The world that Alex Chiu creates is a world full of bubbly eyed creatures that dance and play. Alex lives with his wife, A’misa Chiu, and enjoys riding bikes and eating burritos. Although this might seem plain, there is no regularity in his day to day routine, which attributes to his creative as an artist. I sit down with Alex and we discuss a variety of topics that I am sure will interest you. Read below for the full interview…
Greetings Alex! Could you tell us a bit about how you original used your artwork to gravitate professionally to the world of being a cartoonist?
Alex: I’ve been interested in drawing and cartoons since I was a child. I probably started identifying myself as an artist since I was about five or six years old. I had always imagined that I would design video games or work on television shows. In college I studied Visual Arts and took a number of drawing and painting classes. I was highly influenced by the graffiti, street art, and underground comics, and art zine culture.
At the time, my favorite artist was Luke Ramsey. I was highly influenced by his style of free form illustrations. I began to develop my own style of “doodling.” Over time, people started to recognize what I was doing. In 2007, my illustrations were collected in a book entitled Chocolate Milk and Doughnut Doodles, published by Neko Press Comics. This book introduced me to the world of comics. I was invited to promote my book at different conventions including the San Diego Comic Con and Wonder Con.
Since that time, I’ve taken every opportunity that came my way. I started doing gallery shows, live art demonstrations, workshops, self-publishing, screen printing, personal commissions, etc. I’ve been selling and promoting my artwork professionally for about 5 years now. It’s all been a fun and rewarding journey.
You are a type of artist who doesn’t follow a straight path. Money, fame, and knowing where the future lies aren’t big aspects for you. Since you are free from some of the shackles that limit some artists, how do this translate into your art?
Alex: I try to see my artistic path as a personal rebellion against the status quo. I admit that I am an escapist. I don’t like how society works. It seems like the general population is obsessed with money, fame, and power. It has become the status quo. I believe that the lure of money, fame, and power are all forms of enslavement. There are terrible consequences to being rich, famous, and powerful. I really do not want to get caught up in it all.
I view my art making as a safe space for me. I can exist in a world that has nothing to do with the harshness of reality. Anything is possible in a world of self expression; especially if no one is telling you what to create or how to create it. I enjoy creating things that push the boundaries of imagination. I create a world where dogs are the size of cows, have horns and wings, and walk on 6 legs. The potential of the mind is endless. I love to see how far I can push that potential and I love to see the artwork that comes out of that process.
How does your art differ when you are involved in a collaboration? Do you approach these projects with a different frame of mind?
Alex: I see collaboration as the best way to bond with another individual. Watching a movie or going out to eat with people seems too passive for me sometimes. I like to engage with people as personally as possible. Artistic collaboration can be a very intimate experience. I learn so much about a person from making art or playing music together. I approach collaboration as a form of dance. I observe how another person approaches line work, subject matter, detail, and pace. I take all this into consideration and try to produce something that is seamless. I enjoy collaborations that blend so well together that it is hard to recognize who did what in the process.
What about the exhibition scene? Do you get more nervous when participating in solo shows?
Alex: I have grown to not enjoy art exhibitions as much as I used to. I don’t like the feeling of competition, judgment, and anxiety to sell art that exist in the gallery scene. Solo shows are good and bad. With solo shows, I feel like I have more power to control the environment. If I plan everything well and have all my friends around me, solo shows can be very momentous and rewarding. Ultimately, I want everyone to be comfortable and entertained. This can be an overwhelming responsibility at times.
You seem to be the type of artist who has doodled for many, many years. Did formal education in San Diego help you with your artwork, or was it just an opportunity to afford more opportunities for you? Or…both!?
Alex: Going to school at UC San Diego for art was sort of a bad decision for me. I don’t know if I would recommend going to any UC (University of California) school for art, especially if you are interested in cartooning or any form of commercial art. UC San Diego was very academic in terms of art making. What I mean by that is there was a heavy focus on history, theory, and concept rather than technique or practice. I enjoyed learning what I did, but I was left very unprepared for the “real world” as a practicing artist.
Luckily I learned to draw throughout my life and had a passion to pursue it in a serious way. I believe that my personal drive to create was far more important than my college degree. In my career as an artist I rarely even mention my college degree. This may not be true for all artists, but it is in my case.
I’ve noticed that you post personal statements about your art and your perspective at that given time. Do you think 10 years from now, your artwork will still be care-free and lighthearted, or do you think it will take on a deeper tone?
Alex: I really don’t know what the future will look like. As I grow older, I realize that I have a lot of new responsibilities. I am now 27 years old. I got married a year and a half ago. Having kids is a very real possibility for the two of us. We are moving to Portland, Oregon next month and we are now completely responsible for our own finances. Thing are definitely changing at the moment.
I’d like to think that these new responsibilities are not going to affect my artwork. I’d like to consider my art making as an escape from those things completely; a safe place far away from the worries of the world. Maybe life will get too heavy and I may stop making art altogether. I really don’t know. At the moment I look back at my art career and I am really proud of what I have accomplished and I am gratefully for all the people I have met along the way. Hopefully I will be able to continue the momentum for the rest of my life.
Do you have any favorite Asian films you could share with us?
Alex: I love Asian films. Wong Kar Wai is one of my favorite directors. I also like Steven Chow movies. I recently saw Ip Man and I like that too. In school, we saw an amazing Chinese film called the Wayward Cloud by Tsai Ming Liang. I know you guys specialize in Japanese films. I really like Miyazaki films, Wild Zero, and House.
You dabble in watercolor, comics, painting, T-Shirt design, and more. Wearing so many hats, how do you find balance within your art career? Do you sometimes feel one aspect of your skill-set gets neglected at times?
Alex: I try my best to handle my artwork one project at a time. This way I keep my life balanced so I do not overwhelm myself with ideas. I do enjoy experimentation with different mediums, some of which I practice more than others. On top of drawing and painting, I also enjoy playing music, making videos, carpentry, sewing, and cooking.
In terms of art making, I see each medium as a path of exploration. I explore many different paths. This makes my life more varied and interesting. During this period of my life, I have been creating more paintings and sculptures than I have in the past. In the future, I would like to invest more of my time into drawing comics and making animations. If I do neglect any skill set for a period of time, this does not really bother me as long as I have a creative outlet in some form or other.
Since many of your drawings project you to a happy place, is it possible for you to create art when you are in a bad mood?
Alex: Creating art is therapeutic for me. When I am in a bad mood, drawing or painting is sometimes the best medicine for me. Making art gives me time to calm down and process things. However, not all of my artwork is fun and happy. My artwork also has the potential to be extremely intense, grotesque, and violent. It is necessary to express yourself in horrific ways sometimes. It is only natural.
Lastly, what advice can you offer up to fellow artists out there?
Alex: The only way you fail as an artist is if you stop creating. Keep creating stuff. The life of an artist is never easy. You may never receive the money or attention that you think you deserve. Make art for reasons other than fame and fortune. Learn to make artwork for yourself. I’d like to believe that every human being has enormous creative potential. I am committed to realizing that potential for myself and seeing what a lifetime of art making will look like for me in the end. I only have so much time on this Earth, I want to continue to create artwork and see where it will lead me.
Want to keep tabs on Alex’s work? Visit his official site below: