Photo by Isaac Miller
Photos by Isaac Miller

According to Louise Chen, her art is a result of brain farts.

For the month of May, Chen, a third-year art student, will exhibit her collection titled “Cerebral Flatulence” on the walls of Caffé Pergolesi. She describes her illustrations of abstract plants, family portraits, and bikes as “uncontrollable byproducts” of her brain.

More Q&A and pictures after the jump.

Chen, who hails from Santa Monica, drew inspiration from Los Angeles’s bike culture and her experience with Midnight Ridazz, a monthly late-night bike ride party in Los Angeles. She brought her own version of the late night rides to Santa Cruz under the name of Crank Mob, inspired by a ride of a similar name in from Los Angeles. Chen recently sat down with CHP to talk about how Santa Cruz, Los Angeles, and the bike culture has influenced her art.


CHP: A lot of your work on the walls of Caffé Pergolesi’s has plant themes, what inspires you to include plants in your art?

I have always loved botanical illustrations because they’re just beautifully rendered and meticulously detailed. But none of my plants are actually realistic which is one thing that I like. I do not want to be labeled as a botanical illustrator because I consider myself more of a conceptual artist.

I really like blossoms because they insinuate so many different things. They are the female version of phallic. Plants are so much more evolved than humans in a way, even though they are just standing in one place all of the time. They know how to work around their environment and live so many more years than humans.

Louise Chen’s family portraits.

CHP: Do any of these pictures in the gallery have a story behind them?

All of them do. The portrait of my mom when she was young and my grandparents and my little brother I drew that because I thought that the gaze that my brother had was very interesting because my father was taking the picture and we sort of removed him from our family in a way. It’s funny because in that image it looks like my brother is glaring at him kind of in a foreboding way like “oh we do not want you here, you don’t belong in our family.” He lives in China, he kind of packed up a left a long time ago. It’s kind of a little bit of my family history.

CHP: A lot of you’re art has parts of bikes mixed into it. What motivates you to do this?

I am obsessed with bikes, I have so many bike drawings. I love drawing bikes all of the time. They are just amazing. They are a human powered vehicle and are the best way to get around. I love working on them. It is one of the only things that I understand and the culture, it pulled me in. The first time I really got obsessed with it was with the Midnight Ridazz and all those friends. It was such a community around it I kind of just fell in love with it and it was just a great part of my life.


CHP: Can you tell me how the Crank Mob bike rides started?

Crank Mob started in Los Angeles actually. I did not think of the name or the idea. There is a group of riders in L.A. called the Midnight Ridazz, which is thousands of people strong right now. The first Midnight Ridazz ride I went on was Crank Mob and I became friends with the person who initiated it and after that I kind of talked to people who rode their bikes in Santa Cruz and we decided to do a ride like Crank Mob because we didn’t have anything like it.

Critical Mass was pretty small in numbers at the time, it still it only like 30 people or less here and so we did Crank Mob just for the fun of it, so we could have an alternative way of partying–instead of drinking and driving, drinking and riding bikes.

But it sucks because people took it the wrong way here and thought it was more of a protest ride and so when people came on the ride who didn’t know much about it or didn’t look at the flyer, they thought Crank Mob was an aggressive bike ride. There were altercations with vehicles and people smashed one window and they were trying to deter the ride from its original meaning, which was just to have fun and to just play, party and dance.

After that I kind of decided that Santa Cruz wasn’t meant for Crank Mob and Crank Mob was not meant for Santa Cruz and it just kind of fizzled out. And organizing it by myself was really ridiculous, I did not have time to organize it by myself and pick the route and have to handle a hundred people during the night.

I am thinking of starting another ride perhaps, something that is not monthly, something that is special like a one time square dance ride or something like that. I still think bike rides are essential in the city, I think that everyone should have a bike in this city.


CHP: How did L.A. culture influence your art?

A whole lot of art galleries. All these museums that I had access to and I would always go and see art. My mom worked at a museum so I could get into any museum in the area for free because she was affiliated with them. I grew up with art.

The style that I have is not particularly L.A. I think it developed more when I came to school here in Santa Cruz. I do a lot of environmentally-based things. I grew so much when I came here and developed more as a visual artist. This is the only thing that I do here I draw and I ride bikes.

Photos by Issac Miller.