The Space Between Realism, Fantasy, Grief, and Joy: Q&A with Caroline Liu

Meow Wolf Santa Fe’s featured artist Caroline Liu shares about seeing the impact of their creative vision and collaborating with Meow Wolf.

Meow Wolf Santa Fe recently announced their new multipurpose space for community programming and local events called Rainbow Rainbow. When Senior Creative Director, Chadney Everett, was looking for the right artist to collaborate with he wanted to make sure it was going to be a space that promotes inspiration. Caroline Liu (who uses pronouns she/they) was the artist chosen. Assistant Producer in Artist Collaboration, Jessie Kelley, said she felt that Caroline’s art would help invigorate creativity and “create a space where imagination could thrive.” Chadney recalls the moment he saw Caroline's work, “I knew we had discovered the perfect inaugural artist for Rainbow Rainbow. Caroline's work is joyously creative and impeccably crafted.” Jessie agreed, “Caroline’s work sets the tone of the room, which is indeed inspiring and really fun!” 

Caroline created an entrance and a four-wall mural inside Meow Wolf Santa Fe’s Rainbow Rainbow with 3D elements including a 200-foot tongue (that’s right, read it again) that wraps around the ceiling.  

The entrance of Rainbow Rainbow community space adorned with artist Caroline Liu’s mural of paintings of eyeballs as flowers
Photo by Caroline Liu

Caroline was also named one of Southwest Contemporary’s “12 New Mexican Artists to Know Now 2022” and most definitely has made the top of our list of artists you should totally get to know. Let’s dive in and start the introduction, shall we?

What are your most used art forms and what kinds of things have you created?

I bounce between painting, drawing, and sewing. This trifecta has been foundational to my practice as it informs three different parts of my identity. Painting allows me to tap into more creative free-flowing expression while drawing focuses my rigid mind, and sewing brings me back to my inner teenager, All three of these forms allow me to be playful and free and weird. It’s a nice balance. The different approaches also allow me to grow in new ways and not feel bogged down or bored. Painting brought me to the world of murals and allowed my work to be seen on trains, billboards, and now this immersive experience at Meow Wolf. My sewing projects started small and then turned into large-scale therapeutic plushies. 

A few years ago, as part of a residency, I created a 12 ft long Eelpaca, an eel and alpaca hybrid of course, named Henrietta. Thick and whimsical, this creature can wrap around you in one giant comforting hug! It was this soft sculpture that really brought to life my idea for the giant tongue that wraps along the ceiling at Meow Wolf. I’ve had a wild ride in my career and I’m so appreciative of all the different opportunities so far. I get to make really fun and cool things. It’s a dream! 

Where are you from? 

I once read an interview about the artist James Jean where he said he often feels like an alien no matter where he is and that this feeling of not belonging to any one place is what inspires him to make art. I feel a strong sense of connection to that idea. 

I grew up outside of Chicago, moved to Albuquerque for school, moved to the city of Chicago to start my career, and then back to Albuquerque for a slower pace of life. I’ve traveled throughout the world and have met tons of interesting people. I see my place and origin as more chameleon-like. Moving and seeing and experiencing is wholly more part of my identity than any actual place. 

We are so lucky to have your work featured at Meow Wolf Santa Fe’s new community center. What was it like coming to Meow Wolf every day to work on this space? 

It was a lot of fun and everyone was so welcoming. The team graciously allowed me to bring my chonky senior dog, Pig, and she quickly won the hearts of everyone, becoming a crowd favorite. Pig is such a ham and loved being ooo’ed and aww’ed every day. House of Eternal Pig! Haha. Meow Wolf is such an amazing community of people. It’s been really great getting to know everyone there. It was amazing being able to explore and experience Santa Fe in a way I never had before! In a way, I was really living and breathing harmoniously with this installation.

Artist Caroline Liu is covered in paint next to their dog surrounded by many cans of paints of different colors
Photo by Kate Russell

Was this your largest installation? 

This was by far the largest, most immersive installation in my career. I’ve had the opportunity to paint a few larger murals, but this was my first time painting an entire room, hallway, and giving creative direction to an incredible team in building three-dimensional elements for both the wall and ceiling. It was a bit daunting at first, knowing that whatever I created would have such a significant impact, but it was also super exciting knowing that I could expand upon my creative vision in wild ways I had never thought possible before. 

Artist Caroline Liu paints a mural of a blue bird on a wall with lots of eyeballs
Photo by Kate Russell

What is a goal or accomplishment that you would like to see yourself be able to do with your art – big picture? 

I would love to have my work compiled into a book, documenting the last ten years of my art practice. Over the years, my work has reflected all my different phases of life and it would be fascinating to see everything in one cohesive place, as it’s evolved in its themes and representation. I have accumulated thousands of photos documenting my practice from initial sketches to works in progress to the final forms, so to have a book that catalogs my vast body of work would be truly thrilling.

Have you ever seen the impact of your art on others? 

Yes! It’s one of my favorite memories. Last year, I had the most incredible experience painting a mural in the Asia on Argyle district in Uptown, Chicago. The mural was part of Uptown Art Week, an initiative to paint dozens of murals in the neighborhood to brighten the community and attract new visitors. 

My mural was on the side of a Chinese restaurant, Hon Kee BBQ, which has been in the community for years, and as a Chinese person, it was really meaningful being able to create something for and with my community. The mural features a colorful narrative scene of a woman sipping on soup and the legend of the carp and dragon swirling around her. One day, while I was painting high up on the scissor lift, a group of small Asian children walked by, probably around 7-8 years old. They stopped and watched with big doe eyes, and then shouted out “Wow. It looks amazing!!! We’re so proud of you!!!” And it was the most heartwarming thing. It made me feel so proud to show these little kids that their culture is something to be celebrated and seen and that someone that looks like them can have these big impactful opportunities. It was such a meaningful moment! 

Photo by Caroline Liu

What's next? Are you working on any big projects?

I have a two-person exhibition opening Friday, June 2nd at Pie Projects Contemporary Art in Santa Fe. I’ll be showing a collection of new paintings and small-scale drawings that’ll be displayed publicly for the first time! It’s always exciting showing new work because with every new iteration comes a wave of fresh themes, emotions, and discourse. 

I plan to spend the rest of the year working at a steady pace in my studio, playing around with some new fiber art techniques and painting ideas. While I wait on the news for a few residencies and grants in the next year, I’m taking a long-awaited road trip this summer with the Pig to see places I’ve always wanted to visit. At the top of my list are the Redwoods and seeing the buffalos in Yellowstone with my dad. I’m excited to broaden my perspective and let the curiosity of life spark inspiration for future works! 

Keep up with what Caroline’s doing and check out more of their work on, TikTok, and Instagram.