Palettes That Pop: Interview With Caroline Liu

Born + Raised, acrylic on wood (tap handles for Goose Island), 36″ x 36″, 2019.

I discovered Caroline Liu via recommendation from AMFM’s Ciera McKissick, who I interviewed for a different piece in this issue. At first, I was only looking for a an artist to feature for this issue’s front cover, but when I looked more into Caroline’s instagram, I was impressed enough to reach out to her for a Q&A. Caroline’s art has wonderful versatility in depicting movement, expression, and gesture in her subjects, and her trademark color palette makes everything consistent and uniquely her own. Aside from commercial success in Chicago’s gallery and mural scene (plus an operating CTA train car covered in her art), her roots and ties to this DIY community made her the perfect candidate to be featured in the Sick Muse. I talked with Caroline all about the inspiration and process behind her colorful paintings and murals.


How did you end up in the Chicago art scene?

I moved to Chicago in 2013 from Albuquerque, New Mexico and I went to as many art shows as possible. I completely immersed myself and continued to make paintings throughout the years. I showed at a handful of galleries, but it wasn’t until mid 2016 when I hit my stride and really made an art family and community here. That’s when everything started to align and propel my work into big exciting projects.

What binds us together, mural at AMFM Gallery, 72” x 120”, 2018

What were some of the influences that helped you develop the subject matter and color palette of your paintings?

My work is always highly personal so I always look inwards to help inform my subject matter and color palette. I paint my vulnerabilities through both self portraits and portraits of loved ones. For me, grief is best expressed in brightly colored, vibrant, and bold glittery moments. It is loud and makes itself known and heard. So my color palette stems from my 3 favorite colors- pink, yellow, and turquoise. I definitely think that living in Albuquerque for so long shaped the colors that I use in my work. There is a vibrancy of that place that lives on in me.

Do you have any rituals or tricks to help get yourself into a creative flow?

Being outside in nature always centers myself and allows me to dig deep into my vulnerable feelings. My work really talks about finding your voice, your pain, and your inner joy all wrapped together in both the real world and your dream state- so sitting alone in nature and freeing my mind before the vast greatness around me…just brings me to a state of absolute understanding and creativity.

But being in a city is quite difficult to find mountains or just plain solitude, so I find my respite in the night. I tend to start working around 10pm and go until sunrise. I rest during the day with the sun shining on me (like a cat haha) and it fuels me. The night is so peaceful and quiet. There is definitely a unique silence in a city that is asleep.

What’s the most surprising thing about yourself that your fans might not know about?

I used to talk more about this, but as the years progressed it slowly became less and less about the experience and more about the ripple effects. I had a pretty severe concussion in 2012 and a minor one in 2013 that left me with a lot of short term memory problems. (I’m basically Dory the fish haha) My work speaks on the effects of my memory loss through creating visual narratives that investigate themes of identity, loss, and dream like states of reality. I think the most surprising part of all of this is how I still create work. There’s a boatload of ideas that come and go throughout the year. So many journal entries and sketchbooks and written notes and partial paintings and photographs that I have no idea what they mean or when I made them. It’s so weird sometimes having a big part of your life that feels like it was written by a ghost.

Collective Effervescence, acrylic and faux flowers on canvas, 148” x 72”, 2016

What’s your favorite kind of paint to work with?

My one true love is oil paints, but for time sake I mostly use house paint! It’s really nice being able to use the same custom colors for multiple works and the consistency… takes some time getting used to at first because it can be thick and goopy… but it’s perfect for how I layer colors and patterns over large stretches of canvas.

What are some goals for the future of your art career?

I really want to bridge the gap between the more conservative art gallery world and the more commercial brand and mural world. It takes a lot of time and energy to spread myself so thin for both worlds, but I personally love creating a bunch of different things at once and multi-tasking myself into temporary exhaustion. I live and breathe for it.

I’d love to collaborate more on bigger mural projects with different artists. Working with and learning from another artistic soul just brings so much inner joy to myself as a person and the work that I create.

If I pretend hard enough in the summertime, acrylic on canvas, 12” x 12”, 2018

What advice would you give to more amateur visual artists trying to expand their audience?

Just keep being authentically you and make work that feels right to you and only you. That’s the only thing that matters. Listen to your inner voice. Make work truly for yourself and people will recognize that. If you make work for people or try to feed the instagram algorithm beast- your soul will suffer and so will your work. It may take time, but it’s worth it. Also- go to a lot of art openings. Talk to other artists. Make artist friends. Connect with artists you like on the instagram. Just build that art community around you.

Website: CarolineLiu.com
IG: catsandart

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