On a recent rainy weekend near the end of October, I took the train up to Connecticut to visit the artist Cake in her studio. Although she only started putting her work on the street about two years ago, Cake is no stranger to the street art world. Through her circle of friends at Pratt Institute in the early 2000s, she had a front-row seat to the burgeoning street art scene then taking shape in Brooklyn. At the time, she was working on completing her degree in painting and very much focused on her studio art. With this in mind, I was curious to learn more about her artistic development and what motivated her to take her work out of the studio and onto the streets.
Encouraged to pick up a brush by her grandmother, a noted Chinese landscape artist in her own right, Cake immersed herself in a world of art from an early age on. Taught to paint using watercolors, she now paints exclusively with acrylics. Before embarking upon her course of studies at Pratt, she began experimenting in painting abstracts. She continued producing abstract paintings at the same time as building a body of more figurative work.
One could even say she was building bodies both figuratively and literally, as anatomical elements began appearing as a motif that bridged both areas of work. From a structural standpoint, she used skeletal outlines to differentiate between foregrounds and backgrounds in her abstracts. She admitted to relishing a certain “creepiness” associated with skulls and skeletons that, especially when incorporated into her portraits of babies and children, radiated vulnerability on the cusp of impending violence. The heart also features prominently within Cake’s work and represents her attempt to put a “medicinal spin on an emotion.” Through her art, she aims to therapeutically transform raw and loaded emotions into functional and neutral symbols; for Cake, the heart is a symbol far removed from stereotypical notions of romance. I sense an incredible hidden strength in Cake’s work – her delicately drawn female forms, with open hearts, visible bones and arms akimbo, belie their apparent helplessness and exude a toughness that I find very appealing.
Befitting of someone who pours her heart into her art, Cake eschews the mass production methods of some of her contemporaries. Her pieces are all hand drawn and colored – in a word, each is an original. Given the incredible amount of work she invests in each piece, I asked what had changed since her days at Pratt and why had she decided to start getting up. For Cake, it was the realization that the street is not only more authentic than the gallery, but also where she feels most at home. Beginning with hand-embellished stickers, she quickly moved on to wheatpasting first small, then increasingly larger pieces as her confidence and comfort level rose.
Like many street artists, she was soon completely hooked, enjoying the sensation of paint and paste on her hands and reveling in the adrenaline rush following the successful installation of a piece. Finding it liberating to let her work go, she made a conscious choice to start putting up more work and to stop worrying about what happened to it. Her work has clearly found resonance amongst her peers, as she’s already completed a number of successful collaborations (notably with Veng of Robots Will Kill, Feral, and Passenger Pigeon) – with no doubt more to come.
Cake was recently one of three artists, alongside Chris Stain and Cern, tapped by Art in General
to provide murals for the arts organization’s fundraising gala. She is participating in Brooklynite Gallery’s
upcoming group show, Go Get Your Shinebox
, as well as in Anno Domini’s
annual invitational group exhibit and art sale, Fresh Produce. You can see more of her work on her Flickr.