Lightspeed Five. Mixed Media on Panel. 24" x 24"
LIZ TRAN's paintings and installations hum with vibrant, synthetic color, hovering between abstraction and representation. The versatility of her visual language—replete with circles, paint drips and swooping, sagging lines—allows the forms themselves to constantly shift meaning. Explosions become flowers. Party streamers become tent tops. Wreathes and beaded necklaces become an expanding and contracting universe. Liz earned a BFA in Painting and Print Art at Cornish College of the Arts (Seattle) in 2002. In 2017, her work was included in exhibitions at The Brain Project (Toronto) and Parlor Gallery(Asbury Park, New Jersey). Also in 2017, her solo show JaWbReAkEr was on view at ZINC contemporary in Seattle. She has been an Artist-in-Residence at Babayan Culture House (Ibrahimpasa, Turkey), Baer Art Center (Hofsos, Iceland), the Association of Icelandic Visual Artists (Reykjavik, Iceland) and Vermont Studio Center with a full fellowship from the Clowes Foundation. In March 2018, her work will be included in Elation Station at Russo Lee Gallery in Portland, and she is working on multiple installation projects across the country. Liz lives and works in Seattle.
OtherPeoplesPixels: A defining element of your work is its multi-coloredness. It’s not just colorful, but rather explosively colorful. What do you love about color? How do you think about color?
Liz Tran: I make paintings that, because of their vibrancy, are extremely difficult to ignore. I love the emotions evoked by color and how the injection of color can completely change the way a space is read, even more so in my installation work. Adding vibrant pattern to monochrome structures and landscapes forces the audience to pay attention to something that would otherwise go unnoticed. I wrote a statement for the Seattle Art Museum Gallery’s Color Excursion exhibition that accurately sums up my feelings on the subject.
“The use of color in my work is an unapologetic form of escapism from the long stretches of grey weather that continually blankets my Pacific Northwest home. Each year my palette of luminous, unnatural hues provides a defiant objection to winter’s approach. Pulsing fluorescent paints massage the naked eye with ultraviolet light, creating an energized glow impervious to dull environments. Maroon does not belong to me. Tubes of brown remain unopened. There is safety in muteness. My paintings speak to extroversion, experimentation and play. Through color, I aim to activate.”
Current. Mixed Media on Canvas. 48" x 60"
OPP: That injection of color into a bleak landscape is present in much of the work you've done during residencies, especially in Iceland, where you've done at least six. What is it about Iceland that kept you returning year after year? How did the environment affect the work you made there?
LT: What draws me to Iceland is the sense of solitude, of being at the edge of the world. The naked shapes of the volcanic landscape create a vastness that leaves space for the mind to wander. There are few trees or structures obstructing the view, which makes it difficult to discern distances. What appears to be a short walk can turn into hours. The hot pots, the steam, the sulfur, the 24 hours of daylight in the summer and the harsh, low angle of the sun in the winter are all things that I can’t experience back home. I could wax poetic about Iceland for hours but, ultimately, the country is very conducive to creativity.
Extreme Boulder Makeover. Completed while in residence at Samband íslenskra myndlistarmanna / Reykjavík
OPP: What is more important in your process: control or surrender?
LT: The process is a constant conversation between control and surrender, push and pull. Surrender is the preferred action (or rather, inaction), where “flow” and intuition lives. However, control must step in occasionally, before things get completely out of hand. It’s not one of my strengths, but without control my work would bleed into complete chaos, which it often does. With the multitude of media and layers I work with, it’s easy to overwork. Quite a few of my paintings are sacrificed to complete surrender and therefore make their way to the burn pile.
Swell. Mixed Media on Panel. 24" x 30"
OPP: The same recurring forms read differently in different paintings. What looks like a planet in one piece is a bauble, ornament or balloon in another. Sagging lines look like party streamers in Last Call but they become tent tops or waves in Swell. To me, this points to the connection between human culture—in the form of decoration and celebration—and the cosmic. Thoughts?
LT: Forms repeat and are re-purposed naturally and intuitively. This is my visual language, developed over decades and just like any language, there is repetition.
Not only does the work refer to the human connection, it refers to interconnectedness. In some ways, I’m reaching for an accurate portrayal of that universal connection, which is completely impossible but keeps me challenged. Interconnectedness IS something to celebrate. We are all in this together.
Big Bang One, 2014. Mixed Media on Panel. 36" x 36"
OPP: What keeps you painting circles in particular?
LT: Circles are the shape of infinity, the world, the moon, the feminine, wholeness, self and to some, God. It’s the shape that comes most naturally to me. I’ve never been drawn to hard edges, geometric forms or angles. Circles leave things up to interpretation.
OPP: About a decade ago, trees, especially with gnarled, curvy branches were recurring images in your paintings. Can you talk about how that body of work shifted into what you are doing now? Was it a slow evolution or an abrupt change?
LT: Although I still love the tree series, it came to the point where I couldn’t push it any further. It was time to move on. I became much more interested in imagery that couldn’t be defined as a particular object. Stripping away the trunk and branches left me with the rich material that I am still exploring today. Taking away the “tree” gave me unlimited possibilities.
From Whence We Came. Mixed Media on Panel. 60" x 144"
OPP: My favorite piece on your website is From Whence We Came. Can you talk about that central void in the composition in relation to the title?
LT: That’s one of my favorites as well. Because of the large scale (60” x 144”), there was automatically a physicality in the making of the piece. The title refers to the place where we all originate, the womb. To a certain extent, I am creating my own womblike environment and celebrating it.
To see more of Liz's work, please visit liztran.com.