illustrator, painter and sculptor
Interview by email on July 20th
AL: The first thing one notices when looking at your work is the monsters. What do your monsters mean to you? Are there any specific sources of influence? Basically, how did you get into the wonderful world of demons and the fantastically grotesque?
GL: I’ve always known that I love to draw, but I realized pretty early on that drawing from life was not my strong suit. Even when directly observing something, my drawings would always end up slightly skewed or disproportionate, which drove me nuts. Instead of trying to force that kind of work, I began drawing more from my imagination. I think this was a good move for me, but I sort of wish I’d forced myself to learn perspective and proportion. It’s never too late though! I will eventually dedicate some time to improving those skills. I was also very into drawing animals as a kid, so I think the monsters and demons sort of evolved from that. Drawing animals while disregarding reality eventually lead to my demons, many of which I think slightly resemble animals or at least have some familiar animal features. Watching a lot of cartoons (go Nickelodeon!) and listening to certain types of music definitely helped too.
AL: You have, apart from the demons and little monsters, anthropomorphic figures in some of your drawings. What happens when your monsters are personified? Do the fears and struggles they represent come ‘alive’ when you add legs and arms to them?
GL: I honestly don’t see a huge distinction between the creatures that do and do not have limbs…or at least not a distinction that I can claim as a conscious one. We are all constantly evolving, so I guess the various creatures just exist at different stages of their own personal evolution. I suppose a beast that has become a warrior babe’s headdress might be seen as dead, while one that stands up is not, or a beast that carries babes on its back is different than one that interacts in a more “human-like” way…but that isn’t to say the differing beasts won’t eventually switch places or evolve even further into entirely different beings. I’m not sure if that makes complete sense, but a lot of what I draw doesn’t make complete sense to me! Much of the time, themes aren’t totally apparent to me until the work is done. I don’t always know what I am doing or what exactly I’m trying to say.
AL: So you’re wrapping up your Red Gate Residency here in Beijing at the moment. How has the experience been for you? It’d be so cool if you made a drawing of China-influenced demons hanging out at a temple ( I saw your Red Gate Open Studio poster)!
GL: I can’t say enough good things about this experience. It is such an overused expression, but it really has been life changing. For one thing, I got to experience living alone in an apartment for the first time. I’ve always had roommates and lived in the same city, which I love and wouldn’t change, but this has been a nice little taste of what it’s like to live alone and in a place where you don’t know a single person. On a very basic level, simply doing that has made me proud of myself, a, elusive feeling that I think all artists crave. Plus, my studio here is about 10 times the size of my Brooklyn studio, so I’ve been able to explore a bunch of different projects at one time, which I can’t do as well back home. But all of that could have been accomplished in a lot of places, so what is it about Beijing that has been so great? Probably the historical sites, like the temples and statues. And the food, although I can’t say that’s had much of an effect on my art. I’ve been inspired by the demons associated with Chinese and Buddhist mythology for a while, but most of that came from images I’d seen either on google or in American museums, like the Met in New York. That stuff just can’t compare with visiting the actual sites. I was particularly inspired by the Yonghe Lama Temple and the Dongyue Temple, both of which have incredible statues and tapestries of powerful deities. You are totally right, you can definitely see this inspiration in my Red Gate Open Studios poster! For that drawing, I was especially inspired by the statues inside the Hall of Heavenly Kings at the Yonghe Lama Temple, which have amazing facial features and postures. This inspiration is also obvious in the composition of the poster, something I hope to bring into larger paintings or sculptures, without directly mimicking the relics. The line between being inspired by something and copying something can be a tough one, but I try to be as vigilant as I can and hope that my attempts aren’t construed as anything other than a reflection of my admiration for these works of art.
AL: You cite music as a primary influence for your art. Does inspiration from genres of music other than metal or rock ever carry over to your art? Like classical music. Babes in gowns dancing around in a ballroom in a pile of pink blood?
GL: That’s a good question! I guess the influence of metal/punk/grunge is pretty apparent in the work, so I don’t really even need to state it, hehehe. I’ve never really been into classical music, but I like your idea about gowns! Maybe I’ll try diving into that a bit. I listen to a lot of doo-wop too, which is funny since a lot of those songs are pretty sexist and convey women that these days might be considered somewhat backwards, like they live solely for their men. Maybe I’m ingesting it in a sort of cheeky way though, like these sad teenagers in love are the ones I’m trying to empower with my tough warrior babes. Plus, even though I consider myself fairly empowered now, I was once a sad teenager in love, so maybe the messages in those tunes aren’t as alien as I want to believe. I think I just love that type of music because it’s catchy as hell, plus it gives me something to sing with my parents. Oddly enough, they aren’t really into Slayer.
AL: I see you’ve done a few sculptures of your trademark babes and demons. How did you get into making sculptures of them? I must say it’s a really fucking cool idea - little demon figures come to live!
GL: I started making sculptures about two years ago because I was inspired by taxidermy and thought it would be cool to make taxidermy style pieces of my babes and demons. Once I started sculpting, I quickly found a real love for it, as it allowed me to see different angles of the creatures I’d only ever imagined from one perspective. I had never really drawn one of my babes in profile, but once I’d sculpted one and turned her to the side, I was like “ooooooh, so that’s how she looks from the side!” Then, I was able to bring those realizations back into my two-dimensional work. Sculpting also utilizes your hands and your brain in a really different way, which provides an often-needed break from drawing or painting. I love all the media I work with, but go through phases of loving certain ones more than others. While I’ve been here, it’s been all about the sculpting. I had my first piece cast in bronze (by the awesome Liao at 天目造 － Tian Mu casting) and I’m thrilled with the final product. I’ve also did a little series of black and gold babe busts, which I like and think will lead to more interesting projects. For this last week, I’m working on some other sculptures that I plan on finishing back home for an upcoming show in Brooklyn this fall.
