“I want people to feel happy and stronger”: Chelsea Wong's detailed works are filled with love and optimism
The artist talks us through her recent endeavours, creating positive and diverse works in response to a difficult year.
- Ayla Angelos
- 2 March 2021
When artist Chelsea Wong was growing up, she was innately influenced by her parents: her mother was a graphic designer and her father a professor of political science, who’d teach classes on philosophy and Marxist theory at Evergreen State College. Both had a profound impact on the type of career that Chelsea would end up pursuing, which was assuredly artistic. “I was exposed to and understood the value and importance of art from a very young age,” she tells It’s Nice That. “I consider myself fortunate to have grown up in a family that encouraged creativity.”
As a result, Chelsea went on to study at Parsons School of Design in New York, before graduating with a BFA in Printmaking at California College of the Arts in Oakland, California. During this period in time, the budding artist dabbled between disciplines and muses, in turn creating an amalgamation of her key interests – that being fashion, political music and a sense of graphic design interwoven throughout her pieces. Yet despite these educational pursuits and a drive to study her craft, Chelsea simply creates art for the utmost joy of it. “I am inspired by what I see and how I feel,” she adds. “I chase my own happiness and paint what brings me joy.” This outlook is especially relevant now, wherein the artist (like many) has been enjoying the outdoors to a greater degree. Prior to this present day and pre-pandemic, her work was centred around travel and cities. Now, she’s been finding herself spending more time amongst nature and this has consequently altered her subject matter. “I try to remember the details of what I see, how a beautiful sunset reflects on the ocean, and the sense of warmth it brings me. This type of beauty makes me feel complete and I am inspired to share that with the world.”
When constructing her pieces, Chelsea always works off intuition. It’s a free-flowing process devoid of any preliminary sketches, and one that bounces between the use of watercolours and acrylics. And, although hailing from art school, she’d only taken a few painting classes so the methodology and craft of it all is very much self-taught. What’s more is that within her detailed scenes of various people and places, Chelsea makes sure to be inclusive. “As a figurative painter it’s important for me to include diversity in my paintings,” she says. “I grew up in a multi-racial and ethnically merged family. As a child, I didn’t see many Asian role models in the media.” Her niece and sisters are mixed Black and Japanese, so as an image-maker herself, she feels the need and responsibility to make sure that her niece, and people of all backgrounds, can see themselves in her art. “And to all the young women in the world who need positive reinforcement, I want them to know that I am thinking about them, that they are important and deserving of healthy and affirming representation in the media.”
In Work All Day, Warm Beach at Night (2020), Chelsea has mapped out a detailed scene that takes place on a Northern California beach, an imagined place that certainly takes inspiration from her CA surroundings. Within this piece, she’s depicting small groups of people enjoying themselves; the sun is setting, a full moon is slowly peaking and the sky is transitioning to the night. “You can feel the warmth of the sand,” she says, noting how, as the title suggests, some or most work hard all day to then find themselves at the beach taking a remedial break after their working hours. “At the end of the day, before sunset, they’ve rushed out to the beach to meet friends or enjoy a book by themselves. It’s a painting that brings a lot of comfort, and is inspired by the rare, warm evenings of San Francisco. The painting says, ‘why not?’ Enjoy life, it’s too short to not have fun.”
Dancing Into the (Could Be) New Year (2021) is a recent piece of Chelsea’s that sees a mix of watercolour and gouache painting on paper, illustrating a group of friends dancing around a living room. In this one, a fireplace is lit in the background as they sit atop a chequered rug, disco lights in full swing on the wall. “I can’t reveal exactly who or what influenced the painting, but as the title suggests, there could have been a gathering with some highly inspiring and delightful friends. I love dancing, by myself and with others. It frees the soul.” The piece delves into her personal feelings about the past year, whereby she hopes to remain realistic and optimistic about the future. A future that is filled with dancing and connection with those that she loves.
Rest assured that Chelsea’s pieces will bring a sense of joy and optimism on a typically grey day (and year). This is precisely how she hopes her audience will respond, aided by the fact that she adds encouraging bits of text to her paintings to further ignite a sense of strength and positivity. “I paint people that are getting the most out of life, no matter their background circumstances, race or age,” she concludes. “Beauty comes in many forms, it can be visible like in nature, and it can also be invisible. Beauty is the feelings we observe from strangers or the warmth we receive from our communities, family and friends. But mostly, I think beauty comes from within and I want people to feel happy and stronger after they look at my work.”
Chelsea Wong: Many Moons I've Dreamt of You (Copyright © Chelsea Wong, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she became online editor in 2022 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima.