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Mindy Kang
Forgotten Barriers

oil on canvas
24″ x 36″

USA

Clara Lieu, RISD Adjunct Professor

Clara Lieu

Art Prof & Partner

Alex Rowe, Illustrator & Children's Book Artist

Alex Rowe

Teaching Assistant
Illustrator & Children’s Book Artist

Lauryn Welch, Painter & Performance Artist

Lauryn Welch

Teaching Assistant
Painter & Performance Artist

Artist Statement
“This piece is part of an ongoing series of paintings about the current debate of whether transgender individuals should be allowed to use the restroom of their preferred gender. This issue really piqued my curiosity because it questioned and pushed the boundaries of society’s current definition of equality.

In this piece, I placed the toilet within the row of urinals so that although the toilet seemed displaced in comparison to the urinals, it still followed the line of the urinals and seemed somewhat natural. I also tried to create this piece so that its perspective on the transgender issue is not only very intimate but unbiased and ambiguous. The ambiguity allows each viewer to have their own interpretation of it based on their personal life experiences and opinions of the issue.”

Video transcript

Prof Lieu: “I think this is a really complex painting. I think first of all, there’s so many things going on spatially, like for example the linear perspective in the tiles on the floor pushing us backwards, really giving us that sense of depth.

You have the row of the urinals, you have the toilet that’s in the middle, and they’re all beautifully painted. I mean, you really can distinguish what’s the ceramic surface, what’s a metallic surface,  I mean there’s just no doubt about what anything is.

Alex: I think that kind of thing is the lighting mostly for me that takes this piece to the next level because it’s such believable lighting for the scene, that very kind of muted, cold, white light found in that bathroom setting is so believable.

Lauryn: It’s very specific to bathrooms.

Alex:  And I see that and I read it really well and ,like, also them using that, the warm shadows for the cool light, like it just helps to make the space more and more believable.

Prof Lieu:  Yeah and it really has a kind of sterile, kind of stark atmosphere. Like it’s a really unfriendly space, which I think most public bathrooms are, is it’s not really a place you want to linger, you know?

Lauryn:  You’re just in and out.

Prof Lieu: I think the artist has really captured that beautifully, like that little hint of yellow that’s on the wall i think is terrific!

Lauryn:  Yeah, that is just  because you don’t notice it at first!

Prof Lieu: You don’t! It’s subtle.

Lauryn  And then you’re looking and you’re looking and then like wow there actually is a shift between warm and cool tones in this.

Prof Lieu: There is, and I think a lot of people might look at that scene and say ‘oh it’s black and white I’m just going to use black paint and white paint and just be done with it,’  but I think this artist really took the time to kind of seek out those colors, to find those subtleties, I think that’s not really well done.

Lauryn: I’m having a bit of trouble with that wall, about what that wall is doing because the urinal sits so nicely on it for the most part, but then that toilet is acting as if there’s no wall there, that if it’s just extra space-

Prof Lieu:  You don’t think the toilet’s attached to a wall?

Lauryn: It doesn’t feel like it’s attached to the wall, it makes the wall seem like it’s a void because the toilet feel like going off the tile there and into the wall.

Prof Lieu:  I feel like the toilet’s floating a little bit, like there’s this funny shadow underneath it and I just kind of feel like there’s a little space between the floor and the toilet, and so I think that’s a little awkward because the way the painting is done, it’s really rooted in reality,  and so we kind of expect things to be done a certain way, so to have like a thing that’s floating that shouldn’t be floating seems really out of place for a piece like this.

Alex:  And more so like the structure of it like, the urinals are painted with such care of attention to the details and the system of how they were-

Lauryn: like a shy knowledge~

Alex: Oh it’s beautiful and all like, it’s very realistically done for that, whereas the toilet some of it seems to be like cutting corners, which is troubling because the toilet being there is that like, that unique point with this piece.

Lauryn: That’s the centerpiece, that’s where the gravity is.

Alex:  Yeah, you’ve got to really like pay attention to some of that.

Prof Lieu:  Right, and I mean I think in terms of subject matter, the toilet is really kind of the disruption because, you know, I think most people, when they go into a public bathroom, if it’s a male bathroom you’ll see urinals in a line, but in this painting, all the sudden, there’s a toilet in the middle where it shouldn’t be.

