THE SURREAL & UNCANNY WORK - Interview with Chloe Shao

I was born in China and moved to Australia when I was fifteen. I guess one of the reasons was, because I really sucked at Maths and wanted to do art instead. In 2014, I graduated with a bachelors degree in Communication Design at Monash University and started working in some design studios in Melbourne. Then my visa in Australia ran off, so I lived in both New York and my hometown, Nanjing, for the year after while waiting for my new visa to be granted. After a long ‘soul searching’ vacation, I decided to take on an internship in Paper Stone Scissors’s Shanghai office, and that changed my life. Now I live in Sydney doing freelance illustrations and collages, with eleven pots of plants and a cat.

What influenced you to become an illustrator?

I feel like a fraud when people call me an illustrator or artist or anything haha. Becoming an illustrator has always been my dream when I was a little girl, I remember I tried to paint the grass green in winter when I was three. When I moved to Australia, I barely spoke English. It was difficult to communicate my thoughts to other people. And to be honest, even in my first language, I have never been eloquent. Having a perfect comeback in an argument has always been my dream, so I slowly adapted the new way of communication, which is through pictures.

Are you currently following any design or art trends? Are there any you want to explore?

Currenly, I think I’m following pop art more. The more kitsch the better. I think that’s what really speaks to people. I think I wanna explore more in surrealism.

Can you describe your style and what inspired it?

Surreal and uncanny, I guess? I’m not really sure actually. I think James Jean and my mum (weird combo., I know) and also by my sensitivity. Because my mum is a nurse, she worked in the emergency room in a military hospital when she was young. She told me loads of weird stories such as; a guy got sawed in half, got push into the emergency centre when he was clearly dead, and also murder stories. It all seems so unreal, and too heavy to tell a kid, so I guess I have subconsciously developed my passion for anatomy and human psychology over time. My uni-tutor brought me into the James Jean’s world. I just thought they are the most beautiful illustrations I’d ever seen, and I started to explore towards the surreal-style. And yes, my sensitivity, I think I'd rather say I have a very conscious mind. Sometimes, I can’t sleep, because I thought of some stupid things I said years ago. Part of it is, because I lived very far from the protection of my parents since I was young, so I had to have all my guards up. That sort of led me to the over analyzed life, trying not to piss off people and learning how to behave well, but also inspired me to observe the surroundings.

Your illustrations are very jarring, yet really intriguing. Where do most of your ideas come from?

From life? I had been struggling about my self identity for a long time as an Asian immigrant. I have received lots of racist comments, or backhanded compliments, because of the way I look. From strangers, even from the guys I’ve dated. I used to feel very insecure about it, but now I grew up and realized how stupid that was, and decided to fight back with my sarcasm. Also from family and friends. I think everyone’s life is revolved around those people no matter what. It’s always the people who are close to you who can give you that emotional rollercoaster. And It’s always a victory for me when I've discovered what kind of people they really are. And books; cult films. I love reading about humans and psychology stuff. It really untangles my thoughts and so have some corny love poems. Pretty much everywhere, I think that explains the chaos in my work.

How do you want viewers to feel when they look at your work? What kind of message do you want to send to people?

I want them to have a good laugh, feel uncomfortable, even disgusted — any sort of feelings would be better than feeling nothing at all. I want to unpeel the most insecure side of people, and rip off the mask everyone’s wearing everyday. We always try to cover things up with some inspiring quotes, but sometimes we need to embrace the dark sides. When too focused on the positive things, life will eventually lose it’s balance.

How has your style changed or progressed since you started illustrating?

I started with only pencil drawings, or fineliner drawings in uni, I sucked at computer and too afraid of go close to colors. Then I got distracted with collage on the half way because of pure laziness, and bascially stopped illustrating for two years. Then I got this idea, why can’t I combine both of my favourite things together, so i started doing collage first, and then make them into illsutrations, only in black and white, because it just looks cool on instragram feed. But after a while i felt like i care too much about those social medias like everyone else, so I thought, fuck it, i’ll do whatever i want, I can’t take my instagram feed to the grave anyway. That’s when I started doing so much sacarstic drawings, I think that’s what I always wanted to do, unleash the beast haha. A person once told me i know exactly how to insult people, even tho English is not even my first language, I’ll take that as a compliment and expand on that.

What gets you in the mood to illustrate?

I’d say anger. I started making collage when I broke up with my first boyfriend, I put all my negative energy into making art, and it worked. I’m not saying I have to be pissed off to draw, or being a pessimist would help you with making art... but, I think as long as you are struggling, it means you are growing and living life —right? I’m not here to enjoy life 24/7. But most of the time when I illustrate I'm very calm.

Does your style reflect your personality? In what way does it or doesn’t it?

It does, haha. Whenever my friends see some anatomical, uncanny, weird artwork, they would snap a photo and send it to me and say it’s "SO ME." I don’t like being passive aggressive and I have no filter sometimes. I adjust my way of talking when I’m around different people. For some people, I’m witty and sarcastic. For some people, I’m just a very shy and quiet girl. I think that explains why I do both girly illustrations and also the weird jarring ones. In the past year, I have learnt to stop hiding my real thoughts, because being shy, and not being able to say "no" to people, had pushed me into all sorts of unwanted situations. So, I’m practicing saying no, through the sarcasm in my artwork and also in real life.

Is there a genre or style of art that you’re not a fan of?

Cutesy, watercolor illustrations, I just can’t stand them. I feel like lots of them have no depth in them. No stories behind them. Yes, you've got good skills, maybe, but what exactly are you trying to say? Maybe some art doesn’t need to have a purpose behind it, but it just doesn’t interest me at all.