Storybook Magic: The Art of Tiffany Liu
Sugar and Spice and everything nice, that's what Tiffany Liu's art is made of. Or is it? As a self professed exemplar of the 'peter pan syndrome', Tiffany Liu instantly seduces with her vision of a lolipop world filled with candy colored hues, precocious nymphs, and enchanted forests. Look beyond the surface of her paintings and you'll soon realize there's deeper meaning delicately woven into the storybook magic. Tiffany weaves a fairytale tapestry where everything isn't quite as it seems and classic myths and fables are given a modern twist. Though child-like at first glance, her work is never childish, ensuring that there's a sense of balance and order in her worlds where the sweet wouldn't be as sweet without the sour.
As one of the participating artists in Industrial Squid's upcoming group show I Believe in Unicorns at WWA gallery, I wanted to take the opportunity to learn more about Tiffany and her artwork and what makes her 'tick'.
Platinum Cheese (PC): When hearing about the theme for I Believe in Unicorns, what was your initial reaction?
Tiffany Liu (TL): My initial reaction was of great enthusiasm. Yes, a show about magic, right up my alley! At a time like this where the world is focused on so many unpleasant topics, its really refreshing to have the opportunity to escape reality for a little while.
PC: Do you believe in unicorns?
TL: I believe in what they stand for. I don't think I will see one walking down the street any time soon, but I see them when I dream.
PC: Your paintings project a storybook quality with precocious child nymphs and adorable little forest creatures. Were there any children's books you read as a young girl that influenced your style?
TL: I am greatly influenced by Alice in Wonderland. I think the core idea of the story, rather than any specific scene was my biggest influence. For me, the idea was just that there was this girl that had a second life and a second chance to interpret her reality for whatever rules or lack of them there were. I have always been a big dreamer. Even before I knew of Alice and Wonderland my head was in the clouds day dreaming and night dreaming of places, stories and creatures I'd meet and have adventures with. So meeting Alice for the first time in story books was like meeting another me. As I progressed as an artist, I tried many things, but the one thing that stuck out, that really felt like me, was being able to create with the freedom that I have through the voice of a child. Children are probably some of the most imaginative beings on earth. I would be honored to look through any child's eyes and see what they see. It must be an amazing experience to be able to be the first to define what a thing is before the thing is given a name or definition by another.
PC: Amidst the candy color palette and fairy tale landscapes danger is always near, whether it's an axe used to sever a head as with 'The Unicorn's New Head' or a ride with death as in 'You Can Take it with You'. Is this an homage to The Brother's Grimm- telling a moral that not everything is as it seems?
TL: I love Brother's Grimm stories and they probably have had an influence on me, but I don't think I'm necessarily trying to consciously pay homage to them in my work. Things aren't what they seem in my paintings not because I have a set of rules of what is right or wrong in the world, but more so that things just happen and sometimes they are "good" and sometimes they are "bad". I actually like the idea that there may not be a very good explanation for anything. Though childlike at times, my work is really a reflection of life and the questions and ideas that I have about it, which often draws parallels between the good and bad. I often use color to skew the viewers initial perception of the piece.
PC: What's the moral for 'The Unicorn's New Head'? Is there a moral or message at play?
TL: The closest moral or message I have as an explanation is that no matter what happens to magic, it will always grow and flourish.
PC: For 'A Song for the Siren' there's a bit of a role reversal at play. According to Legend, Sirens or Mermaids used their majestic voices to lure in sailors to their untimely dooms. However, in your painting it seems a human female is engaging the seduciton, to a Merman no less. Does this scenario entail any of your personal beliefs on modern day gender roles?
TL: Yes, I like the idea of switched gender roles. In many legends of the past, women were often the objects of great tales and mystical mysteries. My explanation on that account would be that in the old days men were often the ones that were adventurers and also the ones that told the stories. Especially now that gender roles have changed, I see it only fit that legends would also follow that trend.
PC: In looking at your work, one can't help but notice the repeated use of ghosts or spirits that often emerge from or around trees. Chinese folklore call these supernatural beings Guǐ Shù and are believed to confuse travellers by appearing in random locations, especially in forests. Is this an homage to Chinese folklore or is this an invention unique to the world you've created?
TL: I actually didn't know that folklore! Thanks for letting me know! The ghosts in my paintings often don't know what they are doing in my paintings. They appear and reappear as an element that I feel is always around us as either a real ghost or just a memory of what once was.
PC: Was anyone else in your family an artist and did they encourage your artistic talent?
TL: My mom and dad are artists. My mom studied at a reputable art college in Taiwan and my dad was self taught. When they came to America they opened art galleries and art schools in which I spent most of my life in. So their was no question of what I would be when I grew up. It was just a natural thing that happened. They encouraged me to be an artist, but they were also very critical of what kind of artist I was.
PC: Which contemporary artists do you most admire and/or are inspired by?
TL: I am inspired by many many artists more so in their passion as artists than anything. I love the Clayton Brothers, Todd Schorr, James Jean, etc.. I can't really pick a contemporary that I love the most. One of my greatest influences in art was actually Rene Magritte. When I saw his work it really hit me! At the time I was thinking, wow here is an artist that makes art work that not only makes me remember the asthetic, but also the idea.
PC: If I were to spend the day with Tiffany, what could I expect?
TL: Complete and utter randomness. You'd probably be confused a lot. I would probably talk your head off too.
PC: What's the one thing you can't live without?
TL: Well thats a hard one to answer cause I am greedy as sin! I would have to say I would have a really hard time living without being able to be creative. It makes me happy and without it I feel empty. If I could name another it would be sugar, but thats for another interview.
PC: The one thing you can't live with?
TL: I can't live in a world where I'm not allowed to think outloud.
PC: What are you creating at the moment?
TL: I have fallen in love again with drawing and sketching. I am currently working on a piece for an upcoming Group Show called Sweet Streets II.
PC: What's on the horizon for Tiffany?
TL: Well, I do have a show in London in 2012 and an avalanche of other group shows. Also, I am working on ideas for a children's book I want to make. Followed by toys that I'd love to produce from the story.
To learn more about Tiffany and her art, visit http://www.tiffanyliu.com/.