In his figurative works that are vividly tingled with ambiguity and tension, Andersen Woof weaves references from queer culture, emotional struggle, and mysticism, along with his own personal experiences, as a gay Asian immigrant to the United States. Having a primarily focus on the field of figurative paintings, Woof excels on depicting clear and distinctive forms and shapes of his human and animal figures on his canvases. Being inspired by supernatural signs and ideas, Woof intellectually spices up his compositions with uncanny visualizations and symbols, which bring up absurd as well as emotional scenes through his secret language.
Imbuing his seemingly strange compositions with an evocative sense of humour, the artist alternately indicates the life’s duality that profoundly incites both drama and joy. Celebrating the genre of figurative art, Woof painterly relies on his scenes’ immediacy by bringing up the psychological and emotional battle of his characters. Paying high attention to both the physicality of his oils as his main medium and the bodily rhythm of the portrayed figures, Woof’s colorfully rendered and aesthetically intensive work manages to state a striking perception about the art of representation. In this realm, the artist uses manifold nuances of bodily expressions and aims to communicate various emotions, such as sadness, pain, loneliness, carelessness, desire or confusion. More perplexed narratives, echoing deeper life experiences or subconscious thoughts, such as intimacy or self-disclosure, are further examined in his compositions.
Characterized by its clarity, sincerity, yet by its creepiness, Woof emphatically charges his arrangements with a warm and fierce painting approach. In ‘The Guardian’ (2022) painting, Woof depicts a crying boy who tenderly holds a white rabbit while a burning landscape in the infernal background enhances the dramatic tone of this painting. The young artist concentrates on the art of action and the vibrating energy that his arrangements release through their movements as well as the use of color palette. Wrestling scenes, body wounds, crying faces are the common ground in Woof’s many conflicting canvases. The human body is a significant vehicle in the artist’s painting language and it is clearly depicted. Instead, the characters’ emotional state is deliberately depicted with expressions that allow a diverse analysis.
The well composed figurative forms in Woof’s artistry help out concepts of fragility, intimacy or affection to emerge through darkened scenes and warm humane gestures. Plurality of sentiments and ambiguity mainly refers to the emotional side of the artist’s contradictory work. Nevertheless, the emphasis is not always given to pessimistically painted images in Woof’s work; on the contrary, sly humor creeps within his compositions, successfully illuminating another more advanced point of view in Woof’s work. Absurdity usually provides some additional space for imageries of inner struggle, wrestle or burning desire, as the offbeat storytelling finally ends up softer or lighter to the viewer. For example, in “You Have No Home” (2022) a crying naked man wearing a jockstrap and a pair of white socks are hanging from the tree’s core. Private thoughts, yet incomprehensive to viewers, incite ugly moments and emotions which teem with a burning energy that floats above the surface of things on the artist’s canvas. Uncomfortable situations are visually examined by the artist pointing out the hurtful awareness that everyday life is shadowed by inevitable pain and sorrow, satisfaction or contentment. Woof’s visual vocabulary outlines his vibrant sources of inspiration on his canvases with a sense of commitment resulting in a frisky uniting of his symbolisms with a blazing colour palette, motifs and body forms.
Words: Yannis Kostarias
Can you tell us about the process of making your work?
It really varies piece by piece; I work in oils mostly nowadays and it often starts from either an image/photo (personal/historical/random) or an idea/memory/feeling(s) or a mix of both. Nowadays I tend to make very loose thumbnail sketches that give enough directions for a new piece then I explore the majority of the work directly on canvas with paints – it is always amazing when happy accidents happen and it is easier to allow them to happen when I don’t pre-plan too much (and well, being a self-taught painter is helpful in this regard, since I don’t really have a “routine”/ “standard” in terms of how I am supposed to paint) – it is pretty similar (both thrilling and scary) to how I live my life nowadays too. Additionally, one heavy influence on my current works comes from the fact that many of my past works unintentionally share similar narratives or emotions (especially the pain and suffering) as in many religious paintings and mysticism art, which has led me to dig deeper especially in the history of Christian/Catholic art, which is often ironically in conflict with queer history, but yet extremely exciting for me as a storyteller trying to find a common ground between both worlds on the level of fundamental humanity, through the process of image making.
How would you define your work in a few words (ideally in 3 words)?