Lauryn: Well in the male bathrooms too, like they will have toilets but then they have the stalls around.

Prof Lieu:  Yeah that’s the difference.

Lauryn:  You usually never even see the toilet unless you’re sitting on it, but here it’s just like-

Prof Lieu: wide open

Lauryn: yeah, wide open, it’s very vulnerable and making me feel a little, like uncomfortable.

Prof Lieu: Well, I think I mean in some ways that’s a good thing, because it tells you that something is not right with this image. The thing is, reading the artist statement about how this piece is about the political issue about transgender people, whether or not they can use certain bathrooms or not, I think becomes very ambiguous.

For me, the piece is kind of confusing in terms of the subject matter because I feel like the painting is more about privacy than it is about the transgender issue and the bathrooms, because O feel like you said, seeing that toilet totally exposed makes you uncomfortable, but it doesn’t lead me to think about the transgender issue with the bathroom use.

Lauryn: Right, toilets aren’t really like, it seems the implication here is that like the toilet is the like female counterpart, but in reality like we have toilets in our homes, it’s unisex everybody uses the toilets, whereas urinals are in like more public spaces.

Alex: So let’s bring up that, like, great point with pieces of like we are receiving this interpretation that is not the artist’s initial intent, and how can they tweak that concept to be more bold with their initial plan because i think it’s being misinterpreted as to what the real meaning of the toilet amongst the urinal wall is.

Prof Lieu:  Right, and I think everybody can kind of bring their own interpretation to a piece, but I think you got to be in the same ballpark, you know? If your intent is this, and people think it’s this, that’s not so great, like you can have kind of slight subtle differences but I think this is kind of so far removed that I have trouble connecting the artist statement with the image.

So I mean I think what I would recommend is to think more carefully about taking a real stance on the political issue, whatever the issue is whether you are against it or for it, whatever your perspective is, I don’t think it works to say ‘leave it up to the viewer, they can interpret it however they want’ because this is a really charged political issue.

It’s not a kind of like minor thing it’s like if you were to do a piece about a charged issue like abortion and say ‘well, you can just interpret it however you want,’ but you can’t. There’s people who are pro-life and people who are pro-choice, and I think as an artist, you really aren’t giving an opinion.

You’re not just saying ‘here it is,’you need to tell people what you think about it, and I know that’s very nerve-wracking to come out and take a political stance.

Lauryn: Yeah, it’s a scary thing,  especially with this with transgender issue, I mean it’s such a hot button topic right now. You could be really afraid to get, you know, people not agreeing with your opinion, and that’s definitely something to contend with, you know as an artist, because it’s bound to come up at some point in your career, so this is a good place to start, it’s a good attempt to, like, ‘okay I’m going to do political artwork or things that are related in society today,’but you got to work your way up there to, you know, really showing your viewpoint.

Prof Lieu: Well I think it’s kind of… I just sort of feel like the artist is kind of leaving it up to us to make the artwork whatever we want it to be-

Lauryn: We’re not supposed to do the legwork.

Prof Lieu: -yeah but I don’t think that’s really the case, I think the artist has to kind of give us something so we can kind of think about it, why they think that whatever their point of view is, and you know what I’ve seen sometimes my own experience, is sometimes I’ve seen political artwork that is against what I personally believe, but I look at that artwork and I think ‘okay that’s getting me to think about another point of view of this issue’ I don’t agree with it-

Lauryn: But that’s the beauty of art!

Lauryn: One biggest reasons to make art is to show a viewpoint that someone otherwise wouldn’t consider in their daily  life.

Prof Lieu: Right, yeah

Alex: And in a way yeah, the same style of thinking, whether it’s a heavily charged political issue or not, the rule still applies, like you want to have a concept that’s bold and exciting and new and bringing something else to the table, and especially in confronting an issue that is a hot topic, you want to be bold with your expression of it and maybe make people think about things in a new way, like and that’s that opportunity that you have with making art.

And you know it’s easy to think of early art as just a thousand paintings of Madonna and Child, but really even early artists did political issues. Like Raphaelle Peale was an early American artist who did Venus rising from the bath, where in painting a trompe l’oeil  handkerchief over the nude figure, he kind of confronted the ideas of the time about censoring nudity and art, and it’s a really great example of some early political action in art.

