Each Painting Led To The Rebirth Of Caroline Liu

Introduce yourself

Hi, my name is Caroline Liu and I’m a Chicago-based visual artist.

When did you first start getting your start with art? 

When I was a child, I used to create still lifes with my stuffed animals; unknowingly starting my artistic career early. As I got to Highschool, I took a drawing class and realized I how much I truly loved drawing. The teacher had suggested that I should continue to draw in college and that’s when I learned that becoming an artist was a tangible prospect. It had never occurred to me before, and sadly for my parents haha, I decided to go for it. I attended the University of New Mexico and majored in Studio Art with a focus on painting and drawing. After I graduated college in 2011, I created a body of work, curated a variety of shows, and presented my work throughout New Mexico.

In 2012, a very unfortunate event happened that stripped you of your short-term memory. They always say, ‘your memories make you who you are’…

Memories shape you. You grow as a person through your memories and the experiences you’ve lived through. They shape your entire identity as a person. In five years, people go through so much. Family members die, you’re in and out of relationships, you move, you change jobs, etc. And through those experiences, there is growth and change within yourself and how you exist within the communities around you.

One of my biggest struggles with memory in terms of my identity is that I can’t seem to hold onto these big life events. These are important things that are supposed to be shaping who I am, but I can’t remember them. The glue that holds everything together is what ends up shaping me. How I remember, why I remember, and the struggle of remembering. The act of remembering has become a large life event that shapes my everyday life, which has become a big part of my identity.

Has being involved with art help shape a new identity for you?

Yes, definitely. I moved to Chicago 3 months after my door accident occurred, which negatively affected the healing process of my brain in ways that I was unaware of at the time. I had a doctor relate my experience to patients who suffer from Alzheimer’s or dementia. Many times, people are affected for many years but don’t often show signs or symptoms until they are moved to a nursing home or hospital. Once removed from a familiar environment, their symptoms accelerate very quickly and family members are often shocked as to how little memory they have. It’s because their brains don’t have anything familiar to attach memory to. This is very similar to what happened to me when I moved to Chicago. My brain, still traumatized and trying to heal itself, became immersed into a whole new environment that was completely unfamiliar. It basically stopped healing the moment I moved here and every day has been a struggle to remember where I live, what year it is, how old I am, who my friends are, what I like to eat, what tv shows I’m watching. Basically, everything new since I moved to Chicago is something that can disappear at any given moment.

So, my struggle to remember became a big part of my identity. In 2013, I learned that I could create work that was a marker of time and moments of my life that could be memorialized. My early work in 2013-2015, really focused on creating memories that served different months of my life and the people within it. In the beginning of 2016, I realized that my work had served me in figuring out how to navigate and understand the inner workings of my concussed mind. It had helped me to break down life events in a systematic way, as well as serve as a remembrance that time was passing and I was a functioning part of it. So as I reflected on this, I realized that in the process, I had lost my self, my identity.

I began to create self-portraits in hope of focusing purely on myself and my narrative. In order to find myself again, I dug deep into my inner thoughts and memories that I had suppressed. To find this new me- not only just a person with irreparable memory loss but as a strong individual who fights to remember every day.

The work I created from 2016 up until now had become an important journey of self-therapy.

Without this work, I would’ve never become the person who I am now. Each painting became a stepping stone and building block to my rebirth. I’ve grown so much over these past two years because of this process.

In October, you put together The year of the moths show, which ‘captured a glimpse into one of the most challenging, uncertain, and oddest years of the artist’s life.’ Talk about this show

The Year of The Moths was such an exciting and huge experimentation of my work and self as an artist. It solidified so many feelings I had inside of me that it didn’t even matter if it wasn’t received well by the public. I was really proud of what I had created and accomplished.

