A solo exhibition of mixed media paintings by Saigon-based artist Khoa Le

Khoa Le is a young visual artist who also works as an illustrator and an author of short stories and picture books for children. Her diverse skill set is on full display in the fantastical creations of the Happy Never After series. Khoa’s prodigious imagination and ability to work with various media combine to create works that are each fairy tale worlds in and of themselves.

In preparation for her upcoming exhibition, we ask Khoa about her work, her latest collection and her influences.

Khoa Le_Me Cung_Maze_2016_ Paper print mounted on canvas, resin coated_cm

Can you tell me about where you derive the inspiration for your paintings? Were you a big fan of fairy tales when you were a child?

Being an illustrator and an author of many children’s picture books, I am always a loyal audience of the fairy tale. I think that they are an unlimited source of inspiration because it is almost the first approach to beauty; a version of “literary-arts” for children (possibly through the first picture book or through bedtime stories). But I think that when we become adults, we all are induced to forget them, unconsciously or consciously, because we assume they are just “childish stories.” On the contrary, a fairy tale is an adult story that is retold in a different way to make them more joyful and suitable for children. But as an artist, I want to bring to my fellow adults fairy tales of their own. There is not only romance and flying fairies, but also the woes, pain, loneliness and struggles of the maturation process. Hiding behind metaphorical images, it is a disillusioned world of adults. But at the same time, there is also a beautiful inner world which is rich and deep where there is not only the “happy ever after,” but also many other important things.

Could you describe for me step-by-step the process of making your work from inspiration to the final product?

I create the materials that I use in my paintings by experimenting with different types of materials (types of colors, chemicals, etc.) to make different textures and patterns. I then scan what I have created onto the computer, and combine everything together in the drawing process on the computer. The paintings are then printed in monoprint and mounted on canvas. Finally, they are coated with a layer of resin. This ensures that the paintings are waterproof and that the vivid colors will endure.

Khoa Le_Plastic_Nhua_Mixed media

Are there certain writers/tales that you find particularly interesting or who have influenced your work?

A number of writers have served as a source of inspiration because I like reading books in my spare time. I am not, however, someone who can read and critique books professionally. Usually, I choose to read what I like and I decide whether I like a book or not within the first 20 pages. I particularly enjoy stories by Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Jean Paul Sartre and Haruki Murakami.

Many people have commented on the darkness in your work when seeing previous pieces? Do you find them dark and where does that darkness come from?

I think there are some dark elements in my paintings. Perhaps partly because I myself am somewhat introverted and prefer to focus my attention on the inner qualities of people rather than the exterior flash around them. I believe that almost all of us, to a greater or lesser extent, have inner worlds in our subconscious that contain our darkest thoughts and the secrets and scars that we keep hidden. I don’t think this is entirely a bad thing. Nonetheless, we should from time to time look into these dark places. They are a part of what makes us human and they also have aspects that are beautiful and have their own value which should be respected.

Khoa Le_The Fairest_Nguoi Dep Nhat_ Print paper mounted on canvas, resin coated_68 x 88 cm

In addition to a certain macabre quality, many of your works like Fairest feature an absurdist sense of humor to them.  Can you talk about that?

Many friends of mine have told me that I do have at times a somewhat sarcastic sense of humor. I think this is true to a certain extent and at times it can appear in my paintings. For example, in the piece The Fairest, I really do not want to reveal my thoughts and would prefer to let the viewers feel and tell their own version of the story. Each of my paintings usually has several levels of meaning and there is room for all interpretations. Some of my friends have seen The Fairest and commented that to them it represents “the revenge of the trophy wife.” Maybe that is a sign of the humor that viewers feel when they see my work?

Khoa Le_Sang_Glow_2016_In tren tam panel acrylic_Printed on acrylic panel_90 x 90 cm

Happy Never After is on display at Craig Thomas Gallery (165 Calmette, D1) until July 20.

IMAGES PROVIDED BY KHOA LE