One might also observe elusive characters within some of my later and even recent paintings that are portrayed with hidden faces.
SH: What’s in your toolbox? AKA what paints, brushes, tools would we find in your studio? What do you wish was in your studio?
JL: I don’t own anything fancy, to be honest. So one would expect to find basic synthetic hair brushes and a variety of painting products from brands that range from Golden, Liquitex, Winsor & Newton to Utrecht. I wish there was an extra me in the studio. That way, I could just dictate what it is that should be done with my little pinky while comfortably sipping an Arnold Palmer in bed.
SH: After a show what do you do? Do you take a long break, vacation, a particular ritual? Tell us.
JL: It might be a week of doing nothing after I have put together a large collection of artworks. But it is generally a lot of walking and exploring in my neighborhood after a solo show.
I used to get yummy Japanese ramen after an exhibition (be it solo or group). But since the waistline has gotten ‘comfy’ over the years, that has become a tougher ritual to keep. I tried to change the ritual to healthy jogging, but to date, that has only successfully occurred once.
SH: In one or two words, tell us something that you really like or resonates with you about the work of each artist in Elysium.
JL: I think one of the really cool things about ‘Elysium’ is that it is an exhibition that puts forth bold and beautiful facets of women created from the perspectives of female artists. Each artist is stylistically distinct and very sound technique-wise and unique in the kind of narrative they choose to tell.