Profile | Christine Wang: Lust, Longing & Politics

Christine Wang, “Speak Truth to Power”. Image courtesy of Night Gallery.

Christine Wang’s artwork is not for the faint of heart.

Primarily a painter, Wang’s work is both sardonic and confrontational, playing with a variety of mediated images toward an end point that may never arrive. Not that Wang’s work is existential in nature; rather, there is a resolute emotional processing that occurs, something that the LA-based artist understands intrinsically. Her artwork is very much connected with her political activism, which brings up questions about individuality, power dynamics and a lack of control.

“Art is a really great way for me to work out my emotions, especially feelings of guilt or helplessness,” says Wang. “I can do the political work as a problem solving thing and I can make art to help keep me calm and let my feelings about the political work come out.”

Certainly that sentiment is echoed in some of her direct paintings like “Speak Truth to Power” and “ACAB” (All Cops are Bastards), which relate directly to Wang’s work in prison reform. As an activist, she works with Critical Resistance LA (CRLA) and Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), which are both working toward abolishing the prison industrial complex.

A somewhat recent L.A. transplant, Wang received her MFA from UCLA in 2013, and her BFA from Cooper Union in 2008. She also took a year off from undergrad to study mural painting in China. After graduate school, she took off to a residency in Qatar through Virginia Commonwealth University. Wang’s artwork isn’t necessarily site-specific, but she is influenced by her location.

"Sandy" by Christine Wang

Christine Wang, “Sandy”. Image courtesy of Night Gallery.

In Qatar, she created pieces like “The End is Near”, a tongue-in-cheek collage that references both end times and luxury fashion. A woman with sandy blonde hair wears a trench coat and stands near a desert holding a sign that says “Repent, the end is near.” Typical of Wang, she discovered this image on a poster from a gated community in Qatar. This piece’s magazine-style imagery is reminiscent of her signature California Paintings (2015), a series of propaganda-style posturing that are reminiscent of the “SAVE WATER, DRINK BEER” posters.

Christine Wang, "California Paintings", 2015.

Christine Wang, “California Paintings”, 2015.

“It’s pithy,” says Wang. “I am talking about water as a luxury item. What if beer were non-essential? Water is essential to life. But you don’t need to drink beer to survive. It’s the same with oil painting. You don’t need oil paintings to survive on a biological or ecological sense.”

For Wang, it’s essential to combine art and activism in her practice even though it at times seems like the two are mutually exclusive.

“In my mind, the overlap between art and activism might actually be quite small because art can do consciousness raising but activism can be the change,” says Wang. “Activism can mobilize votes, put pressure on political systems and change policy. But where’s the overlap? Because once someone raises [another’s] consciousness they have to actually go do something.”

Wang shows internationally, but lately she’s been seen at LA’s Night Gallery and in San Francisco at Alter Space, where she did a three-person group exhibition called Awkard Threesome with Kim Ye and Raphael Noz. She was also recently included in the XX show at Subliminal Projects, which was publicly referred to as transphobic, as well as the 2013 show Good Intentions: Re-Imagining Rockwell’s Boy Scouts, which was curated by Andrew Pogany and Ben Lee Ritchie Handler.

She currently has a solo show called LA: FURN up at Galerie Nagel Draxler in Cologne, Germany, where she is showing some of her more conceptual works that look at the throwaway culture of hashtags, burning golden words into cardboard, another material that is easily discarded. 

“LA:FURN”, 2015. Photo: Simon Bird.

Christine Wang, “LA:FURN”, 2015. Photo: Simon Bird.

She is slated for another solo show at Night Gallery in 2016, during which time she feels ready to look at another subject that’s of interest to her. In addition to political issues and heightened emotional responses, Wang has also been exploring her fascination with rape porn.

“I want to publish a little essay I wrote about what it feels like for me to look at rape porn because I really like rape porn but I also identify as a feminist, so it feels really weird,” says Wang. “I wrote about how upsetting it is.”

Originally from Rockville, Maryland, Wang says her parents were not necessarily thrilled about her decision to become an artist.

“They’re Chinese and Catholic,” Wang explained dryly. “They were like, ‘you won’t be able to make any money,’ and now I’m like ‘oh yeah, it’s true.’”

Then she adds, with a certain mischievous yet hopeful tone: “I was a fool.”