Tranquil and Powerful
The Art of Yuumei
A girl is trying to tape back together a picture of her broken family. A surfer is riding the waves alongside elegant ocean creatures. A group of teenagers are filling the Chinese sky with Christmas lights while the melting ice at the top of the hourglass is threatening both the polar bears standing on it and the human world resting at the bottom.Welcome to the world of Yuumei.
Wenquing Yan became Yuumei when she started posting her art online at the age of 12. I In the beginning, she created fan art of her favorite anime (japanese animation series) simply because she loved the shows. This way she gathered followers that shared similar interests. When she started creating her own original work later on, these people stood by her and her art and "it slowly grew from there". She started taking commissions to help with living expenses and that proved a big success, making her ralize that she could do art for a living. She began drawing comics in her free time and "before I knew it publishers began contacting me". Her specialty is digital art in a combination of anime and western art, but she often uses traditional watercolors and sculpting techniques.
She studied Art at UC Berkeley. However, in her ASKtheARTIST Interview she states that UCBerkeley is not known for having a good art program as far as techniques go. As a result, DeviantArt's resource section and tutorials by other artists became her guide for the technical part of her art. What she did love though was the way classes at UC Berkeley approached the social issues related to art.
"One art class we spent helping elders in Chinatown Oakland learn how to use the computer. You might ask what does that have to do with art but in a way, art is just a form of communication and helping grandpas and grandmas reconnect with their family through e-mail is another form of art"
In the same interview she also talks about the time she showed her portfolio to the Pasadina Art Center when she was 14 years old and their rejection of her work because they were "looking for art with more purpose". She goes on to say:
"[They] showed me an abstract art (which is great but not what I want to do) and basically told me to draw like that. [...] Those Pasadena Art Center people need to get down to earth. Art is art no matter what the style."
Unfortunately, this is the reaction of many Art centers and colleges that are not open to new techniques and mediums, anime being one of them.
The Messages Behind the Pictures
Much of Yuumei's artwork takes its inspiration from the natural world and the problems it is facing because of human decisions. In her ASKtheARTIST interview, she says that she doesn't really love a piece unless it speaks to her in some way. The message however, does not overpower the visual impression of the picture. Her intense colors and the expressive postures of her figures manage to portray the beauty of nature and the crudeness of humanity in a way that words can't.
When in another interview on DeviantArt she was asked how she manages to maintain this balance between the mesage and the art she replies:
"Though there are many things in the world that I hate, such as oil spills and shark finning, I do not truly believe in the existence of good vs. evil. I think this mentality of mine allows me to find visual beauty in subjects that I personally despise. During the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill, I couldn't help but notice the elegant way each disgusting drop of oil moved through the water. It's easy for my human mind to associate the oil with the destruction of what I love, and therefore symbolize it as "evil", but that is just my own ego speaking. If I stepped back and looked at the grand picture, I can let go of that ego and capture the actual beauty in everything. I don't believe that it lessens the environmental message by doing so, but it does increase the chances of getting people's attention."
The Human Psyche
Yuumei's artwork explores the struggle of the human soul and the pathways of the brain. Feelings, good and bad, from imagination or personal experience flourish in her pictures through the colors, textures and postures of the characters.
Her first flash project, 1000 words, has become one of her most famous pieces. It talks about a girl that is trying to use her art to prevent her parents from divorcing. This work was inspired by a comment on one of her previous drawings, "Tape it Back Together".
"In the comment, this person told me when she first saw the drawing, she thought it was sad but couldn't connect with the situation. Three months later, her parents divorced and when she saw the drawing again, she began to sob. It made me wonder, had she shown something like the torn up picture to her parents, would it have made a difference?
This story also explores the purpose of art, what can be art, and what art means to me personally. "
The artist herself has opened up to the DeviantArt community through the descriptions of her work and her blog entries. "Don't Be Selfish", although simple in its drawing technique, is one of her most powerful pieces Yuumei has created.
It’s hard to fight back the memories of how much things have changed since my youth, so I will just embrace it instead.
