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Artist Spotlight: Chris Yee

Bridging the gap between tradition and the present

Chris Yee is an artist, illustrator, designer, and animator specializing in traditional “pen and paper” methodologies. Chris’s work has a unique identity and original narrative consistent within the evolving Asian-Australian creative community. I was fortunate to catch up with Chris and discuss his work and influences.

How do you see your work adapted and interpreted for different mediums and environments? Do you approach your work differently because it is a digital piece?

“Yeah, it’s funny. So I began with a textiles background, which is still my main body of work. And then, I evolved into digital with a tablet, animation, and advertising work. So the funny thing is, like, you know, that whole sort of decade-long creative journey. The primary part has always been storytelling elements. So before I even start, it’s like, okay, what am I trying to say here? What is the objective? From that point, I’m just utilizing any medium to try and tell the story that comes alive.”

Is there something in the specific medium of digital art that speaks to the soul of the work that you do? Something that can only be experienced digitally?

“There was a bit of a point, when I first started, where, in the traditional field, people would stick their noses up to digital art, or even like, the idea of drawing digitally, for example. But you know, I love digital art because it is so inclusive regarding an audience. How we view art, and the media is fine-tuned for the phone through the small personal screen. The last point; it’s incredible how scalable digital art is; you can begin a piece as a still illustration and then evolve it into an animation or a gif for any broader range of mediums.

Meta-Meridians: https://culturevault.com/collection/77

Your work comments on identity and how we relate to each other. Is that something that you have tried to explore?

“Yeah, totally. So you know, with my work, and I guess, in terms of like, in, in a widespread way, with my personal work, I do try to like sort of bridge the gap between tradition and the present, especially within the local Asian Australian community, and in a larger way, with Asian Australia, and how I view myself. (For me) there has always been a sense of trying to find yourself because there’s no clear representation and figuring out where you fit in. And with my work, it is almost this abstracted, beautiful mess and explosion of color. I try to create work where the elements are very traditional, through the ornamentation and the meridian points in line and some of the values of East Asian culture, with a modern expression. I try to make it look how I envision Asian Australia, which is extremely unique, bold, and loud.”

Why are you drawn to the subjects that you’ve chosen? And how do you choose your themes?

“There’s so much about diaspora and connected culture through time and context, but with this specific body of work, I’ve been exploring meridian line and energy, which is like, within Eastern medicine, it is just the way you sort of break down the body and look at points of connection. I bridge that into the digital age because visually, there are many lines of relationship between how we interact. This collection is called mental meridians. It is about how we worship and idolize Gods in the modern day, how we use the phone as an altar, look at digital information religiously. We are our compass to determine what is real and what is not. With these artworks, I have tried to create these otherworldly gods and myths drawing on Eastern culture, representing them in a modern-day context and composition.

Secret Worlds: https://culturevault.com/collection/51

What connection do you have to NFT art? Is this something that you find exciting?

“Going into digital art, there was a stigma towards it. I try to be as open-minded as possible regarding creativity, presentation, and storytelling. NFTs widen the audience. It’s more inclusive because anyone can display and present it; you don’t have to go through the traditional gallery route. So I love that about it. And I love the idea that it does champion a digital audience, which for a long time would be something that in the traditional space would not be as popular. There are many strong POC and female voices in the space, which I really like, like Serwah, who is amazing. Through COVID, NFT art has unlocked such amazing stories, with many artists coming out of it through the power of the digital medium.”

What do you think about utility for art? Do you believe that art is utility enough?

“NFT’s kind of piggyback some extra incentives on the art as packages. I haven’t really done anything like that in terms of my work. I think I’m in the boat of, like, the art is the art, and then you could connect with me as the artist in a very approachable way by holding my work. But anything else is not on my cards.”

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Joan Westenberg

Joan Westenberg

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Chaotic good. Award winning creative director & writer, ft. in Wired, Inc, SF Chronicle, TNW. Founder thisisstudioself.com