ART, INTERVIEW

Chrystal Chan: Magic Eye

0 Comments 13 June 2014

chrystal chan art

Interview with new contemporary visionary Chrystal Chan.

By Daniel Barron

 

 

If you ask Chrystal Chan, the inspiration for her paintings comes not from life experience or films or books.  No, her lush fairy tale tableaus, so unique and surreal, so evocative of place and time, are visions bestowed from the divine.  With a talent so arresting, it’s enough to make one a praying man.  Become enraptured by the mind of Chan when her solo show debuts Saturday, June 14th at the Copro Gallery in Santa Monica.

 

chrystal chan art

 

I read that you grew up in the countryside, very much around a lot of wildlife, and you said that influenced a lot of your art.  Can you talk a little bit about your upbringing and how your surroundings affected your interests?  How does that communicate through your art?

I lived pretty close to a lake and there was always wildlife whenever you would walk around.  You would see a fox or lots of deer, stuff like that.  A lot of people had farms and I would always visit this one lady, she had bunch of chickens and goats.  It wasn’t very city-like at all.

 

 

Did you grow up on a heavy diet of fairy tales and fantasy stories?

I grew up on a lot of dark fairy tales like The Brothers Grimm and I guess I drew a lot of princesses, gold, and wells with black water. It’s funny how these things are making their way back into my current work.

 

 

chrystal chan art

 

At what age did you and your family begin to realize that you were better-than-average at art and that it was something that was worth pursuing?

I think in high school.  That’s when I started getting a huge addiction to drawing.  I would draw every day until really weird hours, about two or three in the morning.  At that time I really wanted to be a comic artist, actually, but my family wasn’t really supportive of me doing art.  My aunt and uncle would lecture me about how it was a bad idea.  My aunt’s lecture was most memorable.  She said, “Why don’t you do something more productive?  Something that actually helps people? Look at my daughter.  She’s a successful doctor.  She wanted to be a concert pianist, but I told her, a doctor actually helps others.” My parents were more neutral, they just didn’t know what to do with it.  I think they were just scared.  First generation Chinese don’t really understand art as a career because it isn’t guaranteed a good living and stable income.  You know, they come from a background of WW2 and then China became a communist country.   A lot of them were wealthy and saw it all taken from them or they were always poor.  By the time they come to America, they just believe in working hard, whatever it takes to make money. My parents allowed me to take summer classes for high school students at Academy of Art, but didn’t let me go to an official private art school.  Eventually I went to San Jose State to study Animation/Illustration since they were reputable for industry work and way cheaper than a private school.  I also tried to expand as much as possible by watching art DVDs, reading books, and going to art workshops.  My family seems to finally accept the fact that this is what I’ll be doing with my life because I’m stubborn.

 

 

chrystal chan art

 

Is being a comic artist or a children’s book illustrator or a graphic novelist something that you still aspire to do?

I don’t think so anymore.  Because I’ve shifted more into oil painting I’m not sure that I would go down that path anymore.  I wouldn’t totally out rule it though.  Comic covers would be fun.  I would also like to do book covers and some fantasy art.

 

Haven’t you made fantasy art for a videogame?

Yeah, I did some fantasy work some mobile and social gaming art. Some good and bad experiences, actually.

 

Can you go very far into that?

The mobile/social gaming scene got really big, maybe about five years ago.  And that was right when I graduated school.  There were a lot of people that got positions who didn’t really know what they’re doing, so you sometimes get art directors who don’t even have an art-related background and just don’t know how to be a good director.  Just like any other job, there can be micromanagement, too many cooks in the kitchen, etc.  But, I’ve also had some really awesome art directors that know how to give you the artistic freedom and help direct you to enhance the quality of the work!  Guess it just depends whom you work with and how compatible your working style is.

 

chrystal chan art

 

I read in another interview that someone once observed that you draw primarily Caucasian figures in your paintings.  To me, they look Eurasian, they almost transcend race.  Did that comment surprise you?  Is it something that you even think about at all?

It was really weird, it was the first art show that I had at school.  She asked why I never draw any Asians but to me they’re just kind of a big mix.  I don’t even know what they are.  I just kind of pull them from, my head. Maybe they’re a mix of everything. 

