Photos by Asia Morris.
In celebration of all things POW! WOW! Long Beach, from the outdoor muralists—who began transforming blank walls throughout the city this week—to the artists currently installing their work inside the Long Beach Museum of Art's (LBMA) upcoming exhibit Vitality and Verve: Transforming the Urban Landscape, the Post reached out to several of these world-class creatives who are gearing up to change and inspire the landscape of Long Beach’s art scene as a whole, indoors and out.
Today we feature Audrey Kawasaki, a fresh face on the mural scene, who finished her installation at the LBMA just last week. This is only her third time painting a large-scale piece, and she says she’s still learning.
Those who view her mural will see Yōkais, Japanese folklore monsters whose stories have been passed down for hundreds of years as a way to explain the unexplainable and as a way to teach caution to children and adults, according to the artist.
To see Kawasaki’s finished piece this week, check out the LBMA’s famed After Dark event on Friday, June 26, in celebration of the opening of Vitality and Verve, to be on display through September.
What has your experience been like installing your work at the LBMA so far?
It’s different and challenging.
I’m not very experienced with working large scale like this. This is my third one within the past couple months, so I haven’t really gotten a grasp of it. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do, but was nervous and scared. But the opportunity arose, and I did it! And am glad I did.
I read online that your subject matter's head/face is the largest you've ever attempted to paint. How has that gone so far?
Yes, I work small to medium in scale, usually. The girl's face is no larger than an actual face.
I wasn’t sure how I would tackle it at first, because with my usual works, I use oil paint, and thin layers of it, overlapping. And I use tiny brushes and create hatch-like strokes.
I decided to use oils on the face for this mural. Usually acrylic paints would be used for walls (because it dries faster?), but I’m not savvy with acrylics and felt that if I wanted to get the subtle shading and colors, like I usually do, I would have to use oils. Spray paint is an option, but I have zero experience with that and would need tons of practice.
Anyway, I was surprised at how differently I painted this time. I used larger brushes and was able to be more free and bold and spontaneous with my strokes, holding up my brushes at a distance, rather than a few inches from my eyes. I didn’t use my usual hatching marks. I kept certain parts undefined, and not crisp.
Because the rest of the piece was so linear and solid, I enjoyed keeping parts of her face blurred and mysterious, like leaving the pupils out of the eyes. I think that gives her a bit of a ghostly allure.
Have you learned anything new from working alongside the other artists of Vitality and Verve? Have you been able to share or teach any of the artists anything new?
I hope to do an outside wall someday and to do that, it seems like getting a good grip on spray paints is best. You can cover more surface and get the tonal gradients better than acrylic.
Working in the same room as James Bullough was eye opening. He was generous with spray painting tips. Aside from that, it was just such an honor to meet and reunite with these artists. It was invigorating seeing them at work, seeing their process, technique, their vision.
Since the installations will eventually be painted over to make way for future exhibits... does this temporal factor affect your usual mural-making process at all? Or even your subject matter? How so?
The temporal factor wasn’t something that I kept in mind, so I couldn’t say it affected the process. But perhaps it gave me a little more freedom. I only had a rough sketch; colors and details were unplanned. I sort of just went with the flow.
How do you find time to relax as an artist whose work is in such high demand? What do you do to blow off steam?
I usually make myself time to relax. If I’m crunching for a solo show, I'll be at it for a few months, but the rest of the year, I try not to overwhelm myself. Last year I traveled a lot to the UK to visit my then-boyfriend (now husband). Aside from that, I love to cook, eat, drink wine, watch films, play video games, etc.
What are some of the most demanding parts of making a living as an artist?
I’m fortunate that I am able to make a living off of what I love to do, but it’s a struggle and a challenge, for me at least, that it’s such a solo job. I work from my home studio, so I don’t get to be as social and it can get lonely sometimes. I become a hermit, and feel like I get socially awkward when I do actually see people. I feel like I need to make other extra efforts to overcome this, like take extracurricular classes.
Do you have any other creative outlets besides painting?
I do like making things. I’m good at crafty things, like hand sewing felt dolls or making costumes. I made my own costume last year for Halloween. I was ramen noodles.
What sort of themes are you exploring as an artist currently?
I plan to work large! And experiment with more spontaneous marks. I tend to be a perfectionist with my lines, but I hope to loosen up a bit.
When did you begin painting larger pieces/murals?
My first large mural painting was less than a couple months ago at the Worcester Museum of Art in Massachusetts. It was up on a balcony, 4 feet tall and 30 feet wide for the Samurai show put together with them and Giant Robot.
What is it like switching from your relatively small-scale paintings to a large-scale project like a mural? When you painted your first mural, what were some difficulties you had to overcome?
The first day, being faced with that wall, I was definitely overwhelmed with the size. I had to think of a strategic efficient plan to tackle it. It’s meant to be looked at from afar, so my lines don’t have to be super perfect. I had to let go. Speed things up. It would have taken ages if I hadn’t done so.
Another struggle was the fact that I’m basically on display while I work. I’m so used to working solo in my studio, so having so many people watch and talk, was definitely something I wasn’t used to. I felt very self conscious and paranoid at first, but as the days went by I was able to chat with museum workers and visitors and some fans had traveled long distances to come see me! And it was great to meet them and to know how much love and support I had.
Does your main subject, the young, yet erotic female, change at all when you're discovering her on a larger scale, such as a mural, compared to a smaller painting? Does the girl have anything to do with you personally?
My girls will always be my girls. Big or small. Each may look slightly different, but they all portray the same character, and the various sides and dimensions of her.
She’s this creature I’m always chasing after. She’s like a ghost, an apparition that haunts and eludes me. She is my ultimate muse, that I will never be able to grasp. I will most likely continue to paint her till I am unable to.
How do you feel when you paint? Is it meditative, monotonous, neither of these things? All of these things?
The meditative ones are the best. The ones that suck you in and you completely lose time over. The ones that make you forget about daily worries and useless thoughts. Monotony, I don’t mind. The tedious ones, are the ones easy to get lost in, which I enjoy doing.
Editor's note: This article originally erroneously stated that this is Audrey Kawasaki's second mural, when in fact it is her third. The error has been corrected.