The Story Behind My Art
-Grant Riven Yun (November, 2022).
Humble Beginnings as a Digital Artist
Growing up in a household of artists as a child, art has been with me since the beginning. I recall as a 5 year old boy telling my father I wanted to become a photographer when I grew up. While I had never taken an art class I drew religiously all throughout my childhood.
My introduction into digital art began in college during my freshman year. Having spent the prior decade drawing on physical mediums I felt completely lost when I first came to the digital side. I decided the best way to get started was to pick up Microsoft PowerPoint/Apple’s Keynote and use the shapes tool to overlay shapes on one another. Surprisingly by using the shapes tool and using some gradients I was able to create fairly convincing images just with PowerPoint.
After years of illustrating on PowerPoint I finally, one day, decided it would be time to move over to a dedicated illustrating platform: Adobe Illustrator. Much of the techniques however I brought over and actually still use today. The work I do still relies on taking shapes individually and manipulating them to create compositions.
Inspirations From 20th Century Art
My introduction into Modern Art really began when I first attended college at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. On campus at UW-Madison is the Chazen Art Museum, a world-class museum filled with some of the most important pieces of art from the modern world. Originals from artists such as Frankenthaler to Warhol are exhibited year round in the Museum’s permanent gallery. As a student I took full advantage and visited the museum quite often. While each visit was just as inspiring as the next, there was always one piece that captured my attention every time: “Standard Station” by Ed Ruscha.
Something about the sharp shapes and clean lines spoke to me like no other piece I had seen before. Still using PowerPoint to illustrate at the time, I would do my best and learn from the use of shadows, subtle color choices, minimal use of shapes to try and craft my own style. Quite a similar piece I illustrated below was inspired by Struck & Irwin Fencing down on Willy Street in Madison.
As I continued to illustrate, I would eventually, as mentioned before, transition over to Adobe Illustrator. The ability to have multiple layers and tools helped me create much more convincing and intricate work.
In 2018 I visited the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. At the time the Whitney had an exhibition “Grant Wood: American Gothic and Other Fables” which curated some of Wood’s most prominent pieces including of course “American Gothic.” As I walked through and looked at all the pieces I eventually came across “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” a piece that absolutely engrossed me. While Wood had always been an inspiration “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” was something else, a piece that truly displayed what I had been wanting to do with my own art for so long. I stood there for 20–30 minutes just looking at the piece. I stared at it from different corners of the room, from different distances. I studied the lighting, the composition, the message Wood had for viewers. Truly the highlight of my trip to New York that year.
Shortly after coming home I began to experiment more and dug deep into what my message was I wanted to share with the world. Through some experimenting, sometime in 2019 I created the first piece of my “Midwest” series titled “Midwest.” The piece drew in a different perspective than those prior and also used a completely new set of colors. The piece itself was grounded more in reality focused on my experiences moving from California to Wisconsin in 2014. The piece was immediately well received and I knew I had created something immensely special.
Having started my art career here in the Midwest I have had the opportunity to see tons of art from artists native to this area, namely the Regionalists. From Stuart to Benton to Nichols, seeing these artists in museums all over the area has truly helped me see composition building from a different angle.
Shaped Through Emerging Digital Gaming Culture
It would be a lie to suggest my aesthetic was not in-part shaped by my childhood experiences playing video games. I still recall the day my father bought me my first gaming system: a Gameboy Advance from Fry’s Electronics. As the years went on I would be able to play consoles including the Nintendo Gamecube & N64, Sony PS2, PC games, and so much more. Looking back at even a screenshot of these games I am always inundated with a flood of emotions. Pure nostalgia. The imagery, color choices, graphics limited by hardware, etc. inspired the young artist in me.
Graphics from video games from the 90s and early 2000s are absolutely monumental in understanding my own approach to how I create art today. I like to think of older video game models especially from the gamecube/ps2 era as digital cardboard cutouts; a frame essentially created by panels of colored shapes to try and convince the viewer they are in-fact looking at a character, a building, a car, a weapon, an animal, etc etc.
