For most of us, the entire skin of a man flying off might be a bit gruesome, but when the talented Mimi Leung does it, it’s an explosion of fun and colour.
Her work is bright and packed with loud patterns, and filled with a very up-front cheekiness. When you take all those elements and put them into fast-moving Gifs, you get intense graphics that demand your eye to be caught. We spoke to Mimi to find out where it all comes from.
Please tell us a little about yourself and what you do.
I dream up frenetic compositions and think of funny/gross things to draw using pen, paper and paint. Sometimes, I colour digitally in Photoshop but nothing beats using a fine brush to paint all the tiny details and leaving fine white lines between blocks of colour. I love the effect and find the whole process really satisfying.
Most important for me when making a picture is the dynamism and the initial effect it has— I want my work to hit people full-on straight away but also have the thoughts and detail to sustain interest in the long run.
Your workspace photo looks interesting, what’s going on there?
I made a light table using a window pane I found on the street and some breeze blocks. The holes in the side are really good for storing pens and paints and I like that it looks quite industrial. For digital work I have a desk that I built a paper storage/lift-up compartment for. I’m into trying to make minimally functional things from found objects and like to work sitting on the floor.
Where do you think your love of colour, fun and movement comes from?
I think it comes from a natural rebelliousness and desire to go against the rules. Maybe because I’m still haunted by my school days where we had to wear dull grey uniforms, be serious and stay still all the time.
Where do you look for inspiration for the vivid imagery in your work?
I look everywhere around and inside me; in my memories, my feelings and dreams. I’m always seeing ridiculous faces and characters and elaborate scenes before me in everyday situations. I think my inspiration comes from within but it is triggered by the real world experiences I have.
You mentioned that funny and gross things appear in your work. What do you think some of the other reoccurring themes are?
I think I’ve only recently got back to the themes that truly interest me, which are things like the quality of the soul, the human condition and what it means, life, death, spirituality, religion. I’m not religious but I do see creativity as a spiritual pursuit, as opposed to an intellectual one which people often say illustration is.
I have so many thoughts about these things that I don’t know how to talk about in words so I try to confront them in pictures and by imagining things.
There’s a lot of humour in your work. Is it important that your illustrations always have a sense of fun?
I think if there was no humour or fun in my work it’d be quite depressing or just gruesome. Same with the colour. I dress a lot of the more difficult themes, like death and disease, in fancy colours and funny expressions to attract people to look more closely at them.
What elements in your work do you think have helped you get some of the bigger commissions you’ve worked on?
I think because I hand draw and paint my work it has a tactility to it, even though I use large blocks of bright colours. I think also the sense of frenetic energy and fun makes my work attractive to some clients.
You were born in Hong Kong and grew up in the UK. How did you find yourself to be now based in Melbourne? Does it inspire your work?
I didn’t really plan it, things just happened that way. After RCA I went to Hong Kong to try my luck but I didn’t like the lifestyle, and then my fiance got a job in the desert in Australia so I thought I’d check it out. I tried to live between Hong Kong, UK and Australia for a while but finally decided to move to the desert about 3 years ago.
By the end of last year, I had nearly lost my mind and thought it’d be a good idea to move closer to civilisation … so here I am now in Melbourne. I really value diverse experiences and adventures as I think it all feeds my work.
The people I met and stories I heard working in the outback has affected me in so many ways and continue to inspire my work on many levels.
How can you see yourself developing as an artist in the future?
I hope to continue being able to do my work and keep focusing on what’s really important to me as an artist. There are so many distractions and expectations and sometimes I feel like there’s so much pressure to always be out there, standing out, making a name for myself and trying to work with the coolest brands etc. when actually what’s most important is my work and my connection with it. That’s what I’m trying to develop.
What would you tell an emerging artist that you wish you’d know at the beginning of your career?
Something that’s been on my mind a lot recently – if you’re serious about making money from art, go to business school.
© Mimi Leung, 2012