Role Playing Games with Alfred Liu June 17 2020
Alfred Liu is a Melbourne-based artist. Growing up in China, Alfred found himself between two worlds when he moved to Australia at age seven. Unable to speak much English, he sought refuge in his imagination and the worlds he created. His work depicts his love for Australia, the nostalgia of China, and the escapism of science fiction and fantasy.
We spoke to Alfred about his favourite games and stories, the characters in his work and how his style has evolved since his last show.
Interview by Viet-My Bui. Photos supplied by Alfred Liu.
You had your first show with us in January 2019. How has your art developed in that time?
It's been moving along steadily, although I always wish I could improve faster. I have been trying some different techniques to make things look more finished and have more substance. I also wanted to add themes and subject matter from stories that I enjoy and listen to often. I hope people will like the new works!
You've shared some explorations into colour, pixel art, and monochromatic rendering, amongst other things. What have you learnt over the past year and how has it fed into your art practice? What else would you like to explore?
Sometimes I practice a technique and it ends up not actually being used in my work, so I tried to make an effort this past year to actually put to use what I've practised. One of the big things was including value range in my work, using darker colours to make certain areas pop out. I've also been really enjoying pencil work. Hopefully I can do more of that in the future. I hope to also find some more time to make something interactive, like a mini-game, for an exhibition. One of my biggest dreams is to create an interactive experience for people in a gallery setting, to make it more fun. Also, the idea of creating a few 3D works is pretty cool.
We have been seeing more of these dark ghost-like creatures with tentacles in your recent works. Tell us more about those.
Ahh yes, I'm a huge Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard fan, so I wanted to make an effort this year to actually incorporate some of their themes into my work. I like how Lovecraft uses vagueries to make something more mysterious or unsettling. While he describes some creatures in his stories quite clearly, I actually prefer the things that he mentions and never fully explains. It makes me more curious about them and I try to imagine what they would look like. It's the same with Howard; there's three stories that are my favourite, The Tower of the Elephant, The Slithering Shadow and The Scarlet Citadel. Those three are basically dungeon crawling stories with weird and dangerous creatures. I love them because there's always a feeling that there is more out there. If he went into a different room I wonder what kind of monsters he would have run into. So I wanted to try and do the same: draw a creature that's just a form and not too detailed, so it's a bit mysterious. Now that I look back on them, they just look kind of cute, haha!
You have spoken about your yearning to reconnect with your culture. What explorations have you made in this avenue?
Not so much this year, other than cooking and eating Chinese food haha! This year I've been really enjoying European history – in particular trying to learn more about British history, and Celtic and Greek mythology. I also started looking into the history of the Ottoman empire which is also really fascinating.
Your upcoming show is titled RPG. What was the inspiration for the show, and was there any particular research you engaged in to prepare for the exhibition?
Hmm, well I was researching by playing RPGs, haha! Well, that was one part of it. I mostly did that when I wanted to avoid doing work! I titled the show RPG because I wanted to create work that was one part something familiar— which is video games and specifically RPGs—and one part unexplored territory, which is the inspiration gained from all the stories that I have been listening to. I also love video game concept art but wanted to interpret this genre in my own style. One of the best things about a new game is that aspect of exploring new lands. So I wanted to make drawings that feel like we're exploring a new land together. I hope others will get that feeling too.
Walk us through the most challenging piece for RPG.
Hmm I don't think any one work was particularly challenging – they all made me nervous because I was always afraid of messing up and not being able to recover the work. And if that happened, I would have run screaming into the night. Thankfully, I didn't mess things up too much this time!
What was your favourite piece to create and why?
City IX: Under a Black Sun is my favourite because it touches on pieces from my last show, but it also incorporates new things I've learnt since then. I always like drawing buildings and little doorways, so I really enjoyed making it.
What games/media/podcasts have you been consuming this year?
Mostly just World of Warcraft (WoW). That thing is like a drug for me. I've been playing since I was 16 and it's the bane of my existence – but I love it. I also met my wife, Maria, through WoW so it brought me my fair share of blessings, too. I've also been playing a bit of Stardew Valley. I been listening and re-listening to a lot of audiobooks/readings. So far I've listened to The Enchiridion, Stories of Old Greece and Rome, Conan: The Complete Weird Tales Omnibus, Roadside Picnic, The English and their History, the Ultimate Lovecraft Collection, Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman and Yao to Mao: 5000 Years of Chinese History. I have enjoyed them all.
How did the pandemic affect your art practice? What did you do to stay sane while in lockdown?
I never leave the house unless I really have to anyway, so nothing has really changed other than I really need a haircut. I'm not so worried about going out and getting a haircut, but my hermit instincts have kicked into overdrive. I started wearing a headband because my hair keeps going into my eyes.
Thanks so much for your time Alfred. Did you have any parting words?
I just wanted to say thank you for the interview and thank you to everyone for their support. I hope everyone will enjoy the work in the upcoming show!
RPG by Alfred Liu
Outré Gallery Fitzroy
19 June – 8 July 2020