We described Cary Kwok’s last show at Herald St as being “overrun” with “enthusiastic” penises. It would seem that, four years on, little has changed. Hong Kong-born, London-based Cary Kwok made a name for himself with intricate ballpoint pen drawings, and has since moved into working with acrylics and ink while broadly covering the same themes that have concerned him for the past few years—sex, wanking, and marrying historical reference points with pop culture film icons and a sci-fi twist. His long-held fascination with historical fashion and period costumes and footwear are still evident, with his signature bawdy erotic twist that manages to find the x-rated in the most banal of banal of objects—a light switch, for instance.
This current exhibition showcases Hollywood tropes, only with a twist that moves from erotic to grotesque. Someday My Prince Will Cum (2019), for instance, takes various Disney characters and places them into a gang bang scenario. Aladdin gets a blow job from his Genie, who looks up with panicked wide eyes; Snow White bounds around with a massive strap-on, appearing as though she’s not quite sure what to do with herself; a few of her dwarves seem to be engaging in a suck-n-fuck free-for-all with no visible payoff for anyone involved.
Alongside the heyday of Disney animation, Kwok also draws from cinematic influences including Blade Runner and Studio Ghibli—which he’s said he often screens in the background as he works. The Blade Runner-inspired 2019 work Sir, For the 100th Time, You Are Not a Replicant, takes the film’s futuristic universe and focuses on its test that interrogates people to find out if they’re real or “replicants”. Here, though, the device is “an automated, strap-on masturbation device”. Kwok explains that the underpinning belief here is simply that “to cum is human”; and so he shows that whatever the man—holy, historical, macho, effeminate—and whatever the “colours of their skin, they all cum in the same colour.” This is part of Kwok’s work’s explorations of being a non-white immigrant in the UK, and a plea for people to recognise our shared sameness and base humanity.
Tell me more about your interest in conflating the worlds of sci-fi and sex. Why was Blade Runner in particular an inspiration?
I love the film. It’s beautifully shot and romantic. My work is very much influenced by cinema. The way I compose my drawings is usually very cinematic. Most of the subjects of my drawings are and have always been inspired by past years, especially the twentieth century. I love different art, architecture, film genres and so on—whether they’re period or set in the future—and the fashion that’s inspired by these movements. The sexuality you see in my drawings has little to do the periods I choose. The era of choice is usually the backdrop of the drawing to fulfil my love of period fashion, interiors and architecture.
“Instead of being confrontational I prefer to convey a message gently, with sexuality and my sense of humour”
How far does your work set out to be deliberately provocative?
I never set out to be deliberately provocative at all. It’s more personal than provocative: I just make work with subjects that I’m passionate about, and which evoke the romance of past eras. I focus on the things that turn me on, like my sexual fantasies, and what amuses me, like some of the puns that I use in my drawings and the titles.
Have you experienced much backlash in relation to the content of your work?
I think the humour behind my work allows me to push boundaries. People who are easily offended probably wouldn’t be looking at my work by choice. My work challenges certain stereotypes and is a reminder of the message I try to get across.
What do you hope your viewers get from seeing your art?
My work, whether it’s my erotic drawings or my period fashion ones, has subtle resonances of racial equality, especially my earlier pieces. I always include people of different cultures and ethnicities in most series of drawings that I make as a gentle and humorous reminder that people of different cultures and ethnicities function and feel (physically and emotionally). Everyone cums the same. It also has a great deal to do with some of the negative experiences I’ve had living in the UK and Europe as a non-white person, but instead of being confrontational I prefer to convey a message gently, with sexuality and my sense of humour.
“Masturbation is universal— it’s something almost everyone does”
Lots of artists’ work focuses on sex, not as many on wanking—why is it important to you to take that as a theme for many of your pieces?
A lot of my older erotic work featured a great deal of masturbating. Masturbation is universal— it’s something almost everyone does. The message behind my work is a subtle reminder to people to appreciate our differences and sameness. My characters are more engaged with each other in my more recent pieces.