Artist Series: Kris Chau

Jul 12, 2019

Kris Chau is an artist based in Los Angeles, California. We’ve been a fan of her work for a while now, but our collaboration came together organically when she became a regular at our Arts District Cafe. Kris and Richard, one of our cafe managers, bonded over their shared love of overalls, and from that point on she was part of the crew.

STUMPTOWN: Kris! What’s your LA story?

KRIS: I’ve been in LA for 7ish years - I was in Philly for 10 years prior. In a past life I was a clothing designer, and my company moved me out here to be closer to Asian markets and LA factories. One day I just quit. Became an artist full-time. Figured I was just old enough and just young enough to make a bold leap that wouldn’t break me.

STUMPTOWN: Can you tell us a bit about your practice?

KRIS: I work in my studio and make rare outings. I almost feel like it’s a form of being a monk. Very monastic. And by people supporting this monk life - it makes me feel like I have to make artistic decisions on the purest platform. If the good feeling gets compromised, I know it doesn’t matter how much money I make. It’s like a meditation on being a human in the most real way. When I’m designing something, like in this instance for a mug and tote, it’s so much more than transactional; It’s a mutual translation of someone’s language and thoughts. Like an expression of feelings that you couldn’t express until you could see it in pictures. Art moves us and records us in our humanity. And whenever I talk about art, I really like to encourage people to go out and find art that they love. It doesn’t have to be this untouchable thing. Go buy a zine, a print, anything that supports someone’s artistic language. Support your local people!

STUMPTOWN: You’re definitely an interdisciplinary artist. You’ve done van murals, tapestries, tattoos, and even sound sketches? What are the sound sketches like?

KRIS: When my partner and I first started dating, he would send me songs and I would paint them. That was the first phase. At this point the sound sketches have turned into an actual band. We’re called Monde UFO. Music is just such a different practice and shared form - when I’m drawing and painting I’m totally alone. You create alone in a studio, and no one sees the process but you. In this form of creation you get to view someone’s experience with it, their reaction, maybe just once, like at a gallery opening. You don’t get to continually watch people walk past wherever this painting will end up living. You release it into the wild. Making music in contrast is so vulnerable - you’re continuously opening up in front of not only your bandmates but also the people listening, and it’s this perpetual unravelling and sharing of an experience. Both are super cool.

STUMPTOWN: Do you have any shows coming up?

KRIS: Yeah! One at Monster Children in October.

STUMPTOWN: How do you get in to the groove of a new project?

KRIS: I need coffee to feel myself - seriously. I have one cup in the morning, one cup in the afternoon. Sometimes for a break I’ll go out to the Arts District Stumptown - that’s my spot. I never get coffee to go, though. I see it like a small celebration. Having a porcelain cup in my hands is a special feeling. If I’m in the studio I can’t tell you how many times I’ve accidentally dipped my paintbrush in to my mug, or picked up my paint water thinking it was coffee.

I actually grew up with coffee in a big way. My parents are refugees from Vietnam, and Vietnamese coffee culture is very real. When I was 4 or 5 I remember my parents started giving me little sips of iced coffee. For a long time I even thought that Vietnamese coffee ice cream was the only kind you could buy from the grocery store. My dad didn’t cook much, but he was always in charge of coffee. It was his father-daughter ritual with me - he’d always give me a little baby coffee full of condensed milk and ice. Even now when I go home he makes me a little one.

STUMPTOWN: It seems like this sense of history and continuing tradition flows through into your work.

KRIS: Totally. I’m very much an analogue girl, and my work stems a lot from indigenous and American folk art. Mythologies transcribed by Joseph Campbell and the work of Yayoi Kusama play a big influence, too. The horse on the tote bag, for instance, is definitely inspired by her 1968 film, Self Obliteration. Essentially, the art I make is really just trying to show that we’re all one. I want to create a language that everyone can feel something from. The design on the mug has these flowers that cross over each other. That image is derived from a folk art family tree with roots from the late 1800s. It stems from immigrating families and represents two different lineages overlapping each other and creating unity. It says “listen to hear, look to see.” A lot of people think listening is a passive activity, but it’s not. To really listen to another being you need to make eye contact and truly see the other party. Inside the center of each flower are different aspects of the moon’s phases. Little mysticism for ya.

Find our collaboration with Kris in our cafes and online.