The theme of the show was about the year 2012. A year that I remember as being one of the hardest years in my life, but also one that was filled with joy, happiness, growth, and weird experiences- like when hundreds of thousands of moths amassed upon my city in the spring of 2012. I used this memory as the foundation to my show. The idea that sometimes big weird giant things come into a person’s life so randomly, so suddenly. And you’re flabbergasted by how it takes on such a hold of your life at first, but then you adapt, and you sigh and accept it as how life is just going to be from now on. But then- the thing leaves as suddenly as it came, and you’re left with a giant moth-sized hole in your life. You try to explain what happened to people, but it was such a unique experience that you end up questioning yourself- did it really happen? Did I really feel those things? Was I exaggerating? And that experience changes you. You are marked with it and moving forward, it lingers in the background of your everyday life.

So for this show, I wanted to create an immersive experience. I filled the space with fake grass, had a personal paisley pattern painted all over the walls, and hung paintings on top of the painted walls. I also created 75 mini moth paintings that were spread throughout the gallery. I wanted to recreate and reclaim this year of my life. You were stepping into the brain of Caroline. It was great.

Five years later you feel the ‘strongest, personally, you’ve ever felt’. How were you able to shake questioning yourself and become comfortable with who you are?

Through much difficulty. Loving yourself is the hardest task. In theory, it seems like it would be the easiest thing, but it’s definitely a process. Creating work has been essential for me. Having physical objects that not only show the visual side of the internal thoughts I worked through, but also being able to see the amount of work I create- really allowed me to see that I am hardworking, dedicated, and strong.

I love your work so much. Here are some of my favorite pieces of yours and I would love to go into detail on the story behind them… First, Don’t touch metal with wet hands

Usually, I start and finished a painting relatively quickly. It takes me awhile to hash out the narrative and idea in the beginning, but the actual physical work of creating doesn’t take me much time. This painting, however, had become a manifestation of my anxiety and took me almost 5 months to finish.

The narrative behind this painting is about a pinball machine that my mom had as a kid. My grandpa bought this old pinball machine called the Queen of Hearts from a local bowling alley. It was great- super old school. Had wacky illustrations of kings and queens, hearts, bright colors, etc etc. The problem with this machine though, was that it would electrocute me almost every time I played it. The sides of the machine were made of metal and anytime my hands would get slightly moist, I knew that’s when the shocks were about the happen. But yet, I loved the game so much I continued to play it for years until my brother complained about the shocks and my parents shut it down for good. Anyways, the title of my painting, Don’t touch metal with wet hands, is basically about the anxieties of continuously doing something that you love over and over again, but sometimes has harmful consequences.


Second, Wandering into dark and stormy clouds

This was the very first painting I created in my identity series. It was my first ever self portrait and my first experimentations with faux flowers. This really geared me towards the current direction of my work. The title of the piece is how I felt at the time- choosing to wander through dark and stormy clouds, while hoping that there is some form of light at the end of it.


And lastly, We are who we wish we weren’t

Sometimes we are who we wish we weren’t. Sometimes, we are shitty people, and we suck. Despite wanting to be good and wanting to be genuine, sometimes it’s hard and the darkness comes over you. This is the only painting from this series where there are two of me, where I’m both looking at myself and hiding from myself. Sometimes you gotta do both.


You recently put together a show called, 30 flirty and thriving. How did this show come about?

I was approached to do a show at After Gallery by the owner Flow and wanted to create something new, fresh, and exciting. I was coming off the whirlwind of my solo show and really wanted to put something together that didn’t mimic what I had just made. I wanted something that was completely different than anything I had done before and the idea kind of just came to me once I started talking about my impending 30th birthday! I thought to myself, why not do something over the top and crazy for it? When will I get another 30th birthday?

With a few days left in the year, you talked about how this past year has been a year of growth for you. Looking back, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned this year?

Two major things I’d say are 1) Patience with myself and 2) The importance of self-care.

When it’s all said and done how would you like to be remembered?

I want people to remember that I worked hard and that I’m genuine, even in the moments I do not remember.