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The Sexiest Thing

An interview with Cary Kwok

Cary Kwok and Alexandra Olczak

29 Sep 2016
An interview with ICA Allied Editions artist Cary Kwok.

Cary Kwok (born 1975 in Hong Kong) is known for his funny, unsettling works depicting men ejaculating. Having produced his first edition for the ICA following the group exhibition Keep Your Timber Limber (Works on Paper) (19 June - 8 September 2013), we invited Cary Kwok to launch our 70th anniversary editions collection.

ICA Sales Advisor for Editions, Alexandra Olczak, caught up with Cary to discuss his new three colour silkscreen print Cum To Barber (Orgasmic Yellow 1970s).

What first prompted you to become an artist? Which other artists or artworks influenced you?

I think I stumbled into it. I never originally intended to become an artist. I studied fashion design at college and I wanted to be a fashion or shoe designer – I did work as a shoe designer for a short time. I’ve always been fascinated and influenced by a lot of things, not only artists or artworks. Fashion is one of my passions, so naturally I often draw my inspirations from clothes and styles (mostly from the past), but at the same time I love a lot of other things too. I see beauty in a lot of things, even things that are often overlooked. I love architecture, not that I’m an expert in any sense, but it inspires me a great deal. The way I dress, my work and my aesthetics are heavily inspired by previous eras and ethnic costumes. I love films too. I often draw my inspirations from popular culture.

I see beauty in a lot of things, even things that are often overlooked.

Sex and the male form are recurring concerns in your work - your Cum to Barber series typically features portraits of men at the peak of orgasm. What motivated you to explore this in your work? Do you hope to challenge conventional expectations of how art should depict sex and sexuality?

I enjoy making erotic work. To witness male ejaculation is the sexiest thing. I want to capture and freeze this fleeting moment of the masculine, vulnerable and pleasurable experience in detail. I don’t always have to spell everything out: seeing a man’s orgasmic face is already incredibly erotic. A man’s jet of semen flying out and landing on his own chest is fascinating. Ejaculation scenes in porn films are one of my favourite things to watch. A lot of my work has elements of racial, sexual and gender equality to it. My subjects are things that inspire me. I guess I try to get my philosophy across to the viewers through my work. I often make a point of the differences and samenesses between people of different ethnicities and cultures through my drawings, whether depicting fashion or sex.

Living in the UK and Europe as a non-white member of an ethnic minority has given me an opportunity to see myself in a different light and made me a lot more aware of the culture I come from. It kind of made me feel somewhat responsible for behaving well in order to represent people from that part of the world, and it taught me to appreciate both my own culture and the differences of others. Despite my positive experiences, the impact of some of the negative experiences regarding race and culture from living in the West as an “ethnic” person have left a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth, but they have also inspired me to become a person who is happy to accept other people’s differences. I celebrate these differences through my work and with a sense of humour, I hope.

The male protagonist in Cum to Barber (Orgasmic Yellow 1970s) features a dazzling yellow hairstyle and can be considered a lot less sexually explicit than some of your previous works – what motivated you to create this more stripped back composition? Does the colour choice hold certain significance?

My Cum to Barber series isn’t that explicit. Most of the drawings from this series are head and shoulders portraits of men having an orgasm. The penis is not often shown. I guess maybe Cum To Barber (Orgasmic Yellow 1970s) is even less explicit because you don’t even see the semen being shot out like you do in my other Cum to Barber drawings. The more stripped back composition is a new thing I’ve been working on, but the modesty in this particular print was suggested by the ICA. So I thought I’d try and take out the semen. And it worked nicely for the print with the composition and the colour. It’s more suggestive. In my head I have certain colours that I associate with different periods of history. Sometimes they probably don’t make sense to other people, but they do to me. I don’t know how to explain it.

The way that London accommodates differences, compared to some of the other places I know, offers you the space to think and create.

You once said that London offers the space for creative self-expression you sought when living in Hong Kong. How did the experience of living in these different contexts shape or inform your work?

In general, I think most people here in London are relatively open-minded. People are immune to differences in London. Even when they’re shocked they’d pretend that they’re not. I’m not saying that working as an artist in London doesn’t have its limitations or problems. There are hurdles you have to face anywhere you go in the world. Not that I should care too much about what people think of me, but the way that London accommodates differences, compared to some of the other places I know, offers you the space to think and create. To an artist, this is a positive thing.

Hong Kong with its diversity could have great potential to become a more all-rounded city like New York, but it's bit too money/business-orientated. Creativity is not discouraged, but it's definitely not encouraged either.  If you really dig deep you do find interesting stuff but what I find suffocating about living in a place like Hong Kong is that it is a conformist society, and people in general are proud of the city’s conformism. It doesn’t happily agree to let you be. This is just my opinion from my own experiences.

What has been your favourite exhibition here at the ICA? What does it mean to you to participate in our 70th anniversary celebrations?

All of them, especially Keep Your Timber Limber curated by Sarah McCrory of course! I am very honoured and thrilled to be invited to participate in the ICA's 70th anniversary celebrations. Everyone is so amazing and so welcoming. ■

To celebrate our 70th anniversary this year, we are excited to issue a selection of limited artists’ editions by some of today's most exciting contemporary artists. We are delighted to share in our anniversary celebrations with these extraordinary artists, who will each make a special contribution to our history with these works, exclusive to the ICA. Each edition will be launched individually throughout the year with all proceeds directly supporting the ICA’s programme.

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