Responding to: Caroline Wong

Caroline Wong, Sugar Slump, 2022, oil, pastel, and acrylic on canvas, 122 × 91 cm

Hot pink, and soft. Resting, reclining, a mess of patterns, fluid pulling sections, dappled scattered spots. Tactile, fabrics on female bodies, smooth draping hair, relaxed lips, smiling. All is soft and sweet, kind and comfortable, the familiarity of the closest friendships, the kindest female friendships, the ones that have not, or have not yet, entered that zone of toxic, hostile familiarity. The ones that are still, and hopefully will remain this way, forever clear, translucent, transparent, pleasantly mild. Like cats, Wong’s women are peaceful, placid, nestled, but also, like cats, her women have that sense that this is but a fleeting moment, captured in time, as friendships go, there is always that spark of ferocity and madness, female feline eccentricity and wild-ness, laying in wait, as we are never as peaceful as we think. There is that heat, the heat in the color palette, that hints that there is madness and panic and heat, real heat, just under the surface. It is hot enough now, to be lazy and snug, to drift into a slumber, but the fire could at any point escalate, resulting in being too hot to the touch, too much. Like any strong female friendship, like any romantic relationship, there is the closeness that at one point has the capacity to become this teeming, too-strong thing, this vulnerability to attack, to fury, to panic. It is this zone, this heightened zone, that Wong loves to exist in. It is a panicked, frenzied, manic, too loud, too hot zone, so hot that you feel swayed and comforted and lulled, until you become drenched in sweat, out of breath, smothered rather than swayed, sweltering rather than lulled peacefully. It is a party. You are drunk, you are sick. You are hungry, you are sated, you are over-fed, you are unwell.

You are in her kitchen. It is warm and cozy and hot. It smells good and feels good to be there. Eggs have crashed on the floor, which is gross, but it adds to this feeling of comfort because raw eggs, while gross like a bodily fluid, like snot or pee, making you think also of salmonella, are also goopy and from the woman, beautiful like menstrual blood is, healthy and normal and natural, this comforting deep rich thing that allows one the peace of mind to know that their body is healthy and whole and fertile, not pregnant, safe. Her robe is so deep dark rich red and luxurious, these feathery boa-type hems pooling on the floor, in the raw egg yolk goop, like an octopus. She wears these thick plastic kitchen gloves like condoms, big and rubbery, holding a wine bottle and cigarette, you can’t help but feel that this all signals pleasure. Wine and a cigarette, held in encased latex hands. It feels good, and comfortable, and pleasurable. You could eat, drink, smoke, rest. Wong wants you to be there.

Alisa in the Kitchen, 2020, oil and acrylic on canvas, 190 × 180 cm

Arms akimbo, mouths agape, out-stretched, open, about to envelope delicious rice balls in lips, soft and chewy and delicate, little dumplings of flesh and tissue. The tangyuan, eaten at gatherings to celebrate harmony and togetherness, because of its smooth round shape, is consumed here by three sisters. The pink is perfect, and the yellow and the green, that hint of something electric in all of them, that subtle neon-hyper-glow, imbuing the scene with a frenetic, too-much feel. It is inescapable, the feeling of sensuality, but it is also clear how human and of-this-body eating is. The cheeks are flushed and alive, vivid with color, warm and pink and splashed with the light of some overhead heated kitchen light, glowing and illuminating the women, their toned slender muscular beautiful arms and soft royal blue blouses and bright orange tartan green frocks. The blue porcelain china bowl soft and smooth, texturally so comforting, so silky, the perfect vessel for the feast.

Tangyuan (Pink), 2022, oil, oil pastel, and acrylic on canvas, 91 × 122 cm

At this weird camera-type askew angle, bringing to mind early Instagram when we as teenagers all turned our phones a little to the side to make our worlds look more dynamic, more party, more chaos. The cat looks mad, angry green eyes, its silky blue-black fur awash with the same pinky orangey salmon light that the walls and floor are also bathed in. There is food and paint and shit all over the floor, over the coffee table, on the sofa.

Veronica, 2022, oil, oil pastel, and acrylic on canvas, 127 × 101 cm

Looking directly at you, you feel that there is something in her eyes, the awareness that you are watching her, as she eats, as she stuffs her mouth with a giant wad of something, anything, food-stuff. She casts her eyes a little bit to the side, as if there is a hint of shame, a hint of ambivalence. Is it OK that I am eating like this, so shamelessly, in front of this person? Is this OK? Am I embarrassed? Scratches and smudges of pink and bright blue and soft pale dove grey, bask the whole work in an aroma of warmth, comfort, like steam.

Untitled, 2022, oil, oil pastel, and acrylic on canvas board, 25 × 20 cm

Smoother than the rest, silkier, more painter-like in its brush-stroke, less choppy, less rough. You see Wong’s method in this work, of painting from a photograph. This is the kind of photograph that one likes of oneself. Her eyes look down, eyelashes brushing her cheeks, her face gentle and pretty, candid, the kind of photograph that flatters, that makes one feel delicate and seen, the way that they would like others to see them, a little bit gentle and a little bit blurred. Like a swift glance in a far away mirror. Resting elegantly on bent, tucked knees, a traditionally-designated-feminine pose. Not in the act of eating. This is the face that we put towards the world, the one that it is accepted, allowed.

Betty, 2021, oil, oil pastel, and acrylic on canvas, 122 × 91 cm

Books on French photographer Bettina Rheims and Chinese artist Shen Ling make an appearance, along with Wong. Wong, too, is an artist, and also in this work. She eats, bent over, on all knees, placing an orange slice or mango piece into her mouth, crawling, smiling, looking aside at someone else, something else, out of frame. She is caught in motion, being silly, being playful, luxuriating in her own un-self-consciousness. The fabrics are more splashes of colors and patterns, impressions, feelings of fabric more than fabric itself, blankets that read as being furiously swept aside and overturned and pushed around, in motion, the painting itself not still at all. She wears a tulle party skirt and a fancy top, earrings, and her hair done. It is a party, something fun, an occasion, something to dress up for, a feast, a gathering, a special moment. She celebrates the food, the company, the mood and pleasantness it all evokes. The colors are marigold and cobalt blue, screaming against each other, loudly, with red.

Marigold Orange, 2022, oil, oil pastel, and acrylic on canvas, 122 × 152 cm

They look good. They are posing, consciously. They know that they look good. One smiles with her eyes, direct at the camera, the viewer, knowing that she looks pretty, flirty, cute. Another, possibly Wong, tilts her head back and outstretches an arm, a conscious, flattering pose. Another looks down, aware but unsure, choosing to look down to appear ‘pretty’ aka, soft or feminine in a traditional sense. Bare feet touch the foods, the platters of oysters and vegetables and meats. Bare hands hold drooping, messy bunches of food, dripping, sliding out of the hand’s grasp.

By Amelia Wilson

Xian Wei (Umami), 2022, oil, oil pastel, and acrylic on canvas, 145 × 180 cm