An Interview with Chris Yee

From one artist to the next. Our latest interview from the After Dark Adventures series is with talented artist and illustrator, Chris Yee. Mixing in America's pop culture and their numerous stereotypes with mythological characters and various 'menaces', Chris Yee's art and mind lives in a parallel universe compared to the rest of us. Get to know him better via our exclusive interview with the artist.

An Interview with Chris Yee

The 5 to 9 Life would like to introduce you into the world of talented Sydney artist Chris Yee.

His world is one of universal parallels filled with his love of rap royalty, 90s music, mythological characters, and fearless warriors; all mixed together with bitter rivalries, American stereotypes, and the re-occuring appearance of the Original “Menace” – Boo Boo Lou.

I was introduced to the work of Chris Yee by chance, late last year. I was catching up with a friend after work who invited me to attend an art exhibition with them afterwards – Menace. Wanting to know more before the opening night, I did some research and found out I already knew the guy – but had no idea he was such a talented artist!

At the exhibition, I immediately felt drawn to his artwork. There were certain pieces that had me standing there in front of them, standing and staring for what seemed like the longest time – just admiring the beauty and wanting to know the story behind these pieces. Alas, the ones I wanted were already sold out by the time we arrived.

Yee creates detailed, graphic, and cultural pieces of art, providing a story and injecting character and personality within every piece. Lucky for us, Yee took time out of his busy schedule to talk art (of course), the world he has created through his illustrations, the artists that inspire him and what’s in store for him in the future.

1. Introduce yourself.

Yo! I’m Chris Yee, a 24 year old artist/illustrator from Sydney. I have a twin and cannot drive.

2. A career as an artist isn’t always a piece of cake. What inspired you to become an artist?

As an artist I’m definitely more on the graphic and illustration side of things. Stylistically, probably drawing similar stuff to when I was 5 years old (i.e. dinosaurs, heroes, people). Along the way I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by good, encouraging friends so I’ve pretty much been doing the same thing since. I sort of just grew into this path.

An Interview with Chris Yee_Studio

3. Your art is very intricate, with each piece requiring a lot of attention to detail. How did your unique visual style develop?

I’ve always been attracted to detailed line work from 90s comics like “Spawn” to the fine line work of woodblock prints – so I think my style developed from being specific using the ink brush and finding ways to imitate shadows and depth without shading with a pencil.

4. Can you tell us a little about the world you have constructed that your characters live within? Is it a tightly defined world, or a loose amalgamation of dreams, ideas and viewpoints?

Particularly with the “MENACE” stuff, it is tightly defined by the umbrella of Americana – music, movies, hero and villian stereotypes. But looking back, I think this encompasses everything I’m into in my personal upbringing as a kid – from music, food, slang etc. It’s odd, I can’t really pinpoint why. So if I come up with a character or costume, for example, I don’t have to think very hard. (I dont know if this is a good thing or a bad thing.) Hopefully not following any offensive stereotypes; a lot of my work comes off slightly humorous anyways!

An Interview with Chris Yee_2

5. Do all of your characters and concepts come from your imagination alone? And what are your weapons of choice when you’re creating such characters?

Well in the “Menace” world I wanted a lot of my characters to be referential to slightly parody other characters in comics or media. Since there weren’t many words but kind of a series of drawings to create my world, I wanted to use lots of iconography or symbols (like gang badges or flags) to create some sort of consistency through the drawings. So hopefully it wasn’t a huge random mess haha.

My go-to tools are a Pentel Calligraphy Brush or a Sable hair brush and indian ink.

6. Is there a universal meaning behind the artwork you create, and what do you want your viewer to take away from your creations?

I’ve been told that my work up to this point is very cultural and I think this is true, whether it be a graphic subconscious choice or something for fun.

I think the most important thing I personally want people to take away, is a sense of a consistent world or story. Even though drawings are static, my goal is to try and create some sort of energy or movement in the line work. I also want to try and show variation as an illustrator hopefully (I don’t just draw skulls!), mostly because I have the attention span of a goldfish!

An Interview with Chris Yee.3

7. Who are you favourite artists?

There’s so many overseas influences so I guess I’ll name the Sydney guys I dig or look up to. Definitely – Gerald Leung, James Jirat, Ben Brown. Illustration redux!

8. How do you feel about the art scene in Sydney?

I think there’s a huge surge in young talent this year especially highlighted by all the re-occurring and new names at places like the Tate in Glebe.

There’s also a whole bunch of new illustrators and typographers coming outta nowhere which is rad.

9. What does the rest of the year hold for you, and what other projects are you most looking forward to?

Mostly corporate design/illustration work and travel! Hopefully after my trip I plan to reset and get back into the state of mind to get into a new body of personal work (which is important for my own sanity).

An Interview with Chris Yee_4

10. Pay it forward: What’s the best advice you’ve received that you would happily share with others?

The best advice I’ve learnt is to not be too precious with what you are working on. I think it’s healthy to work carefully and slowly on a piece but it’s also super easy to second guess yourself to a point where you get nothing done.

Just Do It – every time you put your pen to the paper, it’s a learning experience. I don’t think you ever stop learning to get better (I hope!)

*Keep up to date with Chris Yee via his instagram and website.