CYH, interview on

I wasn’t really paying attention to the Graffiti scene in Taipei mainly because I didn’t really know where to go to find a whole avenue or area… Instead, and oftentimes I faced a particular one all over the city. I was curious to find out who was behind this cute pattern then, with the help of a friend I was able to reach the artist and exchange a few messages, two days later we settled a rendezvous to discuss his signature, Art & more...

à Taipei : une discussion avec CYH.

Interview & Photography Farade Nicolas

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Where you born in Taipei?
Cyh: Yes, central Taipei, near Da’an, I graduated from Da’an middle school, then, I went to high school in the United States, precisely in Atlanta.

A lot of Taiwanese people I’ve met went overseas to study, especially in the US…
Cyh: Our parents think that there is a better education system over there, plus if you have an adequate environment to study it is easier to learn things in that case English, you are learning more quickly…

How long did you stay in the States?
Cyh: Three and a half year then I moved to Texas for another five and a half year, I went to College there.

Were you alone in Texas or did you have some family?
Cyh: Well, I have family living in the US but I was alone during the major part of my studies. I had my own place.

I imagine, it must have been though, at a young age to go there, living by yourself…
Cyh: It was man, definitely, a lot of culture shock, I wasn’t used to the life there I was in tenth grade and I couldn’t speak any proper English, it was hard to acclimate. I couldn’t communicate with anybody.

Did you finish your studies there and move back to Taiwan?
Cyh: Yes, that is exactly what happened. I graduated from an Art major.

Was it something you wanted to do, to study Art from the beginning?
Cyh: At first, I didn’t think too much about all of this because I wasn't sure how I could survive while doing Art. I figured that it is something I would love to keep doing throughout the following years.

Did you practice at a young age?
Cyh: When I was younger I just enjoyed doing Arts & Sports, I liked both equally.

I was doing Basketball when I was in the US however my Art grades were better. My first two years studying Art at Texas College were consistent, I didn’t have any specific major, it was two experimental years. You had to try everything: watercolor, oil painting, printmaking… I was mostly using Acrylic and every two weeks we had to make one painting. You decide your schedule, you meet with your teachers and talk about Art, critics etc…

What were you drawing at that time?
Cyh: Nothing specific, very regular stuff on canvas.

And what were your early references?
Cyh: Pop Culture, SubCulture, Street Art, Comic Art…

Do you remember what was the early memory you had of Art in general?
Cyh: Before going to the United States I didn’t know anything about Art at all. I just enjoyed drawing, copying stuff from Comic books so I would say one of the first memory I had came from the Japanese comic book Dragon Ball.

Did your parents approve your choice of going to the US to study Art?
Cyh: They thought it was fucking useless to learn that, therefore, they told me to consider studying things such as Commercial or Communication Design which I didn’t want to. They thought I was studying Communication Design, I never tell them. They believed that I was going to graduate and be hired by a great advertising agency, something like that.

You were hiding the truth.
Cyh: Somehow, I just told them that I was studying Art Design. Eventually, my mom came to the graduation ceremony, that’s when she found out. She was so mad at me! (laughs) She asked me what the hell I’ve been doing during those four years and I say I was painting. She didn’t understand, she assumed I couldn’t find a proper job. She was worried because she knew that it was going to be hard to survive with an Arts Degree. I couldn’t find any internship, she asked me to enroll her friend’s company in Taipei. I was angry at her because she made the decision for me which I wasn’t happy to hear, right, it was ridiculous. I was annoyed, that’s not what I was aiming to do so I decided to not take the job and do things on my own.

Then you came back to Taipei because you couldn’t find an internship in the US. What happened back there?
Cyh: I wasn’t a US citizen, the only condition was to have a working visa -at least- so I just left. Then I was struggling in Taipei, I didn’t have money, I worked in a coffee shop. I was confused because I had a part-time job and I was doing Art on the side although my family kept telling me to find a regular job. I thought about it and I was like « fuck it, I might try, at least once!» Finally, I went to a Public Art company, I was an office worker but I quit after one month!

Oh, well it didn’t last long!
Cyh: It was extremely boring man, it didn’t fit me at all, I instantly knew. The first time I went there I was like « Oh, it’s not for me! ». At least I tried…

Even with that boring job, you said you were still producing new artworks...
Cyh: Yes, when I was looking for my first job before working as an office employee I found a charming Art Coffee shop with a gallery space. When I interviewed for the position, the owner asked me what were the reasons I should get this job, I said I was an artist, I needed a part-time job and this could be the perfect one because I could meet other creative people, earn a bit of money and learn about the Art community in Taiwan, after two months I quit!

Why didn’t you tried to work in a graphic studio instead?
Cyh: I think working in a graphic studio could have been a good idea, it wasn’t my call, I supposed you could not earn a lot of money, just experience. I did not need that, I could learn everything by my own, plus there weren’t many opportunities since I didn’t study here, I didn’t know where to look for.

But the fact that you were studying in the US, speaking English and such, don’t you think it could have been easier to get a job with that kind of background?
Cyh: Well, I guess many people think that way right, but you have to know the professors, they would help you out if you were their students. It was super difficult for me to join this circle.

