Jolene Lai is a fine artist and illustrator based in Los Angeles. She graduated from Lasalle-Sia College of the Arts Singapore and UCLA Extension’s Design Communication Arts program. In this episode I wanted to dive into the world of an oil painter and learn the ins and outs. Read below for the full interview…
You seem to be a Jill of all trades as you can paint, design, and illustrate. Why do you oppose blending?
Jolene: Artists who do a great job in blending are awesome and I totally respect that. I just don’t incorporate a lot of the blending techniques in my work simply because that’s not how I depict the things I see. The texture of an apple to me is not a bunch of colors fused or gradated but more of fragments placed side by side that are varying in colors and sizes. I paint what I see and hence what gets translated on the canvas is an image composed of many random shapes of colors.
You received part of your formal education in Singapore. How was it learning art surrounded by diverse migrant cultures of Malay, Indian, Chinese and European heritages?
Jolene: It was an education of learning to be able to absorb all the many cool and interesting concepts that friends constantly put forth. Art school back home was a breeding compound of fun, creative and intellectual people coming together to share and inspire one another. Ethnicity didn’t really play any special role during that learning phase. Growing up in a multiracial country on the other hand exposed me to some of the most interesting folklore I have ever come across, which I had started to cultivate an interest in and working towards incorporating them into my artworks.
Describe your creative process with developing a sketch.
Jolene: My works are a documentation of female figures placed in interesting urban spaces. So wherever I travel, I make it a point to scout for and photograph interesting spots that could be used for future concepts. I do a great amount of fashion editorial research, which contributes a better understanding of interesting compositions and narrative concepts.
Many of your illustrations involve women. Why the lack of male figures? Any personal connection between your work and yourself?
Jolene: I find the body structure of a woman more sensual, alluring but yet fragile and vulnerable all at once and that is what I seem to have a tendency to want to portray in my works lately. A friend once commented how much he hated loneliness but yet cannot do without it. I didn’t quite understand this paradoxical statement he had made then, but in my later years found myself reflecting and relating to what he had felt. In some twisted way, this melancholy of mine manifested itself into the characters of my paintings.
You spent some time working with movie one-sheets and poster designs. Could you tell us about some of the projects you worked on and why you left to focus on fine art?
Jolene: I worked closely with Home Entertainment department and had the opportunity to work on projects like Avatar, Coraline and Crash. People there were greatly talented and always willing to share and teach and I owe it to them what I had learned about designing.
Art was a hobby I liked as a child; hated in high school as a subject, then discovered I loved at 21. Then came design which wowed me by how it makes you realize some of the really cool details you missed in the simplicity of everyday life. It just dawned on me one day how I could express creatively in design but never quite as honest as I could with Fine Art.
What are the pros and cons working with oils?
Jolene: I often feel that oils give me an array of colors that I can never quite achieve from acrylics or watercolor. There’s something vibrant and exciting about the media which makes the work come alive. And weirdly because I love the way oil paints and turps smell. The cons would be having to deal with the time taken for the oils to dry. But with the variety of fast drying mediums you can mix into the paints, it’s not a big issue at all.
How do you capture the seductive aesthetic in your work?
Jolene: Establishing an emphasis between the relationship of the figure and her surrounding space. It begins with trying to convey a poetic narrative and then boils down to selecting the suitable background. I find a preference towards referencing images of urban spaces I had documented in the night. Night photography has a tendency to capture secluded and obscure corners flooding with a contrast of light and shadows which in turn provides a sense of mystery in what is being hidden and revealed. The character involved in each work is developed side by side with the narrative aspect of the painting and I try to bring in subtle emotions that relates to the story. The composition of the figure and even her attire become important details in breathing life to the whimsy fantasy. All in all, these different components play important roles in trying to create a work that can be arresting.
Do you have any favorite Asian films or Anime?
Jolene: Films by Wong Kar Wai, I love them all. I like how he manages to draw viewers into the windows of each characters’ soul. A recent series of illustrations (No.25 Series I-VI) I worked on was based on Wong’s short film The Hand.
Anime to name a few, Hibane Renmei, Fruits Basket, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. I’m a sucker for girly anime.
What kind of works do you have in store for the duration of 2012? Any solo shows?
Jolene: A lot of exploring into Asian mythology this year and experimenting on works with more dynamic narrative and intricate details. There are a couple of upcoming shows with Thinkspace in Los Angeles coming March and May and that is really great because they are always featuring great talents with amazing works. Amidst all this excitement, I’ll also be prepping for a solo in November which will happen with Galerie Sogan and Art in Singapore. They do a lot of promoting of local and regional artists and showcase some pretty interesting and ethnic works as well.
Thinkspace Gallery - http://www.thinkspacegallery.com/
Galerie Sogan & Art - http://www.soganart.com/
Lastly, having studied and created in both Singapore and the U.S., what unique advice could you offer up for any worldly artist?
Jolene: Be open to and make full use of the art scenes. An art scene from another culture offers a fresh new perspective at how art can be made or translated in a whole different level. It allowed me opportunities to be exposed to interesting mediums and methods of art that would not have crossed my mind. In so many ways the experience helped me to step out of my comfort zone and constantly push myself creatively.
Want to keep tabs on Jolene’s work? Follow her cookie crumb trail: