This feature on Kris Chau was originally published in Issue 16. You can order here.
I’ve admired the work of artist Kris Chau for many years and seized the opportunity to introduce myself to her last year at LA Pages, a local book fair for independent, west coast publishers. In the short time I’ve known her, our sisterhood has matured, and as a collector of her work, my love, support, and admiration for her creative practice continues to blossom. Besides our resemblance, familial similarities, and social, spiritual, and ethical compatibility, we share a curiosity for the unknown and share a belief that our purpose is to live virtuous, authentic, and creative lives, consider our place in the world, and take care of those who take care of us, especially the men we love.
Based in Los Angeles, by way of Honolulu, Kris is inspired by mysticism, mythology, and folklore. As a thoughtful painter, poetic illustrator, seasoned designer, and determined business owner, Kris tells stories. Drawing from her personal stream of consciousness, while still referencing indigenous cultures, fables, and fairytales, Chau’s work explores symbolism, as well as solutions to the devastating and irreverent conditions of our world.
How are things?
It’s been a bit of a struggle these past few months, but I’m hanging in there and trying to stay grounded. The reality of making art is that you’re money poor. Your new resource is time, which is all used up making art. So it’s tough to stay on track when it feels like you’re just in a money time hole.
How are you staying grounded?
I think mostly talking out loud about what society deems normal behavior and also the fragility of people who live in the bubble of safety and comfort. I’m trying to be less judgmental, but also create boundaries with people who display less woke and more volatile or less accountable behavior. Also, living with the idea that all people are good and they only react poorly because they feel shame for their missteps, not because they are bad people.
Last time we hung out, you lent me your copy of Josh Korda’s book Unsubscribe, which helped me a lot with my anxiety. Are you reading any new books that are blowing your mind right now? Listening to any podcasts?
I regularly listen to “On Being” with Krista Tippet. Her interview with botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer was inspiring and caused me to think a lot about my relationship to our planet earth, and what the earth might think of me as one of her residents. I highly recommend to all people of color, Scene On Radio’s documentary series, “Seeing White.” My business partner Sam turned me on to it. It put a lot of feelings into words for me regarding racism in America.
What are your thoughts on the state of our world? Are you fearful or is mindfulness saving you from internalizing all the hate and devastation?
Truth be told, this is the first time in my life I am actually concerned that an infrastructure is being built for a fascist oligarchy, right under our noses. So I have been staying abreast of the news in a way that I never have before. Now I read the news the same way I grocery shop, where did this come from? I collect stories from several non-profit media sources and cross-check. I will say that true positivity and real light lives with the reality of darkness. So all these things don’t get me down as much as it used to because we are all talking about it. It’s all on our minds, so we have a collective light. We have to stay together, we have to keep talking and moving and living with this consciousness.
How’s Day Space Night? Explain the brand for those that don’t know.
Day Space Night is chugging along at an even keel pace. Day Space Night is my small art clothing company that I started with my business partner and friend, Samantha Margherita. She is a very talented textile designer who wanted to make a go of creating clothes on her own, and she needed a silhouette designer; that became me. We make small runs of linen and printed silk clothing that we cut and sew in LA. We print the silk on our G’ed up Mimaki Digital Printer in our studio/store and all the linen is milled in Italy, but finished and dyed here in LA. We have a little retail storefront in Chinatown that I adore and we have our beautiful web store as well. We don’t wholesale and if we do, it’s more as a collaboration with the store, so we can support each other. We took what we liked from our professional careers in fashion and did a hard look at the system and created our own mini-climate. No wholesale means no buying calendar, which means less waste and haste. No sizes means less merchandising puzzles and maybe more styles to be creative with. No trends means we have nothing to chase or anticipate.
Has your mission for the brand changed since you and Sam started it in 2015? Is your mission for the brand similar or different to the mission behind your personal work?
