Luna Sue Huang, a London based contemporary artist, has honed her craft by intertwining personal narratives, cultural nuances, and feminist ideologies into her artwork. Huang’s pieces, often characterised by an array of colours and emotive figures, resonate with viewers by offering a glimpse into her life, thoughts, and interpretations of societal issues. In a recent interview, Huang delved into her artistic process, inspiration, and the themes she explores through her work.
Kelly Foster – When did you make these recent works?
Luna Sue Huang – Yeah, the most recent one is this one.
KF Can you tell me a little bit about this piece?
LSH I really like the feeling of him trying to touch the cat, but the cat remains untouched. That moment represents if I were to try and touch you. The cat always looks outside the window as if it wants to go out. It’s like a reflection of the relationship. I want to possess you, yet I also want to create my own world. I don’t want to be owned by someone. So I appreciate the subtle emotions and connection in the piece, as well as the sense of freedom as a woman.
KF So, would you say this artwork is a metaphor for human relationships and the emotions involved?
LSH Yes, exactly. There’s a song I really like called ‘Nobody’s Wife,’ which is a feminist song. It’s like saying, ‘I love you, but I won’t be dependent on you.’
KF Okay, so it’s a personal narrative?
LSH Yes, it’s my personal story. But when people see it, they won’t know who that cat was.
KF Was this image based on a photograph, or did you create it from memory?
LSH I used a photograph as a reference.
KF And why do you think this artwork is important? Why did you choose to explore this theme?
LSH In 2023, I’ve been particularly focused on feminist topics and sensitive to related issues. Everything I create revolves around that. This piece, for example, depicts two girls kissing each other and includes a small boat. In China, we have a saying that translates to ‘we are in the same boat.’
KF So, is it about your sexuality as well, or is it more about accepting everyone and supporting women’s rights and gender issues?
LSH Mm, I think it’s both. I’m bisexual, but my love for women is more expansive. It’s about embracing everything, not just focusing on gender. It’s quite interesting.
KF Now, let’s talk about this piece. It’s my favourite from your collection. Can you share the story behind its creation?
LSH Oh, I really love this one too. I have this condition called synesthesia. It’s when my senses get intertwined. Yeah, it’s a fascinating phenomenon. Sometimes, when I touch something, images pop up in front of my eyes. But they’re not always pleasant, so I have to select the better ones. One night, right before falling asleep, I had a vivid image. There was a girl sitting there, looking at me, with another shadow behind her, resembling a guy. Outside the window, I saw birds falling, as if they were dying. I captured that image in my mind, took out my phone, drew a rough sketch, and then drifted back to sleep. That sketch eventually became this painting.
KF So it’s like you’re embracing your subconscious memories or imagination and capturing those fleeting moments?
LSH Yes, exactly. Another aspect I like in my paintings is that many of the people depicted don’t have strong facial expressions. They appear somewhat cold and calm, and it’s hard to discern their true emotions. In my country, people tend to dislike showing their emotions openly. They prefer to keep them hidden inside. So when strong emotions do arise, they don’t scream or shout. They maintain a calm exterior, which may seem strange. But beneath that calmness, there’s a whirlwind of intense emotions that they express silently because they don’t know how else to handle it. So I appreciate that facial expressions in my work reflect this.
KF That’s interesting. It’s like they internalise their emotions and show them in a silent way because they’re unsure how to outwardly express them. They hold a strong emotion inside, and their external demeanour might appear stagnant.
LSH Yes, exactly. That’s one aspect I like—how their facial expressions are all like that. Additionally, I’m drawn to portraying women who are not aware that they are being observed, unlike many female figures in art history who are conscious of being looked at.
KF Ah, so in this painting, she’s existing and gazing at the audience, regardless of their gaze upon her.
LSH Yes, precisely. She’s confronting the viewer in a way. I use this technique intentionally to create that sense of confrontation.
KF It’s like she’s expressing her rebellion through her composed demeanour and direct gaze.
LSH Yes, that’s it. And you notice the shadow behind her? It’s a man’s shadow.
KF Ah, I see. It adds an intriguing dynamic to the piece.
KF The colours in your work are so nice. I love how you mix unexpected colours and incorporate pastels and blues. How do you approach working with different colour palettes?
LSH I find a lot of inspiration from ancient Chinese poetry. They’re incredibly beautiful and require a delicate balance of five-character effects and four tones, similar to a song. In Chinese poetry, we use vivid imagery to express emotions and tell stories. So, that sense of balance is what I strive for in my colour choices. I want all the colours to coexist in the painting but find their own equilibrium. For instance, if there’s a lot of green in one area, I might introduce pink or orange in another area to maintain balance. I want them all to shine and be present, but in different ways. They can be together and have conversations with each other.
KF That’s fascinating. So you’re deliberate in creating a relationship and dialogue between the colours within the painting?
LSH Yes, exactly. I play with colours a lot. If I use yellow in one place, I’ll bring it elsewhere in the painting. If there’s pink here, I’ll introduce pink somewhere else. I love the way Bonnard uses colour, and the colours used in Dunhuang paintings from China. I appreciate how they use various colours in one painting, and they blend together so well. I enjoy incorporating a lot of colour in my own work. I don’t like to hold back. I strive to make it colourful, but not excessively so.
KF Yeah, I really appreciate the way you use colour. Can you tell me about your approach when it comes to referencing ancient techniques or getting inspired by old things versus incorporating new contemporary ideas and artists?
LSH For me, I simply observe and look at everything. I don’t consciously try to use them as references for painting. I spend a long time just looking at them, maybe a year or so. Then, when I go to the art shop to choose paints or pigments, I know what colours I’m looking for. Sometimes, those colours resemble the ones used in Dunhuang or Indian paintings. After spending a long time observing different artworks, I get an idea of what colours I want to incorporate.
