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Interview: Ray Hwang's Don't Blame Bananas for Your Own Recklessness

Interview: Ray Hwang's Don't Blame Bananas for Your Own Recklessness

Ray Hwang artist portrait photo by Allison Schaller

Portrait of the artist. Photo by Allison Schaller

Tell us about yourself, how did you become an artist?

I sort of feel like I became an artist because nothing else worked. As a kid I watched a lot of cartoons and was always drawing in the margins of lined paper and on the back of my homework sheets. Growing up with immigrant parents, they always wanted me to pick a career that was more financially stable so I fought the art impulse in my adolescence. I initially tried computer science until I realized that sitting in front of a computer for work seemed miserable. After that I tried to compromise with other creative fields like Graphic Design or Illustration but none of that was satisfying either. In the end, I just decided to go for it and make my art my way without worrying if anyone else cares about it. Of course I have to have a day job too, but I'm much happier now.


What is your background? and how did it inform the focus of your creative exploration or the medium you're currently working with?

I grew up in San Gabriel which is a small suburb east of L.A. and moved out to N.Y. for college to get away from what was comfortable and be on my own. However now, I feel like I'm looking back a lot more and letting my feelings about home and what that is permeate into my current practice. I'm kind of rediscovering and reconciling with things in my personal history but with my new adult person lens.


What ideas interested you in the beginning of your practice, which ideas have you continued to explore, and where have they led you?

When I first started painting I was doing a lot of really bad abstraction and a lot of really bad conceptual art. I really idolized painters like Rothko, de Kooning, and Kline and all those Abstract Expressionists and made a lot of really bad gestural abstractions. I think a lot of artists start out this way, but at some point you gotta kill your idols and figure out your own stuff. Something I always valued in art was seeing things that really felt honest, as if an artist couldn't have made any other type of art at any other time. I wanted to make paintings that felt really like they were mine and that's what led me to my current work. My work tends to look cartoon-ish because I learned to draw from watching cartoons and it also often is built up in many layers because I'm indecisive and fearful so I cover stuff up before it has the chance to live. Hopefully I figure out some happy medium where I can confidently make work without destroying it and saving money on paint in the process.


Who were and are the biggest sources of your inspiration?

I used to look up and get inspired by a lot of great artists of the past, but I don't find that to be the case anymore. I work with kids at my day job, and while I don't really think of myself particularly as a kid-person, I do find that they often say some real stupid shit sometimes that's really funny and have a lot wacky ideas. It reminds me that making art should be fulfilling despite all the weird art world games and systems that go along with trying to make a career out of it.


Where do you find inspiration?

With my work, I'm sometimes inspired by seeing cool stuff my peers are making or by randomly funny things I see out in my life. But I wouldn't say it's a direct relationship from that to my work, more like just living my life being surrounded by these things is good enough for me. I don't really look for or worry about inspiration, I just work and if it comes it comes.

Ray Hwang Studio View

Studio View

Ray Hwang Example of a Work in Progress

Example of a Work in Progress

Ray Hwang Inspiration - Vincent Lugo Park, San Gabriel, CA

Inspiration - Vincent Lugo Park, San Gabriel, CA

Ray Hwang Inspiration - Windowsill at my parents' home

Inspiration - Windowsill at my parents' home

Ray Hwang Inspiration - Half-eaten Banh Mi sandwich

Inspiration - Half-eaten Banh Mi sandwich

Is there are a single work, project, or series that is pivotal in your current trajectory?

I would say that the work, "Don't blame Bananas for your own recklessness" (2018) was pivotal to my current trajectory. Prior to that painting, a lot of work felt like it was floating in this in between space. I was starting to notice that I gravitated towards certain images or objects, but I hadn't quite figured out how to put it together. With this painting I started to embrace hints of narrative, and it didn't feel as labored as the previous ones. I tried not to worry about how the painting would be read and took it as a good sign that it was a good way to move forward.


How did it begin? and how did it evolve?

After making that painting, I sort of mentally organized this sort of personal lexicon of images and objects that held significance to me or just stood out to me. Things like my dad's old mail hat, anvils and striped socks started to make their way into my work. I wanted to put them together and see what new narratives would come out of it, even if they didn't make total sense. I often use my sketchbooks to throw down ideas and drawings and refer back to investigate what's happening.


Ray Hwang "Don't blame Bananas for your own recklessness" 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 24w x 30h" in.

"Don't blame Bananas for your own recklessness" 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 
24w x 30h" in.

Ray Hwang "Socks to Sock" 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 11w x 14h" in.

"Socks to Sock" 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 11w x 14h" in.

Ray Hwang "Laid Out to Dry" 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 14w x 11h" in.

"Laid Out to Dry" 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 14w x 11h" in.

What were important lessons in the process that you’ve carried forward with you?

I think that some things that I've learned is you've always got to question your motives for making your work and that artists have to constantly be trying to toe the line between what's comfortable and what's uncomfortable. Also, that you have to really dig deep and believe that what you're making is important, even if nobody else gives a shit.


What are you working on now?

I'm continuing my trajectory with what I've been working on for the past 2 years, but recently have been doing a ton more small drawings and paintings which are really helping me develop some images before I work them on a larger scale. I'm also consciously trying to work and get better at using color, something I've struggled with in the past.


If you could go back in time to the very beginning of your art practice and give your younger self a single piece of advice what would it be?

Making bad work is part of the process, and those who don't make bad work are probably just hiding it or not taking enough risks. It's okay and good to fail, learn from it.

About the Artist

Based in Ridgewood, New York

Ray Hwang is an artist from Los Angeles currently living and working in New York City. He received his BFA in Illustration from the School of Visual Arts (2016) and has been in exhibitions throughout New York since then. Using a combination of comedy, cartoon imagery and personal artifacts, he creates work that often confronts his relationship with his cultural upbringing as an Asian American. These artifacts, objects or symbols that hold significance in his personal history, are used to weave his own narratives that reference how humor and violence have frequently intersected throughout his life.

Instagram: @rayhwangart