Yowshien Kuo’s erotic paintings of Asian cowboys examine the themes of submission, pleasure and power

Yowshien Kuo’s erotic paintings of Asian cowboys examine the themes of submission, pleasure and power

“As a child I loved the line,” Yowshien Kuo tells It’s Nice That. “The line work of 80s-90s American cartoons and comics coupled with the gestures and marks from my Chinese painting background which is calligraphic – they go hand in hand.” But while the artist has found a poetic fluency between American pop culture and Chinese calligraphy, their lived experience of navigating their Asian-American identity has not always felt so coherent. Their series Frontier Romance which depicts Asian cowboys in strange, spacey environments and bonded in shibari rope is both an ode to the artist’s love of pop-culture, film, folklore and the supernatural and an examination of their “instilled lust for white adjacency or acceptance”.

Yowshien’s artistic training took shape both in America and Taiwan. “My education in America was not an extraordinary experience, more of a struggle lacking in comprehending context and finding motivation,” says Yowshien. Born in the US, the artist went to study contemporary and traditional Chinese arts at a Taiwanese school for expats. They then returned to the States to study at Fontbonne University. Though “rather small” and “not a ‘cool’ art school”, Yowshien was allured by its unusual curriculum that focused on traditional Western Renaissance style painting techniques, stone carving, and darkroom photography, disciplines that have gone on to influence their eclectic visual style.

Alongside their training in more traditional media, Yowshien also developed a fondness for drama, cinema and the supernatural. In Frontier Romance all these worlds collide in a series of complex and dynamic compositions which feature Asian American cowboys. Popular interpretations of the American West’s history, particularly in cinema, have often appropriated the image of the cowboy as a white heteronormative male identity, glossing over the reality of a much more diverse population of range cattle-workers in the 19th century, a quarter of whom were Black. Joining a movement of creatives that have begun re-interpreting this white-washed history, Yowshien stages erotically-charged scenes of Asian cowboys.

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