Our mission for the brand hasn’t changed, but we discovered that the world around us has actually changed. We looked a little naive or like idealistic artists in the beginning but we did have a business and growth plan. It just didn’t look like extreme capitalism that we are all brainwashed to think is the only path to success. It was about our product first and then the alternative commerce of trusting our customers to appreciate and support the product and earning their trust as well. Making things is very hard; making things well and responsible at a price point that isn’t outlandish is even harder. Being accountable is hard. However, we decided there is no shortcut to this and we surprise ourselves every collection. Now we see brands and stores that were doing great three or four years ago feel a little irrelevant now and people want to put their money towards people who have the same values as them. No one wants to get marketed to or just be an algorithm. The mission from the brand comes from my work. I’ve been testing my own business and money theories on myself for a very long time. Good things take time and you need a vision that isn’t about money but about your values. Joy is something to factor in along with time and money. Faith in goodness, patience and yourself.
Do you prefer working alone or collaboratively? Do you and Sam face any challenges being both creative partners and friends?
I prefer to work alone. As a painter and drawer, it comes with the territory. You are in the void and the void doesn’t present a door unless you are present. With that said, I do enjoy being on a team, because things done in a group just feel good; we are wired that way as humans. Also, change doesn’t happen in a vacuum, we need each other. Sam and I went through years of partnership hardship, we are slowly learning how to be friends again. We were both in the friendship boat and then we added the weight of the business onto our little boat. Then all of a sudden there were holes and fires all the time with this new weight. It got to the point where I realized that the little boat was built for just friendship but now it was full of holes. So I burned the friendship boat. I decided we needed to build a new boat, a bigger one that will fit the business and if we’re lucky, with time, it’ll have a space for friendship too. It takes a lot of strength to look at all this and for both parties to stay. I can proudly say we always had each other’s backs in both departments, but now we get to enjoy this new bigger boat.
In your personal practice, what mediums do you use?
I feel really adept and at home with Dr. PH Martin’s concentrated watercolors on Canson paper. Lately, I’ve been working on some acrylic paintings on wood, and for that, I primarily use Lascaux matte acrylic studio paints. Color pencils are my actual favorite form of expression that doesn’t actually get used in any finished stages of art. One day, though, when I figure out how to sneak it in there.
What key concepts are you exploring in your work?
Duality, polarity, creation stories, folktales, personal magicks, loss, and growth.
I know Brian’s an important ingredient to your happiness. How has this relationship changed you? It doesn’t seem this way, but does your relationship ever distract you from your creative practice or personal goals?
My relationship with Brian Bartus is something I didn’t expect as he was 26 when we met, and I was 36. My wise friend Elle described it this way: that I was the only kid at a party of only adults for a long time, and when another kid finally appeared at the party, it was Brian. This type of connection really renewed my faith that the world can still surprise you with goodness. Part of a good partnership is being able to run side by side, so the relationship actually grounds me to get free with the creative practice. I believe that to get serious with your own exploration of art making, it helps that the other side of your life is safe and fulfilling. I don’t subscribe to the romanticized idea that only the tortured have the key to art. Art is a practice and it’s easier to be in the studio for 12 hours if you get lots of sleep and eat a real meal and someone you really like checks in on you.
What has he taught you that you didn’t already know?
Brian taught me that wisdom comes at any age and a real connection between people, regardless of the outcome, is still rare and so real.
Have the two of you collaborated on anything recently?
We collaborate often but the majority of it is Brian as my art director. We recently started a band. Part of the difficulties of being in a band is just getting people to come to practice. We live together so that’s one obstacle out. Also, as someone with no musical background, it’s a good opportunity for me to learn something and for him to teach and lead.
As a 38-year-old woman, far wiser than most, what advice would you give to your younger self?
I would say to not worry so much about looking the part, because when you carry the real stuff, people will already know and it’ll make its way out. I would also encourage maybe a martial art or more physical practice because that helps the mind. And that you’re okay you’re doing great, but I get it, go prove yourself anyway.
If you could trade lives with one woman (living, dead, or imaginary) for one week, who would she be and why?
This is hard because I’ve already gone through years of conditioning myself to be perfectly happy as me in my own skin. Everyone’s life feels equally hard and great, all the great women I admire, really pushed through many hardships, which is why they are so great. I mostly would just like to be a cat, and out of this oppressive human system.
For more from Kris Chau, follow her on Instagram.
Photography by Adam Amengual.