Thinkspace is pleased to present new work by Los Angeles based artist and illustrator Jolene Lai, opening May 4 2013. Born and raised in Singapore, Lai’s work unveils an empathetic co-mingling of whimsy and melancholy by tenderly excavating the affective landscapes of happiness and heartbreak, history and contemporaneity.

Lai works from a personal wealth of imagination, and an idiosyncratic re-interpretation of cultural narrative. Drawing loosely from traditional Chinese myth and apocryphal anecdotes, and using her personal experiences to re-define this inheritance with irony and wit, Lai’s work offers sensitivity and an uncanny depth. The artist’s paintings are both beautiful and alienating, familiar and other, as she combines thematic polarities and narratives into new spaces, stories, and worlds.

Lai’s work is technically breathtaking and detailed. Working with oil on canvas, or mixed media on watercolor paper, she combines illustrative and graphic elegance with a hyperreal painting style. Inspired by fairytale and story, her characters inhabit worlds of her own devise; at times playful and at others dark. The work’s whimsy and lightness is tempered by the inclusion of powerful juxtapositions, often staging the surreal against the starkness of reality. The artist’s interest in this co-existence of light and dark, play and revelation, reality and fantasy, result in the exquisite tensions of her imagery. The absurd is often coupled with tender punctuations and revealing pathos, while melancholic themes are softened by unexpected humor. Her compositions incorporate intricate traces of pattern and design which allow her to artfully re-invent familiar spaces, transforming the “known” into something entirely new and visionary. The viewer is left with a feeling of having entered a beautiful world at once distant and strangely near.

Where are you living and working right now?
Los Angeles. And I'm a few steps away from my studio in the next room every morning when I get up.

Least favorite part of making art?
Pencil sketching on canvas. Colorless, dull and mundane.

And your favorite part...
Filling in the blanks with oils and painting mediums. This is going to sound weird, but I like the odors of turpentine and linseed oil.

Favorite medium to work with?
Oil paints. I love the consistency. It's almost like playing with softened butter and a spatula.

Last art show / exhibition you saw:
The last one that was really fun was Dave Pressler's '100 Robots' that took place at Gallery 1988. An exhibition that comprised of a lot of small robot drawings injected with humor, and in addition, a 6 foot tall sculpture of his 'Revenge-Bot'.

If you could collaborate with one artist, living or dead, who would it be?
Lindsey Carr! Lately am very into scientific, botanical prints, and fell in love with Carr's works when I first encountered her artwork at Thinkspace's 'Wild At Heart' exhibition in 2012. Her works on paper to me are like a place where the orient and west fuses, causing a majestic explosion of elegance and beauty. There is a form of softness in the way she paints that I envy.

Feature: A Conversation with Jolene Lai article image 1

Artist(s) that inspire you?
Esao Andrews, Sam Weber, Lindsey Carr.

What time of day are you most productive?
Morning, after a walk with coffee. Or night time, when the pantry is stocked with good whiskey or my favorite Riesling. I paint faster when I am a little tipsy.

Currently listening to?
Twin Peaks — Soundtrack.

How do you take your coffee?
Starbucks, tall hot Blonde, with cream and splenda.

Last meal?
Irv's Burger. Looks like a run down burger stand, but the people running it are awesome, and the food is very tasty. There is a saying that you try out a restaurant because the critics gave it a thumbs up, and you really go back a second time because the service was excellent. Irv's has both of that.

Last three places you have lived?
Singapore and Los Angeles only.

Last time you traveled? To where?
Krabi, Thailand. One of the most touristy things we did was to visit the Tiger Cave Temple. It's basically a small temple on top of a hill, which takes 1237 very steep steps made up of various heights to get to. I gave up at step number 1157. Sort of a blessing in disguise actually, because my knees got all wobble jello when it was time for the climb down.

What website(s) do you visit most often?
Netflix. I listen/watch a lot of whatever I can find worth my time, while I paint. Recently revisited 'Rosemary's Baby' and am currently in the midst of the 'Twilight Zone Original Series'.

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Website you're most ashamed that you visit daily?
Facebook. I can't stop reading the rants and gossips the good people around me have to offer.

A quote that has stuck with you?
"Hello feet, cruise with me. Chubby's no place I want to be." — It's actually a mis-quote from the Quasimoto song 'Come on feet', but that's what stuck in my head.

The most trivial thing you know?
One of the artworks I am working on for 'After Midnight' at Thinkspace in May, is largely inspired by Asian vampire movies. Did you know that to slow the transitioning of turning into a vampire after one has been bitten, all you need to do is to repeatedly step on raw glutinous rice with your bare feet? Just saying.

High school GPA?
I dropped out a month before my 'A' levels. Kind of like stopping at step 1157...

Least artistic award you've received?
An award for the completion of some swimming course I took when I was 15. I still cannot do freestyle.

Oddest job you've done to make rent?
An artist. Because most of the time, I feel like I am exposing who I really am in my works to the world.

DIY, Ask yourself a fun question we didn't and answer it.
Q: If you could do anything you want other than what you do today, what would it be? A crime scene investigator. Or maybe a mortuary cosmetologist.

'After Midnight'
Opening Reception: Sat, May 4th 6-9PM
On view May 4th - May 25th
Thinkspace Gallery
Culver City, CA