"Not A Flower Alone" | Kristen Liu-Wong & Jillian Evelyn
Los Angeles-based artist’s, Kristen Liu-Wong and Jillian Evelyn speak the language of flowers, otherwise known as floriography, in their conjoined exhibit at Corey Helford Gallery. In the heart of DTLA, gallery two showcases “Not A Flower Alone,” in which Kristen and Jillian communicate human experiences through a nonverbal, floral visualization. The vibrant series seeks to intertwine personal anecdotes by expressing themes of connection and heartbreak. In a recent interview, Flaunt spoke with Liu-Wong and Evelyn to discuss the exhibition on view through October 26th.
What aspect of the human experience are you amplifying or exposing through floriography?
Kristen Liu-Wong: My pieces came about in a very organic way, so my approach to using floriography in the work changed as the work developed. Jillian and I began by picking specific flowers that we felt drawn to and then built a piece around that (our thistle and poppy pieces, for example). Eventually, as we continued to work and touch base with each other, we diverged, and our bodies of work developed more independently. I began to use flowers to tell stories that felt specific to what I was going through at the time of the piece’s creation. My water lotus piece was painted after a beautiful day at Echo Park Lake in Los Angeles when I saw their lotuses in full bloom. I created the piece “A Bouquet For My Dear Friend” after a research trip to the floral market with Jillian. We picked flowers together, and I wanted to record the beauty of the bouquet so I decided to make a piece that would become a sort of portrait of friendship; a way to memorialize this moment with my friend and also a way to express the importance and sweetness of friendship within the human experience. When I hit a brick wall for my 9th piece in the series, I made a still life about creating (“Still Life For Calliope”) and my last piece began as a sort reflection on the past since the last piece in a show always feels more significant and makes you a bit contemplative (which was amplified by the fact that my 28th birthday was also approaching at the time of its creation).
Jillian Evelyn: When Kristen and I first decided to explore floriography, I had the intention of creating pieces that reflected human connection. My partner unexpectedly left me right as I started working on this body of work and the feelings that come from a break-up seeped into the paintings. Rather than connection, I ended up exploring the solitary reaction to the meaning of each flower. For example, in "Never Again," a female figure is annoyed by even the presence of Tulips, which represents the declaration of love.
If three flowers matched your most intense moods, what would they be?
KLW: Thistle- misanthropy
Begonia- be cautious, deep thinking
JE: Lavender- Mistrust
Lilac- First Emotions of Love
You take the common symbol of femininity as a flower and warp it into a bizarre and surreal landscape. How did you go about avoiding the cliche that flowers often bring to art and the female form?
KLW: I honestly didn’t worry about it too much. I’ve always liked the idea of “secret” languages or covert communications, so I viewed flowers and the use of floriography through that lens. The idea that you could declare your love, send a death threat, or even express a guilty conscience with a bouquet of flowers was really exciting to me. Instead of viewing flowers as a cliché, I saw and used them to communicate as part of a long-held human tradition, and it was exciting to be able to add my own voice to this very old way of expressing oneself.
JE: I am more interested in the emotions and stories in floriography than I am in using them to represent the female form. Plus, I aim to be a minimalist in my work. There is no need to add another element to represent something that is already there.
Kristen, your pieces contain motifs of dripping and oozing substances: objects slither and gush, in a very feminine and sensual way. What drew you to textures like the dress in “Don’t Bother Me” or the orange spill in “Still Life for Calliope?”
KLW: I am conscious of the sensual quality that wetness, shininess, or dripping fluids can add to an image, so I like to add elements that evoke that sensuality because I enjoy making visually provocative images. The water overflowing, saliva dripping, and sticky lollipop in my pieces “Gushing” are specifically meant to echo the sexual nature of the image.
Jillian, how do you rework the common connotations of Daisies as innocence and Roses as love in your works?
JE: It's all a personal perception - as a dog owner, they're so innocent and if they do misbehave its usually the human's fault for being negligent. As for Roses, they do represent love, and that's why I chose to have the rose to be wilting in "Purpose Served." The female's love was used, and she was no longer wanted.
What was your biggest struggle when creating Not a Flower Alone?
KLW: It was hard to keep up the pace I had to work at to complete everything, while at the same time, not burning out from making work at such a steady pace. I think that’s the struggle a lot of artists face- trying to make good work that challenges you creatively while at the same time satisfying practical needs like time, budget, space restraints, etc.
JE: I like to keep the elements I add in my paintings abstract and don't usually add in objects like flowers. It took me a while to figure out how I wanted to incorporate them into my work.
Now exhibited, is there a new element in your pieces that now makes itself apparent to you, as opposed to when it was in your studio?
KLW: My space is so small. I was never able to look at all my pieces at once together, so I guess the thing that surprised me most when seeing them all exhibited is how much work I actually made for the show! In some ways, seeing this show just makes me feel like I need to do more or be better- I feel like, with this show, I had a taste of what is possible and I want to push that even further now.
JE: When working in the studio, it's easy to see each piece individually, but once all the pieces are together, the mourning of my relationship became very obvious. All of my flowers seem to be wilting.
What was the most rewarding moment you experienced when creating Not a Flower Alone?
KLW: The piece “There Is A Certain Pleasure In Weeping” was very emotionally challenging for me to make, so I felt really good when I completed it, and I actually liked how it came out! It can be difficult for me to make vulnerable work and because of its personal nature, I felt a lot of pressure to make it a piece I was proud of- completing the piece and being happy with it was very rewarding for me.
JE: Being able to create a body of work alongside one of my closest friends. It was really special to take trips to the flower market and arrange bouquets with Kristen.
Do you imagine you’ll ever work with “the language of flowers” again in your future works? How might you approach it differently?
KLW: Although it’s something I may not explore again so directly for a while, I am going to be more mindful of how I use flowers and plants from now on. I like that you can say so much with something as simple as an arrangement of flowers without their meaning being immediately apparent. If I do explore the language of flowers again, I’d love to be able to use that language to somehow build an even more complete world- I want people to feel transported to and completely immersed in a strange, frightening and beautiful paradise when they see the next show… maybe. It’s hard to say because I haven’t made the work yet!
JE: Never say Never! But I don't see myself introducing flowers back in my pieces for a while. It was a challenge that I enjoyed but not necessarily the challenge I feel that I'm looking for at this point. I am more interested in simplifying than complicating my pieces.