AL:How do the visuals for your monster creations come together? Do you have a concept for how a monster is going to feel and look and execute it on paper or is it a more impromptu process of feeling the specific demon vibes your monster gives off as you go?
GL: About 90% of what I make is a result of a sort of “stream of consciousness” type approach. Even when I try to plan something out, it almost never ends up following that plan. With drawings, I usually do a pencil sketch to just map out the composition and some basic shapes, but the features just come out as I’m drawing. This can be annoying because halfway through drawing something I’ll realize that I totally forgot to include the thing that inspired the drawing in the first place, but then I will just make a note of it and hope to include it in a future piece. I keep a lot of notes. Most of my brainstorming happens in words, rather than pictures. You’d think that my brain would work in pictures, but it is almost always talking to me rather than showing me things. I think that is because I love reading and found this love around the same time I discovered drawing. My sculptures are almost entirely improvised. Even when I make a sketch, it doesn’t serve much of a purpose other than to give me some direction in the very beginning. Since I’m still pretty new to sculpting, a lot of it is trial and error and I mask my mistakes by changing my idea of what the final piece should look like. The results are usually good though and I learn something new with each attempt. My paintings are definitely more planned out than my drawings, but much of that is still impromptu too. I’d actually really like to alter this way of working, at least when it comes to color. I never know how I’m going to use color until I start and it often doesn’t feel right, so I’ll paint over certain sections and waste a lot of time. I know I could solve this problem by messing with a sketch in photoshop to plan it out better, so I’m working on that right now, but who knows. While it seems like the bright colors are a key part of my work, I actually feel a lot more comfortable with black and white. I’d like to refine my palette more. Seems like there is always something to improve on! I hope never to lose that feeling, since it pushes me to work harder. Plus, I’m really young so it’d be a bummer if I already felt like I had everything figured out. I don’t ever want to get lazy or bored.
AL: There’s an adorably sick sense of humor in your work. For example, the drawing of a babe getting her boob punched (stabbed?). Is this a good example of what you meant when you said, “visual manifestations of those dark little thoughts that are at once frightening and sort of funny” ?
GL: Yes, that is a perfect example! While personal struggles and difficult experiences are not actually funny at all, there’s something to be said for finding sparks of humor in the dark places. I don’t mean we should ever make light of our pain, but I do think that laughing at the more ridiculous elements of our pain can make it more digestible. I also think this makes it easier for us to relate to other people, as some people have a really hard time talking about pain, but putting a darkly humorous spin on it, even if that spin is masking something really awful, can at least get the conversation going so that you can eventually get more serious. I’ve seen this with so many people in my life that have gone through traumatic things and think it’s a very helpful coping mechanism. It is never a question of whether or not the pain is a joke. It obviously isn’t. BUT forcing a joke in the wake of something painful is a small example of finding the strength to move forward, which seems impossible when you’re in the midst of depression. Just like people all over the world might find the same youtube video funny, people all over the world probably find heartache in similar places too. Both humor and sadness are unifying emotions. When it comes to using those ideas in my art, I guess I just realized that drawing sad people being sad wasn’t helping me get over anything, so I tried to subvert my own feelings and ended up making work that feels much more authentic than anything I’d made previously.
AL: What’s next for you? Projects, collabs, more sculptures? Tell me!
GL: About a year ago, I applied to a bunch of different residencies with hopes that I’d at least get one. I actually got two! So, after China, I’ll be back home in New York for a month and am then spending September in Berlin. I’m very excited about that. I’ve been to Berlin before and was blown away by the murals. I’m looking forward to seeing how the public art has evolved in the city and maybe I’ll have a chance to assist an artist on something large scale. I’ve done small murals in Brooklyn, but think learning from or watching a master would be extremely valuable. At the end of October, I have a solo show at Gristle Gallery in Brooklyn, so I’ll be working towards that for the next two months. I haven’t fully figured out my plan for that show yet, but already have a lot of cool work started, so feel confident that it’s going to be a good one. Then I’ll be focusing on compiling black and white drawings for my first limited edition art book, Babylon, which I am collaborating on with my good friend Simon Vasta, who will write some stuff, edit and produce. We will be releasing the book at the Los Angeles Book Fair in February. I can’t wait! Hopefully I will be able to come back to China within the next year or so, as I’ve loved studying the language and want to make that a serious part of my life. I’ll definitely get some more sculptures cast too, since it’s waaaaaay too expensive to do that in New York. I want to go BIG. So far, I’ve never done any life-sized sculptures and I’d really like to change that. Maybe I’ll come back to Red Gate. This program is excellent and I love being in China. I’ll definitely be back.
Grace Lang is an illustrator and sculptor preoccupied with the concept of personal ‘demons’ and creator of awesome monsters that “reflects the internal struggles that plague us all". Based in Brooklyn, Grace is wrapping up her residency at Red Gate Gallery in Beijing, an international artist residency program providing creatives with the opportunity to live and create work in China. She has an upcoming solo exhibition at Gristle Gallery in Brooklyn this coming October and is heading to Berlin for her next residency. Check out her work at grooseling.com and @grooseling on Instagram, or contact her at email@example.com