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Where's the frame

November 19, 2020 4:09 PM


Vibrant versus dark, easy flowing versus fiercely dynamic, abstract versus figuration - SLADE grad Kristy Chan knows how to pour it all into her canvas. Her work intuitively captures moments, memories and emotions, at the same time. Titling a portrait of two fish ‘sashimi cravings’ and a person lying around ‘becoming furniture’, it doesn’t come as a surprise that she is a very hilarious person. In this conversation between where’s the frame and Kristy, we discuss many things: appreciating the little things in life, her plants, her bike (which got stolen), that one Anton Ego's flashback scene in Disney’s ratatouille and also, obviously, her artistic practice (and the way it’s like sriracha mayo.)

Can you describe your studio to us? Are there any 90’s boy band posters? Plants? Yoga matt?

First thing I did when I moved into my new studio in Leipzig was to get a hammock. I’ve painted about falling off a hammock back in summer of 2019, when I was in Finland, and the moment I went back to London, I immediately got myself a hammock as it was something that I never knew I needed. That applies to my temporary studio in Leipzig, no exceptions haha. I also met someone who managed to get an avocado seed to sprout, and that took him 2-3 months. So I’m currently attempting to get some avocado action going, and by the time I leave Leipzig, I could give it to my local friends as a parting gift? Well it’s not like I’m not going back but thought that’d be something that everyone would appreciate, plants. I also have two plants in my flat named Frau Mildred and Lyle, Lyle is growing super fast and is very fluffy. 



Kristy Chan, I Fell Off A Hammock, Oil on canvas



You grew up in Hongkong then moved to London to pursue BFA at Slade. Can you reveal any cool stories of growing up in Hong Kong? What’s your favourite street vendors’ food?

Growing up in Hong Kong was predominantly focused on sports and grades. My art teacher in Hong Kong in middle school actually said I’m not creative enough and that I should do the design module instead. I can’t really think of anything that was particularly cool, but I did enjoy going to school with the same group of friends for 5 years, without change, and we’d often get the same sort of typical Hongkongese hot buns for breakfast everyday before we get onto the shuttle bus that takes up to our school which was in the middle of a mountain. The route up holds a very dear place in my head, I guess that was cool, not quite a story, but certainly cool. 


Siu mai is my absolute favourite. It’s hard to find one that’s decently priced, has the right chew and is not soggy or too soft, and the soy sauce is very important too. 



What made you choose Sotheby’s Institute of Art for your MA? Does your practice have a heavy reference to art historical works?

Hahaha I actually applied to an art school in Germany but a lot of them required some shape or form of German language qualifications, and of course each tutor has a distinct taste, so I didn’t get in. I really wanted to stay in London or Europe in general, and I remember someone telling me about Sotheby’s, and that felt like it might improve my employability while I try to paint and all, so I chose the Contemporary Art course. I also wanted to figure out where to locate myself within the art world, and have concluded that I definitely want to keep making art, instead of anything else. 


My practice has nothing to do with art history or old masters works. I mean, of course I’ve studied them and admire them from time to time, maybe steal some sort of composition if I can. But I did learn lots about post-modernist art through the course, and that largely informed my approach in how to paint and what I want to paint. 


Can you tell us more about your current residency in Leipzig?

I believe I applied for it in April when COVID 19 hit, no longer occupied by the desire to go to the pub after a full day of lectures, I gained a lot of time to actually plan ahead and I thought I would have finished my dissertation by the time I start the residency, which is not the case haha. I’m actually still incredibly stressed about trying to finish my dissertation as well as juggling with all the expectations from the residency. The residency is fab though, it’s called Pilotenkuche, we sometimes call it PK, pilot kitchen, don’t know why it’s called that but I like it, maybe because we have a potluck every friday, that is something that i really look forward to, cooking and eating with everyone in the residency. I also just love food in general, Leipzig is not great for food, but the art’s wonderful. I was interested in Leipzig because of a work by Elmgreen and Dragset, called “Zwischen anderen Ereignissen” in GfZK, in Leipzig. It’s hard to sum up what it’s about but it addresses the unemployment issue back in the 90s when the GDR dissolved and lots of people lost their jobs because the factories got liquidated as they were outdated. Lots to get into detail there but I have been wanting to come to Leipzig and see how it is. 


The residency program itself is lovely, we have a program day every week and we get to see the art scene a bit and meet some local artists. The studios are huge. So much wall space. And I actually went to the people who work in the studios a floor below us, just a few days back. They invited me through instagram cos one of them recently moved in and thought he was in our residency ahahh. Such an encouraging environment, a bit sad that it’s only going to last for 3 months, but it’s been phenomenal. Everyone’s just incredibly lovely, but someone did try to steal my bike on the 5th day I’ve bought a bike. That was very annoying, they’ve tried to cut my bike lock at four points, didn’t manage to break it so whoever did it decided to kick my back wheel, which I’ve just got it repaired. 




