A Candid Conversation With Genderqueer Artist LOSTBOY
By July Westhale
“You are born alone. You die alone. The value of space in between is trust and love. That is why geometrically speaking the circle is a one. Everything comes to you from the other. You have to be able to reach the other. If not you are alone.” — Louise Bourgeois
“Body experience . . . is . . . the center of creation, I rarely draw what I see; I draw what I feel in my body.” — Barbara Hepworth
“I think a lot of making art is listening to yourself.” — Kiki Smith
LOSTBOY was born in 1987 and is a proud queer first-generation Korean American who’s a lifetime West Coast resident. They create a variety of landscapes to communicate themes around identity, repetition, connections, culture, and visceral feelings. LOSTBOY received their BFA in Illustration at Pacific Northwest College of Art in 2010. Since graduating, they have had the privilege of taking part in numerous shows in the Bay Area, including “Breaking Code: The intersections of Queerness and Madness” (National Queer Arts Festival) at the San Francisco LGBT Center and the “Imagining Time, Gathering Memories: Dia De Los Muertos” group exhibition at SOMArts. They also debuted their first solo exhibition, “The Core,” at Betti Ono Gallery in Oakland this year.
July: How about we start with origin. Do you have a specific memory of when you first realized you loved to create?
LOSTBOY: Truthfully, I have always been a creative kid, but even after having an extensive background in art classes/experiences (I went to various schools for art), I never truly felt in love with it. However, in 2013 on a whim, I volunteered for a day to help Andy Goldsworthy’s “Tree Fall” installation in the Presidio [in San Francisco]. I walked away at the end of day not only with dirty clothes and tired hands, but with a newfound perspective on how I wanted to spend my life. I have never worked with clay or mud in my own work, but it transformed my perspective on how much energy, love, sacrifice, consistency, and emotional labor I wanted to put out in the world. Shortly after that experience, I started to draw daily and have continued to do so.
July: You do draw daily — I follow your work on Instagram. How has the daily drawing practice been for you? How do you think it centers or focuses your life? Did it become habitualized?
LOSTBOY: The daily drawing practice has been such a therapeutic process. At the time, I was working a caretaking job, which took a lot of emotional and physical energy out of my days. I was starting to take anti-depressants around that time, and there was no other way to document what was going on other than to draw. Even if it was just one word a day and a little doodle, it helped me out since I was feeling crazy (those who start medication know exactly what I’m talking about . . . ). I then gradually started to focus on a project that I’ve been working on since the start of the year. My project is #365yokoonoillustratedtweets. I illustrate a Yoko Ono Twitter tweet every day. I’ve learned so much more about the world and myself, about human connections, about limitations and expectations, just by focusing on illustrating her words. It has completely centered my life. I have a purpose of sorts. I have a goal to meet, every single day, and it has been such a fulfilling 189 days (thus far). I love this idea of being accountable to yourself in the form of a daily drawing project. I have no excuse to not doodle or make a drawing, even if it takes 5 minutes. Many days, I only have that much strength to do it, but I still do it and put it out there via Instagram @_lostboy_.
July: I love that. Especially the idea of doing art as a way to work through something.
I know you and your mom also have a project — Fam Lee (a play on your name). Can you tell me about how that project started, and what the relationship is like for the two of you, both artistically and personally?
LOSTBOY: Well, to talk about Fam Lee is to talk about my family dynamic growing up. I was estranged from my mother emotionally for many years and it wasn’t until a few years ago that I became more honest with myself and then more honest with her. I told her things that I never thought she would understand or respect (my name preference, queer identity, having tattoos). So far, we’ve been working on it, and it’s become this new beginning in our relationship. I recently found out that my mother went to school for art but never finished in college. It made a lot of sense, since growing up she would take me to museums and I would see Van Gogh books everywhere in our house, but I assumed she was just a fan of art, not that she actually practiced it. Once our relationship started to strengthen, it became apparent that we wanted to collaborate on something more physical. My mom has worked in clothing factories most of her life in the states. We even have a sewing machine in our garage. I took elements of my design and art, and collaborated with my mom to make our first item together (a tote bag we constructed from scratch). Lately she’s been helping me bind my zines with her sewing skills. I’m excited to see how many more projects we’ll work on together.
Because so few publications support high-quality work from marginalized voices — and pay.theestablishment.co
July: That’s a fabulous story, and super inspiring — to know that you can still get to know family despite age, history, and trauma.
You recently relocated from the Bay Area to L.A. — how do you find the art scene there? How do you feel place interacts with your work?
LOSTBOY: A lot of my interaction with the L.A. art scene is based off of social media. Since I post regularly on Instagram, I’ve slowly been making connections with people. For instance, an amazing owner of L.A. Coffee Club was a follower of mine for awhile until I moved back to L.A. There, he contacted me and I basically got a mural gig at their spot within the first meeting, and now I’m working on an illustration series with them. Other than that, I’m actively trying to connect with local L.A. artists who I admire as well. Finding an art scene is pretty much the same in all different locations. You have to put yourself out there and be consistent.
I think place (and also place of mind) most definitely affects the way my work comes out (or doesn’t). I feel at peace here in L.A. since I’ve been back with my family. It’s complicated, since I was independent for 10 years and now I’m back, depending on them for housing. It’s strange. It’s a privilege. It’s a way for me to unravel all those 10 years of lack of communication. Let’s just say I have way more time and space to expand my work. I’ve taken on bigger personal projects that I’ve always wanted to do but didn’t think I would have the space for.
July: Technology has made it possible for art to exist in both tangible and liminal space, as well as to network and create communities, even in the middle of feeling isolated.
My last question is: tell me about your artist statement, and what you think art does/encourages/how it interacts with the world/your world/communities?
LOSTBOY: My artist statement exists within itself. I’m a collector of quotes and I realized how much of an impact they have on me as well as my art-making practices. I spent most of my life trying to rationalize why I shouldn’t be who I am (ie: queer, a working artist, depressed, etc.) till it got to the point where I just simply stopped and listened to my body. I allowed these intersections of identities to exist in an open space. I became more honest with myself and the community around me, allowing people to see me and to still love me all the same. That openness and vulnerability translates to my work. I delve into subject matters I used to hide from everyone else. This has been the most therapeutic release, to be doing this; to be a working artist. I have always said art has been a way for me to reach out to community, whether it’s queer women of color or depressed folks or gender queers or anyone who lives outside of the normative box, that we’re all here (together) and we’re not alone.