 

The other thing that I think is very interesting about your style is that it’s obviously very lush and well-rendered but there’s still something evocative of animation about the character designs, specifically Japanese anime.  People often comment about how white-looking anime characters are and that’s because a lot of its earliest influences were actually American cartoons like Disney.

I actually grew up with a lot of anime.  In middle school I drew tons of Sailor Moon.  I think it’s been a huge influence.  In high school I tried to drop the anime style to become more like the American comic art style.  It took about seven years to get people to stop saying how anime influenced my work looked.  I think I’ll always respect the anime aesthetic and how they design characters. Maybe it’s impossible to fully get rid of something you grew up on, but now I’m starting to embrace it. It might be true that anime can look like white characters, but I never really think of them as white either because who naturally has pink, blue, etc hair?

 

chrystal chan art

 

Your work is very metaphorical.  Do you often have a clear idea of what you would like to communicate or do you kind of find that in the process of developing a piece?

How I produce my art usually begins with playing piano.  I play and then I worship, pray, meditate, and then from that I usually see visions that God gives me.  The visions are usually things that answer something, maybe it’s personal, or I’m asking a question.  I feel God shows these images for me to paint.

 

Do you enjoy explaining the intent behind your paintings or would your prefer that people extract their own meaning?

I actually don’t mind explaining what the paintings mean.  A lot of times people don’t even ask so I don’t really have the chance to tell them, but usually I feel the titles are pretty good at explaining exactly what they’re about. 

 

chrystal chan art

“Sanctification”

 

For example, your painting “Sanctification.”  Do you know the narrative there or did you just have this image in your head and you don’t know why but you had to paint it?

That one was actually based on a theme show called “Revelation.”  Everyone was to do a piece based on the Book of Revelations in The Bible.  So that one isn’t so weird to explain, I guess.  It’s just my interpretation of what’s written.

 

What are some films and books that have been important to your creative diet then and now?

I can’t say I do a lot of reading but I watch a lot of movies.  I guess a very relatable one for me would be Pan’s Labyrinth.  Maybe it’s because a lot of bad things happen to her and she can only escape by disappearing into fantasy.  I also really love Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  Magnolia and Synedoche, New York are also good.  This list could really go on forever.  I think I really like movies that are able to strongly capture a distinct feeling.  It’s something I hope my art can also do.  Recently, I really liked the movie The Only Lovers Left Alive.

 

Oh, I really want to see that one.

You should.  It’s really artsy, slow and romantic.  The music is also really good, it really enhances the movie by reflecting the main two characters relationship.  Not a lot happens in it, but it’s about the feeling, you know? 

 

chrystal chan art

I can certainly see how those movies would influence you, particularly Pans Labyrinth.  That story is very evocative of the earlier, more morbid iterations of the Grimm’s fairy tales and there is somewhat of a macabre element to some of what you do.  What can you see about the paintings that you’ve produced for your Copro Gallery show?  Is it all new work?

There are seven new pieces; three of them are older.  The underlying theme of them is “hope.”  A lot of the newer pieces have shifted to a brighter color palate.  These past two years have been pretty tough for me.  These pieces feel pretty personal, because every piece has answered things about my thoughts and fears about the future.  Two years ago I was laid off from my full-time job and I was kind of freaking out about what I should do next.  In a general sense, I felt like God was speaking to me and telling me that he watches over everything and that things are predestined.  So, I don’t need to worry.  I’m actually really excited about this show too, because it’s kind of like finishing a chapter in my life.  I have a feeling that my future work will become more and more surreal.  There are some new sketches lined up already.

 

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View more Chrystal Chan artwork on her website.

Follow Chrystal Chan: Facebook

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- who has written 424 posts on Yay! LA | Arts & Culture Magazine.

Rudderless college graduate Daniel Barron founded Yay! LA Magazine on a love of writing, passion for the arts, and a firm belief that people really like talking about themselves. He contributed to a number of publications, including LA Music Blog and the defunct The Site Unscene, before deciding to cover arts and entertainment the way he wanted to read it. He works as a freelance writer and digital PR consultant in his current home of Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter at @YayDanielBarron.

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