Every summer, C.H.A.T. presents its annual Hmong Arts & Music Festival. There you can find many talented artists of varying crafts. A perfect opportunity for those seeking exposure. Amongst the talented people that we met last summer was an artist named Kao Lee Thao.
As a person who can barely draw a circle, I can appreciate those who can craft artwork with a pencil and paper. Kao Lee’s artwork is more extensive then that. She is able to craft beautiful pieces that showcase Hmong traditions entwined with beautiful colors—each piece its own.
Not all her work is inspired by Hmong traditions and values. My favorite pieces of Kao’s are called “Your Inner Swirl”, which consists of pictures of people next to the paintings that Kao created based on those pictures. It opens the door to her creativeness and allows you to see things and life through her eyes.
The intricacy of her artwork is beyond words. I looked at the artwork prior to interviewing Kao and again as I write this, and I find myself seeing new things in each one that I didn’t notice before. I found myself more appreciative of the work more than I was before.
Not only is she talented with a brush, but she is an outstanding 3D animator, which is her career and painting is her hobby. Well, then she picked a great hobby. We at Hmoodle are happy to introduce you to Kao Lee Thao.
Ryan: First off, thanks for taking the time to do this interview with us. I know you said that you’re pretty booked until June and I know how valuable your time is.
Kao Lee: I would like to Thank Hmoodle for allowing me to share my passion with others. Yes, lately I’ve been pressed for time, but when Art is your career it’s great to be busy. Unfortunately there is never enough time to create.
Ryan: I have to say, your artwork is phenomenal. I’m very impressed with it. How long have you been doing it?
Kao Lee: Thanks! Unfortunately I don’t just sit at home and paint all day long. I create 3d animations for a living and painting is just a hobby. Since 3d is a demanding career I can only dedicate 3 months out of a year to paint. I’ve been painting for 4 years.
Ryan: How’d you get you start?
Kao Lee: I picked up a paintbrush one day and my world has never been the same since.
Ryan: For those who haven’t seen your artwork, how would you define it?
Kao Lee: I’ve termed it “Ugly, Beautiful” People find my artwork awkward but are subconsciously drawn to it. The style discovered me. My creations speak to me on a subconscious level defining what the end result will be. I just open an inner channel and let my subconscious take over.
An echoing symbol you’ll see in my artwork is the swirl. It possesses an underlying energy that dissipates from the central origin and reaches out to the viewer.
Ryan: So, where do you draw your inspiration from?
Kao Lee: My inspiration comes from my dreams and personal experience. My world is filled with swirls in constant motion.
Ryan: How long does your typical piece take?
Kao Lee: Honestly it all depends on how much coffee I drink before I start to paint. When inspired I won’t stop until I can’t keep my eyes open.
Ryan: Is there a process that you go through, or is each
individual piece different?
Kao Lee: My ritual can never be disturbed. All I need is Bjork music and cup of coffee. If something is out of place it makes it harder for me to create.
Ryan: Do you have any favorite piece/pieces? If so, why?
Kao Lee: Yukai and Joua
This is my most treasured painting! I’m drawn to this particular painting because it was one of my first experiments painting in a new style. Yukai has become a springboard for most of my new creations.
This was an exploration of bringing my paintings to a more upbeat urban style. While it still reads as my work it was a very inspirational piece for some work that will be completed soon.
Ryan: I have to say, I really liked the “inner swirl” pieces you have on your blog from Myspace. Where’d you come up with that idea?
Kao Lee: Their Inner Swirl spoke to me and I had to release it.
Ryan: Where has some of your artwork been featured?
The Critics Show, Hopkins Center for the Arts
Journey Through Our Lenses, Hennepin County Government Center
Happy Holidaze, Altered Esthetics
Saint Paul Art Crawl, Minnesota States Art Board
Echo, St. Paul Pioneer Press Gallery
Swirl, The Christensen Center Art Gallery
Blend, Local Flavor of Dunn Bros Coffee
Discovering Common Ground, IDS Tower Crystal Court
I’ve also been featured in magazines and online art site.
Ryan: Besides here on Hmoodle and your Myspace page, is there anywhere in person people check out your artwork? Do you have any shows coming up?
Kao Lee: I recently received a Forecast Public Art grant where I will design a Billboard on University Avenue. The painting will raise awareness to the remaining Hmong soldiers trapped in the jungles of Laos.
I don’t have any art shows planed this year. You can visit my online sites to see what I’ve been up to.
Personal site Coming Soon!
www.InnerSwirl.etsy.com Purchase my work here!
Ryan: Before I let you go, do you have any advice for aspiring artists out there?
Kao Lee: Thanks again for giving me the opportunity to discuss my work. My advice is to follow your passion.
Ryan: What can we expect from you in the future?
Kao Lee: Launching of my clothing line but it’s been a slow process since I have a Needle Phobia. Otherwise expect to see more 3d animations and paintings.
Ryan: Kao, thanks again for working with Hmoodle. Do you have any last words for our readers/
Kao Lee: “Imagination Sparks Inspiration”
When I look at Kao’s artwork, I’m often reminded of Tim Burton’s “Nightmare Before Christmas” or “Corpse Bride”, which is a definite compliment, because I am huge fan of his. It could be something that I just see, but that’s what art should be. It should bring conversation and debate.
Each one of her pieces has their own personality, if that makes sense. They all seem to speak to you and have a back story. A story you want to hear.
I have much respect and admiration for Kao Lee and her work. I look forward to seeing more of it in the future. I want you to check her out at the sites listed above. You can also find her on Myspace at: http://www.myspace.com/inner_swirl
Show her your support and let her know Hmoodle sent you.
If you have any questions or comments about this article, or want to be featured or know someone that should be, you can reach me at [email protected]