KF So you sort of borrow different colours and get inspired by various formal qualities, and then you incorporate them into your work?
LSH Yes, that’s right.
KF And when it comes to your artworks, do they always start from a memory, vision, or emotion? Or do specific stories influence them?
LSH Sometimes, it starts from a memory or a vision. Other times, it’s driven by a specific emotion.
KF So this one is about how the female decides if she wants to have a connection with someone or not. You saw a couple in Lisbon, where the guy was hugging her intensively, but she didn’t push him away. It made you think about how the female’s response in that situation indicates whether she’s willing or not. It made you question how to define that hug.
LSH Yes, exactly. I was confused by it, so I painted this piece. The female’s expression shows that she doesn’t want to be held, but at the same time, she seems to be okay with it. It’s like a mix of conflicting emotions. This confusion led me to explore the topic. There’s also a book about a teacher who raped one of his students. The student tries to escape the pain by brainwashing herself into believing she’s in love with the teacher, allowing him to do whatever he wants. It’s a tragic story, and the author who wrote the book also had severe mental health issues. After finishing the book, she ended up taking her own life. It had a profound impact in Taiwan. It’s a very intense topic that I wanted to address in this painting.
KF Wow, that’s incredibly intense. And what about the other painting?
LSH The other one is called ‘The Bride.’ It’s actually a picture I found in Lisbon at a vintage market. It was a family picture, but for some reason, they didn’t want it and put it up for sale. So I bought it. In the picture, the whole family is there, having dinner and celebrating. But the two couples in the picture were cut out. They’re absent. So I thought it was interesting. It made me reflect on how marriages and relationships can sometimes be so important that they isolate themselves from others. Sometimes it’s just about those two individuals, and all the other people in the picture are cut out. It’s like they built their own castle.
KF That’s a thought-provoking reflection on relationships and marriage. It adds depth to the meaning of the painting. I definitely get the feeling that the onlookers in the painting look blank and somewhat depressed. It’s interesting how you depicted the bride being cut off, as if she’s in a different world and isolated from her past family.
LSH I used to be in a long-term relationship for about five years, and at first, it was great. But towards the end, we isolated ourselves and didn’t socialise with others. It made me feel really isolated, and I realised how dangerous that can be.
KF Yeah, I’ve had a similar experience. Sometimes, we get absorbed in relationships or other people, and we create our own little world that becomes codependent.
LSH Yes, exactly. That’s what I wanted to explore in this painting.
KF So, is it safe to say that most of your work is based on your personal life in some way? Whether its memories, influences, or experiences that evoke certain emotions?
LSH Yes, I think so. My work is often rooted in my own personal life, either through memories or experiences that resonate with me. It’s something I contemplate and reflect upon. Oh, and the little painting you mentioned from the exhibition, let me tell you about that one. I really struggled with it because I couldn’t find the right feeling for it. I was constantly battling within myself. But then one day, my mood shifted, and I felt brave and joyful. It just came out naturally. The person in the painting is walking, looking towards something, moving from one direction to another. That’s the feeling I wanted to capture.
KF Yeah, I love the colours in that painting. It has a fauvist and impressionist vibe, especially in its portrayal of nature. I also noticed that the figure is not depicted in a realistic manner. The colours blend with the environment and the trees, creating a sense of immersion. It’s like the figure’s gender is ambiguous, and it’s more about the body in space rather than a specific identity.
LSH Yes, exactly. I think the figure can effectively convey what I want to express. Sometimes, even if I don’t paint a human figure directly, I see other objects like chairs or shoes as figures because they can embody a human presence. However, I used to be conflicted about painting because I always wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone. I realised that I was often using pink and purplish colours as my safe space. So, to challenge myself, I started incorporating green and other colours. The painting you mentioned was the first one where I pushed myself out of that comfort zone.
Now, I’m exploring the use of blue. I want to avoid restricting myself to one particular style or colour palette. It’s about breaking free from limitations. As for the figure, I know I have a strong inclination toward drawing them. I’ve been drawing figures since I was a child. But I also felt the need to push myself to explore other subjects. I tried drawing various things, but I realised that’s just not my thing. It made me uncomfortable, as if I were speaking a language I didn’t understand. So, I came back to painting figures. Sometimes, I need to challenge myself and step out of my comfort zone, but ultimately, the figure is my thing. That’s where I feel most at home.
KF Yeah, it’s good to experiment and try new things, but you shouldn’t go against what feels true for yourself.
LSH Yeah, definitely.
KF So, how often do you work on your paintings? Do you focus on a specific series or work on one idea at a time?
LSH I usually work on three or four paintings simultaneously, each exploring different things. It keeps me feeling creative and excited. For example, if one painting needs to dry, I can work on another one with a different topic. I enjoy trying different things and working on multiple projects at once. Interestingly, even though they may not have a similar topic initially, I often find that they end up telling the same story after I finish painting them.
KF That’s fascinating. I’ve noticed that you often paint on wood panels. Was that an intentional choice or more of a practicality? What attracts you to that medium?
LSH I think it’s a personal preference. I enjoy the texture of the surface when my brush touches the wood panels. I’m sensitive to touch, so I think that’s the reason I’m drawn to painting on them.
KF I see. It gives your paintings a unique organic feel, with the grain of the wood and the stripes from the paint over the wood. And what about the size? Do you ever plan to paint larger works?
LSH Oh, yes. I’m actually working on two larger pieces right now. I recently prepared rabbit glue and different chalk to make the gesso. I’m also planning to experiment with tempera. I have boxes filled with various materials. I just can’t stop. I get really excited to try different textures and explore new materials. There’s always something new to try, to say, and to express. It’s incredibly thrilling.