Dans le Sable
 | October 2020

Chelsea Wong is a painter and muralist whose work reflects a deep love of her San Francisco, California community. Celebrating diversity and color and infusing happiness and joy, Chelsea creates flourishing scenes (both real and imaginary) that share some of life's best moments.

Chelsea has infectious, positive energy and it makes you want to hang out with her forever. We chat about how she shares her studio with a dear friend named Jared Silbert who does graphic design and painting.

 Q & A With Chelsea Wong

Chelsea has infectious, positive energy and it makes you want to hang out with her forever. We chat about how she shares her studio with a dear friend named Jared Silbert who does graphic design and painting.

PLUNGE: How often are you here working?

CHELSEA: Well, it depends. For shows, like every day. If it was my choice I would be here Monday through Friday and have weekends off. Ideally I’d be here five days a week solid. When I come here I come in at like 11 and I leave at 11… It’s an all-day thing. They have a daughter, the people who own this building, and their daughter thinks I live here. All I need is a fold-out bed and I pretty much would live here. 

So you’re making art full-time then?

Yeah, I work one day a week though, I’m working at Bi Rite.

At what point did you make the transition from a full-time job to a full-time art practice?

A couple years ago, something like that… 2019… because I was working full-time in tech at Craigslist. I worked there full-time forever and it was soul sucking. And then I had the offer to do [a] Facebook mural and they wouldn’t give me the time off so I was like, okay great I’ll quit. And that was that. And then my mom was like, if you don't go full-time now you’ll never know…

So you kind of just dove in?

Yeah I was like, if it doesn’t work I’ll just get another job, it’s fine. I have some job skills, I’m not gonna go broke or hungry or whatever.

So when did you come to San Francisco? You’re from Seattle, right?

Yeah, Seattle born and raised. I came here for a guy, like all good stories. I did apply to college and was like, I’ll probably get in to CCA. So I moved here without knowing and I got accepted… So I moved here in 2007.

Did you get what you wanted out of art school and does it inform your practice now? 

That’s such a good question. I do think the answer to it is yes. I feel like I should probably be considered an art school success story, but even to this day I still don’t know if I think people should go to art school and pay a lot of money for it. I’m very torn on that. A lot of people, you can just tell that they’re not going to be successful within art afterwards… you just know. And then for me I do feel like I’m an exception, which is sad, but I did get what I wanted out of art school because right now I’m living my dream. I don’t feel like that would have been possible if I hadn’t gone to art school and I don’t really know if art school prepared me for life after. But I don’t regret it at all; I loved every minute of it. I do think the amount of loans people take out to go to art school… it’s insane. Honestly I had a lot of regrets after I went to art school and I wondered what life would have been like if I had just become a marketing person, this or that.

What do you think was the key to making it work for you? Why do you think you were successful when others weren’t?

Well… I always tell people: never quit making art. I worked at a storage facility for a long time, like in a trailer, and I was still making art during that time, I made art when I was traveling, I made art when I was working in retail, I made art when I was working at Craigslist. The ball was still always rolling even when I was working full-time.

Do you ever find yourself in a creative funk or block?

A little bit, yeah. Right now, actually. After a show, always… I worked 24/7 for this show in New York. I had to say no to a lot of stuff, I worked so hard, didn’t have any days off, coming home at midnight or 1 am… I do feel a little bit sad after shows like that because I have all this momentum going…

And then it just stops?

Yeah, and even though the show is pretty much sold out it still feels weird to me. I have to find my rhythm again. I like to be busy. 

How do you work through those moments?

I just start painting. 

So you just force yourself to keep going?

Yeah, I have to. I can get distracted very easily and procrastinate so I have to just sit down and push things out. I try to be very disciplined. It’s very scary for me to not be busy. So goals help me, and I write things down in my notebook, or sometimes I like to take free projects too. Not a lot, I don't like to work for free, but sometimes I like to do things that feel more like volunteering or an exchange or something. I like to have things lined up.

So you kind of answered this in other ways, but how does making art make you feel?

Oh, it feels like water, it feels like air. I get so sad when I don’t make art or I’m not in the studio. I really do want to just paint. I’m trying to figure out how to do less of my own administrative work or say no to projects. But I do like to have many things going on at once, so sometimes the administrative stuff is helpful, cause I’m like, ooh now I gotta write an email! But even when I go camping I’m like, oh I need to go to my studio…

Do you work from photographs or memory? 

I have to give myself the license to not do things true-to-life because I know that realistic painting isn’t my super talent or whatever. If you’re not a good realistic painter like I’m not, why the fuck would I try to start? I want to make good things that look good, you know what I mean? Cause I'm my own best judge. I always tell people to know what you're good at and do that until you feel like you can get to the point where you can start trying out new things, challenge yourself, try to do things that are scary. I’m trying to push myself to do things that I see.

Listen to Chelsea's Playlist on the Plunge Spotify Page ~

Find more of Chelsea's work:

Chelsea's Instagram
Chelsea's Website
Chelsea on Its Nice That