Veronique Kwak is a freelance artist/scholar. English/American Literature major: Film noir and Crime Fiction. Researcher on diverse themes: Film noir, true crimes, feminism, body politics, reptilian creatures, and architectures. VK has a particular focus on the transcultural interpretation/reinvention of symbols, animal/plant elements, and ancient Chinese seal-scripts while dedicating herself to the making of conceptual art or art of conceptualization.
VK has no intention to copycat the existent symbols but reinvents new ones with diverse cultural allusions in the East/West. VK insists on her raw take of different matters, with no digital involvement to distort the original sense of art. VK has been greatly inspired by dark subjects in order to create positive vibes after transcending the people and things that might raise nightmares in people.
We asked Veronique a few questions about her work...
You studied English Language, can you introduce to us what your majors focus was and how this is connected to your art work?
Basically, my focus is on American literatures during the 20th century. To be more specific, my main focus is on the literary cult of Anglo-American masculinity, such as Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler. The identity politics of American manhood. Body politics, in particular. “Sex, Violence and Anarchy: the Body Politics of American crime fiction from the 1920s to the 1940s” is the title of my dissertation.
I put lots of efforts in absorbing the isolationist vibes within early gangster film (James Cagney’s The Public Enemy in 1931, for instance), film noir (Robert Mitchum’s Out of the Past in 1946), and mid-century misogyny like the Black Dahlia murder. Later I’ve become seriously engrossed in serial killers (textbook example: Ted Bundy) and mass murderers (2011 Norway attack) within the Western cultures.
I suppose, due to my acquisition of the cultural sensibility of the English language, I’m inclined to view myself as a global artist who has a provincial concern of the global non-elites, who are deprived of the benefits of cosmopolitan lifestyle. I’m infatuated with people (as the objects of my art, of course) who take perverse interests in neo-Nazism as well as rejected men who are very angry at women. In short, I’m curious about those disfranchised, extremely marginalized people, who are usually deemed as unworthy of public sympathy. It is my aspiration to be an international artist without the multicultural clichés of cosmopolitanism, artist who aims at the politically incorrect.
You work can be seen as quite dark, what inspires you to create these dark subjects?
I just re-watched Cape Fear (1991), directed by Martin Scorsese, who is one of my all-time directors. There is a dialogue in the film that perfectly renders my state of mind. In dealing with the villain played by Robert de Niro, the character named Claude Kersek utters: “No, you’re scared. But that’s okay. I want you to savour that fear. The south evolved in fear; fear of the Indian, fear of the slave, fear of the damn union. The south has a fine tradition of savouring fear.”
Regarding my fascination with the darkness, I, too, wish to “savour the fear” of things that are against me, me as Asian, me as a woman, me as everything I’m not. I sense a strange sense of self-evolvement in absorbing the dark side of human psyche from those who differ from me. I can easily do that because I’m perfectly sure I’m spiritually strong enough not to be lured into the dark. I’m a simple person living a simple life. I just observe the darkness in distance, without judgment but disinterested passion.
Above all, I was raised in a very conservative, middle-class family in Taiwan. I even went to private Catholic middle and high schools during my teens. Surviving in an environment as such, rebellion, the desire to be anything but mainstream, has grown to be deep-wired within me. I prefer to look at the darkness, where great truth lies, because people have kept feeding me sugar-coated “untruth” for my whole life.
Death Becomes Him is a very large and extensive series of yours where you draw men being eaten by a fish, can you explain the inspiration and the meaning behind this and what is the desire to keep drawing famous male figures in this way?
When I was 24, I walked on the streets of San Francisco. I saw a male mermaid toy in a shop. My companion then jokingly explained, “this is called ‘merman’ – gay mermaid.” I wondered why mermaids are regarded as a common form of feminine sensuality, any other association of mermaid with men seems queer, absolutely non-hetero-male.
Years later, this thought popped into my head and it was a whim for me then to come up with my own version of masculine manmaid or manfish. I thought of Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea. I based one picture of my friend from Norway being devoured by a jumping salmon (because salmon is a common fish diet there). Since then, I began to see male heads as flowers while the fish as the vase. Those drawings look like ancient pagan gods (The hybrid of human head and animal body is not rare in various cultural mythologies.), and those men’s got to remain cool, impervious while being eaten by fish. They take it all, just like a man, or to be exact, the man.
Conceptually speaking, I just reverse the cultural logic of patriarchy upon women, who are either deified (goddess on a pedestal) or fetishized (sex toys at men’s disposals), and place this logic upon men, who are now objectified to be my manfish gods in Death Becomes Him. The hunter on the top of food chain is now the hunted at the bottom.
You conduct a lot of research when creating each piece. Can you tell us a little about this process. What has been your most challenging piece to make?
To be candid with you, I’m with Asperger’s Syndrome. I’m inclined to see the world outside the box. I don’t understand why many of my focuses on things are often viewed as unusual by many. It was like a game, in the beginning. I was curious how the images in my head would turn out after I actualized them as illustrations. They have a lot to do with the incidents that take place in my daily life. I used to collect information by gathering people’s intuitive projections of a concept, which I intend to render as a new symbol.
For instance, I read some news about a 16-year-old Australian girl who was forced to wear ostomy bag for life after being coerced into group anal sex by her porn-addicted boyfriend. This news stayed in my head and I genuinely felt sorry for her. I even went to research on the process of wearing and discharging ostomy bags online. I wished to illustrate this event as an image word of its own. I asked many people an odd question: if anal sex has to be an animal, what animal would it be? One of the funniest answers I gathered is ostrich. I had been searching and brainstorming for weeks to think of a creature that embodies the concept of anal sex. I checked many rare species of sea animals. Then I found suckermouth catfish does resemble the shape of an anus. I tried to find pictures of fractured anus, which I was going to draw as the mouth of this fish.
The result is called “The Sodomized Regret”:
In addition to that, I think the most challenging piece is the illustration of Emily Dickinson’s poetry.
This took me weeks to come up with various cultural phenomena to render this poem, “Tell the Truth but tell it slant/Success in Circuit lies/Too bright for our infirm Delight/The truth’s superb delight/As Lighting to Children eased with explanation kind/The truth must dazzle gradually/Or every man be blind.”
I consider this poem perfectly expresses my view about life and art.
You label your work as “organic art” what do you mean by this term and why is it important for your work?
“Organic”, according to The Cambridge English Dictionary, means “not using artificial chemicals in the growing of plants and animals for food and other products” or “being or coming from living plants and animals.”
“Organic food”, according to BBC, is “the product of a farming system which avoids the use of man-made fertilisers, pesticide; growth regulators and livestock feed additives. . .”
To me, “Organic Art” is art free of computerized distortion. Computer programs, in illustrations, are often used to add colours in drawings or erase an accidental stain made by the artist in the process of drawing. Organic art is art that avoids the use of man-made machines and insists on showing an art piece as it is despite the potential flaws.
Furthermore, I do consider my form of “Organic Art” as the antithesis of Andy Warhol. Simply put, I desire to create meanings and stay true to my authenticity in a globalized world devoid of meanings and authenticity, a “transparent society of generalized communication and mass media” (Gianni Vattimo)