Prof Lieu: I would just say just be decisive, like if you’re going to take an image and talk about some political issue, you have to just tell us what you think because I just find as a viewer looking at this painting I’m just confused, i mean i’m confused. I thought it was about privacy and all that, and then I look at the artist statement, i still am confused. So I think it’s just no matter what it is you’re doing, you gotta really get there right away, you can’t just like beat around the bush and be like well it could be this or it could be that, it doesn’t work that way.

Lauryn: No, not room to be coy!

Prof Lieu: But on the other hand, I really admire that this artist is tackling such a difficult subject. I mean,  such a complex issue right now, and as obviously a lot of people are very worked up about it for good reason, and I think that’s really gutsy that this artist is doing work like this because you know what if you paint flowers, people don’t get worked up about flowers.

Nobody gets upset about a bunch of pears, like that artwork is by comparison kind of easier, you know? It doesn’t- All right, I meant to say that,  I had that totally planned.

But no people don’t get politically worked up about a still-life painting, but a painting like this that is tackling something, like that people do get worked up, and so I do admire this artist for doing that.

Alex:  And it’s in no way like a failure that it doesn’t really drive forward that point because getting concepts and ideas behind your piece, that takes just as much practice as the technique of actually applying the paint, you know? That’s a skill that you as an artist have to grow with as well.

Prof Lieu: You mean the development of the idea?

Alex: Exactly, and that’s something we’re like, even like, looking years back not only can you look back at old paintings like ‘like oh wow that was a terrible technical painting,’ but also, ‘my idea was just goofy,’ and then as you grow and mature as an artist, then you start to identify like what your point of view you have is, and how you want your piece to convey your message to the viewer.

Lauryn:  I think sometimes in terms of developing content and working on issues like this one, where you want to develop a stance but don’t know quite how to get there and your own voice.

Think techniques that really helps or that helped for me is writing, like taking some time and writing about it, like just write how you feel about,like, transgender bathrooms, and you don’t have to show that writing to anyone, but you can reflect back on it, and then make another piece from, you know, what you discovered about yourself in the writing.

Prof Lieu:  And I will also say that back that up with research. I mean, if you’re going to tackle something like that, you can’t just talk about that political issue in a vacuum.

Like, what I would do is I would take that issue and I would read every point of view that has been expressed about that, so you see all that because if you only read about the side that you believe in-

Lauryn: It’s an echo chamber!

Prof Lieu:  It doesn’t work because it’s like you’re preaching to the choir in a way, but you have to really address those different points of view. So I would say back it up, you know? Don’t just like talk about what you think, think about what has been said, read the news, read all the headlines, and everything.

Get really involved in depth, I mean I’m so excited that this artist is taking on something so ambitious, but I think what needs to happen is it just has to be a bigger kind of effort overall in terms of research and really an understanding what it’s about.

Lauryn: The technical thing is not the only part, there are many parts.

Prof Lieu: You know, I mean, it’s such a technically accomplished piece, and I think that’s terrific, but I mean I’m excited that this artist is really working with the content because I don’t see a lot of artists doing that

I see a lot of artists who just want to make eye candy all day and, that’s totally fine, but if you think about our history, artists have, you know, traditionally they’ve communicated, and a lot of political topics have been through historical artwork. So  I think it’s great they’re doing it, I just think this is the beginning. Which is a good thing!”

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3 responses on "Mindy Kang"

  1. This is a wonderfully ambitious piece, love hearing this feedback! The comment on the all the different surface treatment is so true. Pretty incredible to think that oil paint can do such a convincing job of rendering porcelain, metal, tile, and a painted wall. Great work!

  2. I love this piece and I really appreciate the in-depth critique that was given. You guys really pointed out a lot of the unique, subtle differences that one would miss if they hadn’t gotten the chance to really look into the piece.

    • I find that having 2 other people critiquing the piece with me is so helpful because we really can build off of each other’s momentum. When it’s just me critiquing, it’s a completely different dynamic, and while I enjoy the intimacy of a one-on-one critique, there’s nothing like the group flow that is super inspiring and energizing!

      I love building upon a concept someone else has introduced, they get ME thinking about things I wouldn’t normally notice. That’s why I think it’s so important to critique in different formats, because each format offers a unique experience.

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