Interview with Huntz Liu for ‘Strata’

Thinkspace Projects presents Huntz Liu’s latest solo exhibition, ‘Strata.’  

The exhibition features his signature techniques of cutting and layering paper, where he crafts a collection of work that explores depth in a striking way. Each composition is comprised of meticulously cut shapes on different planes, reveling in both the layering of material and the absence of material. By embracing negative space, Liu creates line and shadow, building an image that is so much more than each of its individual parts. The compositions strive for a perfect balance, embracing the chaos of the shapes and colors. As Liu describes it, “this is a reflection of the perfect sphere we live upon and the chaos of the layers confined within.”

In anticipation of ‘Strata,” our interview with Huntz Liu explores our relationship with space, the perspective gained from cataloging art books at the Getty Research center and letting go of perfectionism.

What techniques or themes were you exploring in this latest body of work?

The idea of distance and space was in the forefront of my mind during the pandemic and is a theme present in this new body of work. I was interested in the different scales of distance constantly present – be it the personal, interpersonal, geographical, galactical, etc. This is sort of illustrated in the Eames’ “Powers of Ten” short film, but additionally, I like how the space a distance occupies is its own layer that can have its own distance from others. (e.g. The Pacific Ocean is the space and distance between Asia and North America, but North America is the space and distance between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.)

Where did the inspiration for the title of the show come from? 

It is related to the prior answer but more focused on the layers (or strata) present within our cities and countries and planet. “Strata” is also the word for “loss” in Polish, which seems appropriate for this past year and right now.

You’ve shared that you source a lot of inspiration from architecture and interior spaces. Do you have any favorite buildings or architectural spaces?

I believe I answered the Salk Institute and the Getty Center last time… which still hold true. But more generally, I love big, expansive, monumental spaces. 

Do you have any rituals that help you tap into creative flow? How do you structure your time and days while preparing for an exhibition?

Just a morning coffee. And afternoon coffee. And sometimes an evening coffee. And work breaks dispersed in between. haha

The time you spent at the Getty Research Institute helped provide a second education and define your work, what is one of the lasting lessons you learned from that experience?

I saw a lot of work and artist books in their special collections’ vaults, which made me realize the breadth and range of art that has been, is, and will be created. And that however disheartening and challenging it is to find your own voice and make your own space, there is a lightness and freedom in being just a singular artist making work in a singular time. 

You did some international travel during the pandemic. Can you share a bit about the experience? How did you pass the time during the quarantine period?

Yeah, I did have the privilege, as a dual-citizen, to travel to Taiwan (where it was largely free of Covid) for some months toward the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021. It was a nice respite from the madness taking place in the US, and gave me some breathing room to focus on work.

How many Exacto blades do you go through in one piece? What is your favorite paper brand, weight?

It varies, but anywhere from a couple to a dozen. I use many different brands of paper and weights, but I like Strathmore bristol paper and some Mohawk lines.

The precision in your work is mesmerizing, would you consider yourself a perfectionist? If so, how has perfectionism helped you? How has it possibly hindered you, and do you have any advice for other perfectionists? 

Being a perfectionist was something I would refer to myself as when I was younger. But the older I’ve gotten, the more I feel that the label and the practice of being perfect is sort of just loaded and unrealistic. You have to let go at some point because the space between precise and perfect is infinite.

What is one of your most memorable meals, it could be the people or the food? 

More recently, it was having brunch at Zinc Cafe in Arts District, March of 2020, right on the cusp of shutdown… wondering if it was a good idea and also not realizing it would be the last time dining in for a long long while. I would have tried to enjoy it more in hindsight.

If cost and time were not an issue, what would be a dream project for you?

I would love to build my work at a huge scale, horizontally into the ground. Like Noguchi’s playgrounds.

Are your hands callous from accidental paper cuts yet?  

Surprisingly, no!

Who are the last three musical artists you listened to? Or the last podcast episode you recommended to someone

On a Britpop bender these days: Suede, Longpigs, Pulp 

Interview with Huntz Liu for ‘Subtraction’

Thinkspace is pleased to present Subtraction featuring new work by Huntz Liu in our project room.

Liu’s compositions are comprised of shapes that sit on different planes, creating literal depth, while the composition itself creates a perceived depth. It is this intersection of the literal and perceived that informs the work; where the absence of material reveals form and the casting of shadow create line.

In anticipation of Subtraction, our interview with Huntz Liu expands on our previous talk with the artist and dives into Matrix downloads and where he would take Bruce Lee to dinner.

SH: In our previous interview with you, you had said that you source a lot inspiration from architecture and interior spaces. Can you tell us what some of your favorite buildings or spaces maybe?

HL: Of buildings I’ve been: Salk Institute, Bauhaus Dessau, Getty Center, Musée d’Orsay.

SH: Do you buy your colored paper in bulk for multiple works to be made at the same time or just the paper you need for one piece? Can you share with us a picture of how your paper is stored/organized?

HL: I buy and store paper in bulk. My studio can definitely pass as a paper store.

SH: How many exacto-blades do you go through in a month?

