Augustina Wang

Augustina Wang (b. August 27th, 1999, New York, NY) is a painter based in New York, NY. Wang received her BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2022. Wang’s work has been shown at Sow & Tailor, Los Angeles, NY; WOAW Gallery, Hong Kong; Felix Art Fair, Los Angeles, LA; Thierry Goldberg Gallery, New York, NY; and Cierra Britton Gallery, New York, NY; and more.
April 10, 2023
Tell us about your practice, for those who are new to you.
I am an oil painter. My work depicts typically femme figures, though their forms may shift, that are avatars of myself. I approach figurative painting from the perspective of video game avatar customization– these beings are proxies of myself and nothing about them is in stasis, which I consider to be radically different from other modes of figurative painting, which traditionally emphasizes a sort of journalistic painting approach. I want to create worlds for these facets of me; worlds that nourish and let them thrive. Worlds that heal their wounds, or simply erase any sort of history of pain that they might have suffered by being tied to me.
The palettes and art of older manga heavily inspire me. As someone whose practice is influenced by worldbuilding and myth-making, shoujo manga (Japanese comics for young girls), particularly, serves as a good inspirational touchstone for me. It’s rare to have media that indulges in the whims and fantasies of girls… to be unconditionally loved and respected. I hope to bring that energy into my work.
The notion of worldbuilding is quite central in your practice, can you talk about what got you started to explore this notion?
I’ve always been interested in video games. Growing up, I didn’t have many friends and I felt always a sort of odd-one-out… being an awkward Asian-American girl who was trying to find her place in the world. Video games were an escape for me in those circumstances; the characters I would wield suddenly became a vessel I could embody. I had a sense of agency and power that was rarely afforded to me.
In order to achieve that full sense of escapism, the world I was escaping into needed to be believable, or at least a world I’d like to inhabit. To have a history, legend, lore, or some sort of spiritual ethos that could transform just an “environment” into a “world.” I find this sentiment interesting– fashioning sensitive topics like history or faith into something more superficial just to serve this “world.” It was essentially reducing my traumas into just set dressing, and it was strangely liberating.
You’ve described your painting as a way to “roleplay power” – can you talk a little more about what you mean by that?
Growing up in the mid-2000s, I was very much shaped by internet culture. I used to browse and participate in “roleplaying” forums– communities made of usually young, ostracized girls/queer kids who would make up incredibly contrived characters and wedge themselves into some established franchises and “roleplay” out a story with their own characters. Their characters tended to be extremely powerful, beautiful, all-knowing … total alien/foreign godlike beings of strength that inserted themselves into a world that wasn’t their own. This raw, naive ethos (something people look back to and consider “cringe”) is something I hope to channel through my work. People would chide these characters for being too perfect or unrealistic, but rarely would they see them for what they were, a coping mechanism– tools that let these girls roleplay power, desire, beauty, or courage. Concepts become more and more fleeting or confusing as they grow up under the shadow of misogyny. In my case, I only came to revisit this idea after the pandemic and my assault on campus– I felt so isolated and delusional, I felt like I almost chose to embrace it; like I was this warrior-woman who was fighting for an imaginary being of “justice” despite knowing, deep down, that justice was not always attainable, and that sometimes survival was all you could hope for. 
During this time, I learned to describe this “roleplaying” as “proxies of power.” Through their avatars, they can embody a different being, and through that transformation, completely liberate themselves from systemic oppression. Though the method is only imaginary and naive, and perhaps cannot truly alleviate systemic pain, it serves as a way to privately, and individually heal. It is a way to escape into one’s wildest delusions, freely with no bounds. 
Many of the motifs in your work seem fantastical, and you’ve also mentioned that you draw inspiration from your childhood self – are there specific references you usually draw from?
I make art that I think my childhood self would empathize with. She was this sort-of awkward girl who didn’t fit anywhere but loved going on roleplaying forums or fanfiction sites and had a complex about her body and her race. It’s sort of a love letter to her; even though she knew she was weird or a nerd, all of her experiences would end up feeding into me. I hope my paintings now tell her that she didn’t need to change and that she should be proud of how it panned out.
One specific motif is the flowers I paint. I used to run a blog back then that had documented flowers and “flower language;” I was fascinated by how bouquets adorned with different flowers could secretly mean different things. I still have a backhand memory of most flowers, and I try to put them in as secrets for my younger self. In “Poet,” for example, there are tiny painted croci, flowers that signal the very first breath of spring, and thus “new beginnings,” as that painting is mostly inspired by the art process itself, I feel like it was an appropriate flower to paint.
What has been inspiring you lately? It can be anything – an artist, movies, theme, relationships, etc.
I feel like I’ve been inspired by the same handful of artists for a long time. Whenever I get asked this, my mind always jumps to Hirohiko Araki, the manga artist for Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. Something about extremely buff men who dress in high fashion, fighting each other with spirit warriors while also striking poses… it’s so good. His blend of “indulgence” in how the character dress, gender performance, fighting scenes, and even color palette, is one that I’d never think would work but is nonetheless perfect.
I’m also, on the flip side of camp, inspired by Elden Ring. As with other video games in that vein, a lot of dark/lore-heavy stuff about death and futility. It’s a technically hard game, and it sort of teaches you that many of the things you grind for are in vain… but in a beautiful, ephemeral way. You keep failing and failing, but you can feel yourself grow stronger and get better, and even though you lose you still gain, and that sentiment is how I’ve approached my painting practice itself. It’s sort of influenced my aesthetics; all the assets in that game are highly sculpted and I like a lot of how the clothes or weapons look.
What’s next for you?
I’ll be showing in Dubai with Moosey Art and Volery Gallery in May, as well as some more shows in the future. I also have a residency in Norwich, England, with Moosey Art as well in the summer. So excited about the future and what it has in store for me!

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