Thinkspace is pleased to present new work by Los Angeles based artist and illustrator Jolene Lai. 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.