HL: I would say roughly 50 blades.

SH: Did or do you have an artistic mentor?

HL: No, I’ve never had one.

SH: Are you a coffee or tea person? How do you prepare it? Do you have a favorite brand of it?

HL: Coffee for sure. I just burr grind and brew with a basic machine. Not too picky about coffee roasters.

SH: If you could make an album cover for any musical artist, who would it be?

HL: Probably Beck.

SH: If you could download any skill into your brain, Matrix-style, what would you want to instantly learn?

HL: I would download the skill of being able to maintain a consistent meditation/mindfulness practice. Maybe that’s just discipline.. is discipline a skill?

SH: Would you rather be able to talk to animals or read people’s minds?

HL: Read people’s minds.

SH: If you could have dinner with 5 people dead or alive, who would they be and what would you be eating?

HL: Bruce Lee, Kanye, Nefertiti, Elliott Smith, and Duchamp.. getting our hands dirty at a Boiling Crab.

Interview with Huntz Liu

Thinkspace is pleased to present new works by Los Angeles-based artist Huntz Liu. The intricate and detailed work of Liu is developed by layering colorful paper, creating geometric cut-outs with a straight edge and knife. Liu is able to play with literal and perceived depth.

“It is this intersection of the literal and perceived that informs the work; where the absence of material reveals form and the casting of shadow create the line.” – Huntz Liu

In anticipation of showing his newest body of work Saturday, September 14th in the Thinkspace office space, our interview with Huntz Liu discusses artistic challenges, a life philosophy, and working at the Getty Research Center.

SH: For those that are not familiar with you and your work, can you give us a brief look at your artistic background and zodiac sign? 

HL: My background is in graphic design, which I think shows in my work. I started experimenting with cut paper as a way out of the digital screen and as a respite from the keyboard and mouse. Along the way, my process evolved into layering cut material that unflattens/explodes two-dimensional forms.

My astrology sign is Cancer. 

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.

HL: ‘divide 27’ was the most challenging piece as it required constant balancing and rebalancing… be it a compositional balance or a color balance or a spatial/depth balance. Sometimes these things come quickly and sometimes they require so much time and retooling it makes you wonder if you’ve lost your ability to create.

SH: Where do you source inspiration? Do you jot inspiration down in a notebook or on your phone?

HL: I try to find inspiration everywhere… but particularly architecture and interior spaces. I keep a google doc of ideas/concepts that I’ll add to when inspiration strikes… but I’ll use a notebook if the idea is better expressed with a sketch.

SH: What is your favorite and least favorite part of the creative process?

HL: Favorite part is when concept and execution marry perfectly. Least favorite is battling with the logistical issues around creating (namely time and finances). 

SH: A Netflix movie is being made about your life, who would be cast to play you and what kind of movie would it be? Try to describe it with similar movies. 

HL: I mean, I guess Steven Yeun (with makeup to ugly him up some) would be cast to play me. The movie would be a cross between Great Expectations (the one w/ Ethan Hawke) and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, where instead of a past lover, I’d erase all memory of my work. My friends and family would receive letters telling them not to bring up xacto knives or cutting paper around me. But as there’s no escaping fate, I manage to rediscover/relearn my art. Also, no one would watch this movie.

SH: What is the best technical advice you’ve received in regards to painting / being an artist? What is the best philosophical advice you’ve received?

HL: I’m not sure if this counts as advice but I’ve always found wisdom in the saying, “God is in the details.” I try to apply it to my work, both technically and philosophically.

SH: Are you a podcast, tv/ movie streaming service, or music in the background type of painter? What were you listening to during the development of this show that you would recommend to others?

HL: All of the above. Been into the new Bon Iver album. Was also listening to Bobby Hundreds new book (on tape).

SH: What is the coolest or most exciting thing to happen to you thus far in life and is it because of or connected to your work?

HL: This is a tough question… but one of the cooler art-related things was working for the Special Collections department at the Getty Research Institute. It was one of my first jobs after graduating college and my main task was to archive/catalog their entire artists’ book collection (something like a thousand books!). I would spend entire days in a climate-controlled vault, going through books by artists like Ruscha & Baldessari, and noting their condition and status. It was like a second education for me and has since helped me understand and define my own work a little better.

SH: What do you think the role of artists is in society? How does other artwork inform how you move through life?

HL: I think artists’ roles are wide-ranging, but generally speaking they’re here to inspire and to invoke action. When I’m experiencing art, I let it suit whatever my needs are on any particular day or in any particular moment… whether it is to inspire or motivate or humble or educate.

SH: What would a perfect day outside of the studio look like for you?

HL: Just grabbing some coffee and walking around, looking at things. 

SH: Fun Hypothetical:A world-renowned chef wants to make a dish inspired by your artwork and favorite food. What would be the dishes ingredients and what is it similar too?

HL: Probably some sort of geometric layered cake. Maybe crab flavored… ‘cause of my sign.

Join us for the presentation of new works by Huntz Liu
Saturday, September 14, 2019 from 6:00pm – 9:00pm