Kristin Kwan

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Magic and Myth Arise from Kristin Kwan’s Surreal Oil Paintings

March 21, 2023

Grace Ebert

A painting of a nude woman surrounded by oyester mushrooms, only her shoulders and face visible

“Oyster.” All images © Kristin Kwan, shared with permission

Kristin Kwan coaxes the magic out of nature in her dreamlike oil paintings. Emphasizing a quiet surrealism centered on plants, animals, and Earth’s landscapes, her works draw on allegories, symbolism, and myth. Suffused with fantastical details, each painting begins “devoid of meaning,” Kwan shares, saying that while they reflect her own musings, she hopes the resulting pieces are open-ended. “I like to think of a painting as some kind of communal scaffold or trellis that meaning can grow on, my own alongside viewers,” the artist recently told Beautiful Bizarre, which awarded her the 2022 art prize for “The Golden Afternoon” shown below.

Kwan is currently preparing for two group shows, one in May at Tugboat Gallery in her current city of Lincoln, Nebraska, and another in August at Seattle’s Roq La Rue. She also has a solo show scheduled for December at Nucleus in Los Angeles. For glimpses into her process and studio and to keep up with her latest works, head to Instagram.


A circular painting of a toad with a massively bulging throat sitting on a mushroom


A painting of a cat holding a yellow bird in its mouth and holding up its right paw

“The Magician”

A circular painting of a young woman wrapped in foliage

“You Are Here”

A painting of two young girls, one facing the view and the other with her back to the viewer, their braids intertwined

“Gemini Season”

A painting of a deer wiht its antlers in the clouds


A circular painting of a unicorn lying down in a sea of mushrooms


A painting of a young girl eating a honeycomb with a fiery sun in the backdrop

“The Golden Afternoon”