My work very much so follows a similar approach. I don’t use brushes; I don’t use the pen tool. I use my trackpad on my Macbook Pro w/ Adobe Illustrator and always have. I take individual shapes and align them one by one, adjust the colors, and create a composition. In a sense my work is just purely vector shapes put together in an orderly fashion like the pieces of a puzzle to create a convincing picture.
Lastly, I am a huge fan of world-building video games. From Sims to Minecraft to the Tycoon games, I have always had a passion for creating an alternate reality with endless possibilities. This love for this genre of gaming has 100% translated over to my love for art. As an artist I tend to work in series (e.g. “Midwest” “California” “Northeast” “Space” “Life in Japan”). In doing so I’m able to tell a story and show this layer of world-building that spans across multiple illustrations. The true joy of this is when viewers and collectors create their own stories and share their personal experiences that relate to my illustrations.
Inspirations Grow & Learning Never Stops
I see life as an opportunity to learn as much as possible… possibly a big reason as to why I am still in medical school at the time of this writing. I still take the time to learn about artists new and old, genres new and old, techniques new and old. A couple years ago I learned about the Precisionists and the era of artists from the United States that helped shape early 1900s art. While I had found my style before discovering this genre of artists I immediately felt a profound connection upon learning about them.
Artists such as Charles Sheeler, known as both a photographer and painter created works focused on shifting landscapes as the world became increasingly modernized. So too I felt my work reflected this very concept. Like Sheeler’s art, my work has very few people; much of the purpose for my art is to help show how people impact the world and how we can find beauty in the things we take for granted.
Sheeler’s work often devoid of people, to me, creates a surreal sentiment and continues to inspire me to learn and experiment more. Part of the reason I call myself a “Neo-Precisionist” is because I want people to look at my work and understand the reference point. This work I create is unique to myself given my upbringing, my journey, my 21st century experiences and yet the themes, the approach, and the ideas almost seem perfectly in-line with these painters from an older era. It is a learning process for me but also using the word “Neo-Precisionist” helps people new to art learn about these movements from the past that I so profoundly connect with.
Of course it is not just Sheeler but other painters from the 20th century that continue to shape how I perceive art, for example Ralston Crawford and Richard Diebenkorn.
Even artists whose work is focused more on abstraction taught me unique ways to build compositions. For example, artists such as Josef Albers show just how important colors are. A true master of color composition and building, there is a ton to learn from just a single work by Albers. Very much relatable, the way I create convincing landscapes often is to take several concentric shapes on top of one another to try create layers of depth while still maintaining a sense of minimalism. My art is very much so a study of color. Taking hex colors only several numbers apart and creating landscapes and interiors is an enormously rewarding challenge.
It is quite hard to explain how music has shaped my life. As a dancer for over a decade and a previous musician I understand just how emotional music can become. However, music to me also shapes my visual aesthetic. Below were and still are some of my favorite albums/musicians of all time: JDilla, Neil Young, Pink Floyd, and of course so much more I don’t have the time to list. Whether it is the dedication from the artist, the themes they create through music, the cover art and visual aesthetics they try and portray, all these have come to shape my work. The more you look the more you’ll see the connections.
This blog is not the time nor place to talk about my entire story through Web3 so I will keep it brief especially because the journey has just begun.
Before coming into the Web3 space and creating NFTs, I told myself one day I will get featured at an auction house, I will be a prolific artist, my work will be in a museum one day as a permanent collection piece. Each day I woke up I worked towards this goal despite not having any clear trajectory. With the emergence of Web3 art the path has become much more clear. In October 2022 my work was featured at the Digital Art Fair in Hong Kong and my piece “Special Delivery” was sold at Sotheby’s for 693,000 HKD.
While I am thankful each day for being able to achieve the things I dreamed about only several years prior, my ambition and motivation to work harder is at an all time high. And while sales numbers, titles, etc etc are a true blessing, one of the greatest driving forces behind my motivation is how my work has helped impact other artists.
The emotions I feel when I hear artists mention how my art has inspired their own work is a feeling money and achievements cannot buy. The focus of my work has always been to share my art as much as possible and to leave a legacy as an artist by helping push my peers.