It’s funny how they used to say that they did everything for my sake. I’m sure they actually believed it themselves back then, but time has a way of changing people. I can’t help but find it ironic that the things they did to help the family ultimately torn it apart. Never coming home to make money, going abroad to study; distance makes the heart grow cold, and time weathers down all promises.
I had always been very understanding of their divorce. Hey, it happens. But as they built new lives, it became evident that I was not included. It doesn’t matter now, but at the time, I was still a minor and had to depend on them. It’s just like a slap in the face when your own mother tells you that you have nothing because your father didn’t pay for it. Adding to the list of things I don’t have is the right to see my dad before his death. The leftover child of that failed marriage is no longer a concern.
By communicating the experiences that led to the creation of her art she connects with the other members of the community that see themselves in her work. This ability of hers to convey strong emotions through her pictures has made her a DevianArt favorite and has won her the Senior Member Award, given to DevianArt members recognized for positive contributions to the community.
Knite is a flash webcomic that is set in China (where Yuumei grew up), a country with a lot of air and water pollution. The atmoshpere is so polluted that it is impossible to see the starlight at night. The main character, Sen, is the leader of the Knites, a group of people whose goal is to fill the Chinese city sky with stars - christmas lights tied to kites- as their own form of rebellion against the human crimes towards the environment that heavily affect the living conditions of the people. Sen is finding in this mission a way to take his mind away from the family problems that he faces and give hope and a chance to dream to a certain someone very dear to him. But he comes to realize that he might end up doing more harm than good.
The framing of her art, the integration of the text into the image and the succession of scenes creates an almost cinematic experience that pulls the reader in and doesn't let them go until the end of the chapter, leaving them craving for more.
In her interviews she talks about her own experiences that inspired her to write the story.
"Growing up in China is very different than in the US.I couldn't drink milk in China. I thought I was allergic or something and would instantly throw up, but it turned out the milk there was toxic. Now I can drink milk perfectly in America."
"My father's side of the family owns the Guoguang Agrochemical, which is a huge pesticide company. They have done many backdoor deals, bribing the government to let them get away with pollution. They would even build a fake processing plant so they can have something to show the farmers when they ask why their cows have died, while the real untreated wasted is pumped through an underground tunnel straight into the river."
Fisheye Placebo is Yuumei's latest webcomic. It is set in a world that lives under an authoritarian regime which enforces extreme censorship. For Vance however, a college student that has found the way to leap over the Great Firewall, browsing through the internet is as easy as taking a walk in the park. But all this freedom does not make hima happy. He is looking for something more. Vance will slowly come to question the morality of his actions and the true price of freedom.
Once again, Yuumei draws from her own experiences with the censorship of the internet in China. This work is also heavily influenced by other events around the world such as protests and strikes that fight for freedom of speech and equal rights.
In her ASKtheARTIST interview she describes her research on hackers and their culture. She spent two years "stalking them like creeper", reading books and interviews, searching for leaked chat logs and befriending hackers.
"I spent an entire summer reading every tweet by the various Anonymous groups and spinoffs, and their rival hacker enemies. It was so full of drama I could believe it wasn't some sort of reality TV. [...] Sometimes it was really hard to follow what was going on. Everything was so chaotic and you just don't know what's real or what's fake, but it was lots of fun and very interesting to see that side of their culture and learn their lingo."
Fisheye Placebo has a different feel than Knite that suits the topic. The colors are brighter and contrast with each other and the pictures as a whole seem sharper and rougher. This style manages to convey the harsh reality of the dystopian world of the story and the fight that is happening between the authorities and the people, unlike Kite, where the warmer colors and cleaner lines correspond to the dreams and illusions of the characters.
is a very talented artist that has come a long way. She has been through difficult situations that have formed the way she looks at and creates art. Her work generates strong emotions and manages to get important messages across even without the use of text. She grew with the help of the DeviantArt community and all of her loyal followers, old and new, are eager to see how far she can go and support her along the way. Although many of her pieces can be sad and convey negative emotions, all it takes is for Yuumei to paint an open window for hope to creep back into the viewer.