World Renowned Photographer Pixy Liao Visits New Paltz

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World-renowned artist and photographer Pixy Liao visited SUNY New Paltz on April 3 to take students, faculty and the public on a journey through her vibrant, boundary-pushing body of work.

Her lecture was a part of the school’s Art Lecture Series organized by the Student Art Alliance, a student-run organization exposing the community to fine-art and artists. These events, funded by the Student Association, explore the processes of the various visiting artists and allow for one-on-one studio time with students after the lecture every semester. 

“I really just talk to them about my response to their work. I give them very honest opinions about what work will invoke my emotions,” Liao said. 

Liao is most well-known for her photography, which explores themes about gender, intimacy, relationships and power. Her work is full of color and humor but provides hidden themes and messages about these topics. She got her start working in graphic design but quickly lost interest in the path when it began stifling her creativity. In graphic design, clients would always want to change her designs; in photography, she could capture a moment that belonged to her.

She moved from Shanghai to the U.S., where she studied photography and met her boyfriend, Moro. Moro became the primary subject of her work, and his natural and open demeanor allowed her to push boundaries in her photography. Whether its projects where Moro is completely nude, fits himself into a suitcase or gets sprayed with fake breast milk, he is always open to Liao’s vision and process. When she first started using him as a model, classmates overlooked the themes of her work and instead focused on the seemingly compromising positions she would pose him in. The feedback made her realize how unique her relationship with Moro was, and she decided to turn the camera towards her relationship.

“This relationship allows me to understand myself, because before meeting Moro my idea of heterosexual relationships was very limited. I didn’t know other types of relationships would actually work. By doing this photo project and having the real relationship with Moro, it helped me to test whether other possibilities are possible,” Liao said.

She began working on the ongoing project “Experimental Relationship” in 2007 to focus on both her own relationship and abstract ideas about other dynamics. Liao appears to have the power in their relationship in many of her photographs; however, the cable release used to take the picture is often in Moro’s hand. Moro decides the moment captured, sharing power with Liao. In the project, they can be seen on top of each other, sharing clothes, wrestling and eating food off the other. Being both the visionary and the subject behind her photos, she is able to make her imagination a reality in a way no one else can.

“A lot of my photos, I’m trying to examine my imagination and the camera mixes my imagination with reality to test it. In a way, it’s an experiment for me,” Liao said.

Her project “For Your Eyes Only” is an extension of the Experimental Relationship project, where she further explores her interest in intimacy, composition and the body. Her depictions of the body, specifically of a phallic nature, can be seen in other projects throughout her career such as “Soft Heel Shoes,” a pair of shoes with a penis as a heel and “Boobs Cake,” a sculpture with phallic and yonic imagery. Her use of genitals in her work is a peek into her sense of humor, but underneath the absurdity lies a curiosity about gender roles and the power that comes with being a man. Her work centers the female gaze, and her identity as a woman is essential to the artwork she creates.

“For me, to photograph is an urge that comes from something I do not see in images. I think if I were a man, I wouldn’t have a reason to do that because I’d have already seen it,” Liao said.

Her artwork has been incredibly successful, but as an artist and a college graduate, Liao knows that being an artist isn’t easy.

“I just want to tell the students to use their time well when they’re in school, especially in SUNY New Paltz. You have very good facilities,” Liao said. “This kind of support is very hard to find when you graduate. So really try to make good use of the time, and maybe try to turn on more skills where you can.”