Artist Adrian Kay Wong wearing a baseball cap, white shirt, and paint-splattered jeans, standing in-between his two multicolored wall murals.

Painter Adrian Kay Wong talks about the subjects of his paintings and the influence of Los Angeles versus Chicago.

Where are you from and where do you reside?

I was born and raised in the east San Francisco Bay Area of California. I spent close to five years in Chicago at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), and now reside in the much sunnier Los Angeles, CA.

You often feature sports and athletes in your paintings. Have you ever played baseball or basketball? When did you become interested in this subject matter?

Because my relationship with immediate family was somewhat estranged, I found refuge in the camaraderie of friends and teammates. While I never particularly excelled, I participated in many sports including basketball, baseball, soccer, and tennis. I no longer actively partake anymore, but this subject matter is still very prevalent due to the similarities of intimate companionship found in both family and sports.

How important is spontaneity in your art?

As someone who is very methodical, I don’t think I allow very much room for spontaneity. I am very involved with addressing the intentionality of each move I make during my painting process. Unfortunately, I sometimes spend more time making sure it is the right move than actually executing it.

Do you have extensive drafting before you start painting?

Yes, I do a lot of sketching beforehand. Although, they are not often developed specifically for a painting I already have in mind. I usually pull from a few of these studies to formulate the groundwork that then acts as the drawing I lay on the painting surface before I start painting.

As someone who is very methodical, I don’t think I allow very much room for spontaneity.

Adrian Kay Wong

Do you admire or draw inspiration from any of your peers who are also working now?

While much of my inspiration comes from visual sources, I allude to many ideas that arise from the discussions with my peers. I find the conversation of artistic practice, whether that is music, writing, or visual, is much more valuable. Interestingly, my closest friends are all creative but work outside the painting realm.

Are you influenced by any artists that do something completely different than you?

I often try to surround myself with material that is somewhat immediately relevant to my own practice. Inevitably, most of the artists I look at or seek out are painters. I read a relatively good amount, although sporadically. Recently, I have indulged in many Asian authors that similarly address ideas of “growing up” with introspective characters usually struggling with innate qualities. In the last year, some authors include Yukio Mishima, Haruki Murakami, and Frank Chin.

Did you have a mentor at SAIC?

There were quite a few professors that left a lasting impression on me, including Larry Lee and James Kao. Both of them contributed not only in general critiquing of my work, but really helped me develop what my work meant to me and how my cultural identity influenced the paintings. In one instance during my final days at SAIC and in the Advanced Painting program, James took time to look at the last paintings I finished. We discussed the uniqueness of growing up in an Asian household within a non-Asian community and some of our personal experiences regarding that. It eventually unfolded into the significance of the artist addressing him/herself as important context to the artwork; ultimately, for me, how is my “Asian-ness” part of my painting?

Have you ever collaborated, or would you? How solitary is your art-making process?

My painting process necessitates a level of isolation. Because a lot of my work is from my own personal experiences, I spend a lot of time contemplating the thoughts and emotions that are inevitably part of the memory. I have only painted with maybe one other person in the studio. Despite this, I would not be against collaborating with another artist—especially if on a larger scale.

What are some themes you find recurring in your pieces, intentional or not?

I think the two themes I am most quick to explore is familial relationships and the “growing up” in adolescence. Many paintings visually address these directly through motifs such as figures at a dinner table, a couple embracing, or activities often universal in childhood. I attempt to discover ways to communicate this conversation through formal painting decisions, an example being repeated figures translating to notions of sibling-hood.

Do you see your works as serving a narrative function?

I see my paintings as glimpses into a greater narrative that gains context as I produce more work. While my works are technically reflections of my experiences, I seek for them to function as a surface viewers can interpret through their own personal lenses.

Do you see your works as unique or as part of a series?

During the initial phases of my painting process—sketches, color studies, etc—I think my mind is set in developing a series of images from whatever source I am drawing from. However, I find that as each painting nears completion, they tend to reach different visual conclusions. While many paintings are titled with a “series” label, they are often revisitations or “re-executions” of one, inceptive work.

What determines whether the idea was conveyed the first time or if a work requires re-execution?

Reaching this “finality” probably takes the most time in my painting process. I let paintings sit for a significant amount of time in order for me to feel accustomed to what is visually occurring in the painting. By stepping back and letting it “settle,” I can experience my work in a more analytical way. Are certain parts of the painting necessary or simply decorative and should be removed? Can specific colors be changed to better evoke a certain atmosphere? Does the painting successfully link with the underlying subject-matter? I can determine its completeness as my familiarity with a painting grows.

While my works are technically reflections of my experiences, I seek for them to function as a surface viewers can interpret through their own personal lenses.

Adrian Kay Wong

Do you find that your location strongly influences the direction of your work? Where do you feel you create your strongest work?

It was only recently that I realized how saturated my colors became after moving to Los Angeles from Chicago three years ago. Location affects the context in which I approach my paintings, while I still aim for the same direction subject-wise.

What’s one of your favorite objects you own? What’s the story?

The first that comes to mind is the Tag Heuer watch I wear every day that was given to me from my father after I graduated college. Bear in mind that he is undoubtedly the sternest individual I have ever known in my life. On what seemed like a random day in the summer, he sat me down at the dinner table without saying a word (he just pointed at the chair), and presented a box to me. With the words, “Don’t ever be late to work,” he left me to opening the present and without much of an opportunity to thank him. This story is oddly indicative of our relationship and how we interact.

Is there something people would be surprised to learn about you?

Probably the most surprising aspect that is particularly relevant to my painting is that I have a twin brother. While we don’t converse very often, I consider myself very close to him. As someone who has lived practically the same childhood as mine, you are right to expect that I consult him when having trouble developing an idea effectively.

Does he paint as well?

Not that I know of! But when we were younger, we spent hours drawing to the point that our parents actually got concerned. As twins, however, the comparison aspect between siblings is magnified, and as a result, a wanting to differentiate from each other—at least in our case. We chose different career paths in the end, with my brother now working in the nonprofit mental health sector. While art is not the focus of his career, he says he still engages in a lot of design-related work and finds that creative side a valuable asset.

How has your work developed in the past few years, and how do you see it evolving in the future?

I think my work’s flatness and clean edges was a result of coping with my completely new creative environment when I first moved to Los Angeles. I knew only two people and needed a lot of figuring out to do as a new graduate, so I spent most days in solidarity trying to establish my practice again. My work became much more precise, with a perspective focused on moments as opposed to more general abstractions. As this city continues to feel more like home, I look to reintroduce the unrestrained nature that was once part of my painting process when all my responsibilities were contained by the walls of my school's studio.