As an artist, how is your mode of production different before and during the COVID-19 pandemic?

It has gotten a lot more consistent. Before lockdown and all I was struggling to find time and energy to paint, even though my studio was inside the flat. Ever since lockdown I’ve developed a working ritual, that I’d paint in the morning before 9 or 10 am, before online lecture starts, it made my days a lot more structured and I really enjoyed it. 



Can you please describe your artwork as if you were talking to someone who can’t see?

It’s like a hologram of random memories all melting together having a great time. It’s like when you mix mayo and sriracha together, from two separate blobs, maybe even some mustard, and there’s this sweet spot where it’s all swirly and nice, and obviously tastes very nice, I’d like to think of my works as colourful and tasty, like that scene in ratatouille where different food combinations make you think of different colours and sparks. 


Kristy Chan, What the wind feels like when it's hot outside, 2020, oil on canvas


There is a lot of fluidity and spontaneity in your work. Do you plan your work? How do you feel about sudden changes in your game plan?

I thrive on changes and impulsive thoughts. I tried planning my work a trillion times and it never works!! I’d be like, oh I haven’t painted anything green or blue, I will make a blue painting, then boom, it’s bright red. My most recent painting, Bike Stealing Attempt, is about someone trying to steal my bike in Leipzig. Initially, I wanted to paint the bar that I went to prior to discovering the theft attempt. Then I turned the painting around as I didn’t like where it was going. Then I felt like I wanted to have the canvas stretched to give it a little bit more structure, then I realised I bought the wrong size of stretcher bars, and me being very lazy, I’ve just put it on another stretcher and cut out 25cm off the original canvas. Then I decided to paint the actual act of that terrible person who tried to steal my bike. So that painting kind of went from “I was in the bar and the bike stealing simultaneously happened” to “I miss my bike” to “yea that guy who stole my bike”. There’s also a bit of arm wrestling involved in that bar and you might be able to see remains of that scene if you try really really hard to look through the layers, which is now in the bottom right corner. 


Kristy Chan, Bike Stealing Attempt, 2020, oil on canvas, 180x180cm


Does your work have a common theme or message?

Personally, It’s very much about appreciating the little things in life. People are so hard to satisfy these days and I find that quite ungrateful. I am incredibly lucky and privileged to be able to do what I’m doing right now, and it makes me sad to see people complain about all their little minute inconveniences in daily life. It’s absolutely fine to complain, but please do something in your abilities to improve it? Don’t just sit around and be grumpy about not getting a handout, you got to work for it, and when you get it, it’s so satisfying. So I guess my works are about accepting but also appreciating the reality, big or small, good or bad. Do things that make you happy, like for me, I missed hanging out with my friends and going on food endeavours with them, so I paint about our cheese fondue party just before lockdown. Or you’re upset about not being able to dress up and go out during lockdown? Dress up with some amazing grocery shopping outfit couture.

Kristy Chan, Grocery Shopping Outfit No.1, oil on canvas, 150x75cm


Perhaps a tricky one, but your artistic style is very distinctive. How did you arrive there? 

Haha I have no idea. Just keep painting, change things that you’re unhappy with. I used to be very figurative, and it didn’t do much to me, so I changed to being super abstract, and I was like, I don’t even know what is going on, so I tried to find a style or method of painting that works for me, that made me feel, ahhhh happy days. In which for the time being, my current way of painting helps remind me of the painted incidents and emotions I encountered. 


If the pandemic is a song, what song do you think it will be?

Brain Dance by Animals as Leaders


Kristy Chen, Cheese fondue, 2020, 142x141cm, oil on canvas

What’s the weirdest thing you ever found in the streets of London and Leipzig?

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen those foam board cutouts of builders and policies in London? And they’re all life size, and tied to a lamp post or a random pole. They are so bizarre. Then at some point their lower body would be missing cos someone has kicked it off or something. I saw a few on Tottenham Court Road, since my life is literally based on Totty Road, Slade was down the road towards Euston, Sotheby’s was towards the end of Totty Road close to soho, and I never moved more than 1km away from Totty Road since living in London haha. 


In terms of Leipzig, it feels like it’s stuck in the 80s sometimes. Especially when mullets and 80s, 90s clothing are making a huge comeback since the last 5 years? And the architecture, but at same time, Leipzig is incredibly progressive within East Germany. I also saw a little “garden” of poles where you can rent the pole and park your bike there? But you get fined 30 euros if you lock your bike there but didn’t rent it? But there’s also a trillion free lamp posts and railings and trees where you can chain your bike to? So strange. 



Kristy Chen, Sashimi On The Tube, Oil on Canvas,162 x 148 cm.

To follow the projects Kristy is working on, you can visit her instagram and her website.
All photos courtesy of the artist.
where's the frame - ‘in conversation with’ is a weekly series featuring London-based vanguard artists. Stay tuned for more interviews, published every Friday.

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