“It goes to where I felt excluded the most,” Kuo explained in an interview over Zoom, pointing to the myth at the heart of American storytelling. Growing up as a minority is always a bifurcated experience—especially for Kuo, who split his time between St. Louis and Taipei. Due to his parents’ busy work schedules, he was essentially in school year-round, but enjoyed the differences of his Taiwanese education. His classes in Taipei included math using an abacus, an experiential countryside biology course, Chinese calligraphy, and life drawing. These lessons would later inform his paintings, such as The People’s Republic of the West (2019), which shows a black panther based on depictions of dragons and flowing movement in Chinese artwork, while paying homage to the Black radical tradition. “It really is Black American art that has inspired me throughout my career,” Kuo said.
Like many 1990s kids, television served as babysitter and cultural educator for Kuo. He cited an episode of the Nickelodeon show Hey Arnold, in which a Korean man becomes a country music superstar. “It’s strange to say that a Nickelodeon show really affected me that way, but to just show that an Asian person who looks like me could be capable of that, even in a fictional setting on television was a really big deal for me.” Cartoons and anime still remain a major influence in the way Kuo constructs his fantastical scenes.