Well, my hope is that they are ambiguous, queer, and humane.
Could you share with us some insights on your painting “Don’t Let Them Win (I Hold You Close in Victory)” (2023)? Is there any particular story behind this new work?
This one is part of my current focus on fictional storytelling of queer surviving and defending; the imagery and narratives are largely shaped by research in queer history, religious art and mysticism, and my own queer experiences as an Asian gay immigrant living in the US after a decade. Many of my recent works reflect on the brotherhood/comradery and uniqueness in queer companionships that I have observed over the years; the juxtaposition (and the emotional connection I desperately want to make) between my past life in China (especially my childhood during the 90s with my now faraway parents) and my current adult life in the US; and my constant fear and anxiety (and obsession) about death and desire/pleasure. This particular piece is my personal interpretation/reflection on the recurrent theme in numerous religious paintings – wounded/crucified Jesus being held by Mary/angles. I feel truly connected with the sorrow and pain in many of those works and often feel the urge to create images/stories that share that overlap of humanity but in the context of queer history/experiences. Like many of my recent paintings, it is highly motivated by the recurring stories both in history and the present that queer people were often the easy targets as society/humanity went to dark places (such as wars, extreme dictatorships, religious conflicts, epidemics, etc.) and constantly being purged out from the mainstream human culture record.
Observing your works, it seems they look cheeky and playful; how important humour is in your colourful imagery?
I am so glad to hear that and really happy about this question, since I am often concerned that some of my works are too depressing or dark especially because of the recurring tears and wounds/bruises and the subject matters. Humour is extremely important to me both in work and life – I often get too serious and intense about things and try to constantly remind myself not forget the joy in life and be optimistic and hopeful, which is such a crucial and inseparable component of being alive and surviving; it is also a truthful reflection of my conflicted personality – I often get super goofy and silly despite of feeling the heaviness of life ceaselessly at the same time.
Looking at your polychromatic paintings, it seems that you are applying a wide range of colours on your canvases. Which are the (roughly) right conditions that lead you to choose the right colour combinations on each painting?
Colours used to (and still on some level) come to me in a very intuitive or accidental manner in my works, only after creating a lot of paintings over the years, I start to think a little more consciously about the narrative potential and emotional power of colours nowadays.
Many times the presence of body wounds, tears or even animals such as rabbits, snakes or rats are repetitively depicted duality in your imagery for example in paintings “Someday You’ll Return (Brothers in Arms I)”, You Did Not Desert Me (Brothers in Arms II)” or “We Fall, We Burn, We Get Up”. Is there something that fascinates you in these repetitive motifs?
The tears and wounds/bruises (and laughs/smiles) started appearing recurrently in my paintings years ago due to this constant pain/fear of being trapped/suppressed in adulthood, while mixed with optimism and hopes. The three Chinese zodiac animals and others in my works are truly a mix of 1) personal symbols of my separated family and childhood memories: myself (the snake) in the US after a decade of leaving everything behind and my faraway parents back in China – my mom (the rabbit) and my dad (the rat); and 2) their respectively rich symbolic meanings across different cultures and religions, especially in mythologies/legends/fables/fairy tales.
Your titles often hide an interesting story, tell us about naming your paintings; do their titles come up in your mind before your start creating a new work or could it be the opposite?
Again, it really varies piece by piece – sometimes before, sometimes during, and sometimes after. They are often a mix of song/music/film/series/book titles/lyrics/quotes recalling a recurring line/phrases in my head during the period of working on individual pieces.
Can you mention any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?
Too many… Mostly actors/filmmakers if I am being completely honest since I listen to so many interviews of theirs. But as for historical painters, I am blown away by Pieter Bruegel the Elder as always; and as for contemporary painters, I have been constantly in awe of (and connected to) works by Anthony Cudahy over the years.
What about the place where you work? What’s your studio space look like?
I work from my home studio in Baltimore, Maryland and I really appreciate the privacy and flexibility, but it is not as “painterly” as I want it to be—meaning a little too domestic and organized/neat (which I do like), and occasionally I fantasize about the communal/ “more professional” nature in a shared studio building/outside of home setting.
Which are your plans for the near future?
I don’t have any really, except keeping creating personally truthful and interesting (and hopefully meaningful) images/stories. I really like when things happen organically, both in work and life.