Have you ever thought about quitting? To stop pursuing an Art career?
Cyh: Yes. Within the first two years, I was struggling, I had many jobs, I taught kids how to draw, I worked in a coffee shop, as a bartender and as an office worker. I tried at least six or seven jobs in two years then I was like « fuck it, I just quit everything and I focus on doing Art! ». I didn’t get paid a lot, I had no money, I was isolated, angry, frustrated and I didn’t want to hang out with people anymore.

Though you were highly productive during this retreat time…
Cyh: Notably yes. During those two years, every day I made at least three, four drawings. Around 2010, 2012 I made around 500, 1000 drawings...

That is insane! Which size?
Cyh: A4. I needed to be more productive, not to think about the outcoming, I pushed myself a lot, it didn’t matter if I had no inspiration, I kept drawing. It's like if you are a basketball or soccer player, I think it’s the basic training. Two, four years later I understood that it wasn’t really important because I mastered the skills now the more important were to ideas.

Finding a concept…
Cyh: Yes, how you want to expose to the people your point of view, how you want to deliver your ideas. Then I moved on to the next step.

What kind of artists did you like when you were in Art school, I know you talked about your inspirations however I am curious to know if there was one specific artist that inspired you more than others.
Cyh: That was one of our class, every student had to choose one or two artists and studied their style. For me, it was clearly the work of Gary Baseman.() His Art is very cute, evil and naive at the same time. I didn’t know much about the difference between commercial work and fine Art but after I found out more about him I understood that he tried to break the boundaries within commercial and fine Art world. I mixed Gary’s ideas & concept with Street Art, Graffiti then try to make something new out of it.

When you were in high school, did you knew the difference in between Street Art and Graffiti?
Cyh: Not really. Graffiti was, in my opinion just a weird hobbit, a movement seen as something illegal that became popular and defined later on as Art. Street Art was seen as something more legal in a way…

Maybe more accepted.
Cyh: I learned more about both movements, hence in my work I tried to break those established boundaries as well. Graffiti can be Art and Street Art can be GraffitiGraffiti started largely with people practicing lettering work, tagging & writing down your name. I didn’t want to redo the same stuff. I was thinking about creating a character, something that could fit our society, that was recognizable. Instead of solely using my tag name I used my character (and sometimes both).

As it evolved through the time or did you always drew that same character?
Cyh: No, it has definitely changed, it was a long process.

What was the very first character you designed, that you made especially for Graffiti purpose?
Cyh: It was around 2012, my character is called Horumon baby. I am drawing this character because I wanted to make fun of Art, in a serious manner. I wasn’t sure about where my future were heading, I was scared and very anxious. I had stomach pain, such shitty problems that I thought about using this cute character as a metaphor for artists problems, it’s like a soul-searching, something that was in my inner-self. I wanted to find something deep inside, drawing intestines became quite obvious. People are usually drawing their face, I imagined something more unique. Night markets are for me the epitome of Taiwanese culture you can get a lot of intestine dishes. In my opinion Taiwanese Street Art are Night markets, they represent Taiwanese soul…

When was the first time you did Graffiti? Was it in the US or here in Taiwan?
Cyh: I didn’t do anything in the States. I just produced small drawings, experimental stuff. I enjoyed this Culture a lot, especially when I was in High School, listening to Hip Hop music. The first time I did Graffiti was in 2009. During my first year back in Taiwan I did some collage. I used my name Cyh and created a face, the character I drew wasn’t visually strong to represent my ideas, it took a couple months to develop and two years to improve the final character. It was to complex, to difficult to make something on the streets, there were too many details... During this period I did a few exhibitions, with AMPM for example and a few coffee shops. After I mastered my style I was like « fuck the details, it’s not important anymore ». Yes, you can dribble fast enough but that’s not important if you don’t score, right? I was mainly thinking about scoring. Details on a drawing are great but it depends on the situation you find yourself in. Even know people recognized my style as something detailed I didn’t care, it will always be a part of me. At that point, I could do everything I want.

Yes because as you said, you develop your style fairly enough that to you can now try something else…
Cyh: Exactly and my work became simplistic but stronger. The funny thing is that my detailed work was appreciated by foreign people, I even got the opportunity to be a part of several Art zines although here, the local scene finds it scary, creepy and violent.

Yes, I got that a lot also with my work when I am drawing skulls, for example, people think that I am in pain or some stupid shit… It is purely because I appreciate the aesthetic, that's all, no meaning behind it.
Cyh: Right, but it must be true somehow, you must have darkness in you though that doesn’t mean you’re going to kill people by drawing those kinds of graphical elements (laughs). I tried five years super hard, I realized that kind of style didn’t fit here, in Taiwan. I had to take a decision either I would have died. Don’t get me wrong it’s not because I changed my drawing style, my drawings became cuter that means I did some compromise, not at all, I think it’s an extension of my personality. You have to find a good balance between bad & good energies.

Can you tell me more about your process when you find a street spot and decide that’s the one you want to do Graffiti?
Cyh: It depends but overall I have to be in a specific mood, the kind of state when you don’t care about anything and anyone. If I was super famous and got booked for plenty of shows, selling artworks, I wouldn’t go on the streets doing what I am doing. As I told you before, nobody really paid attention to what I was producing before, at least just a minority of people so at a certain point I am like « fuck everything, I’ll go on the streets, I don’t care anymore!» That is basically what happened. I was scared that people would put a label on me, if I’ll go on the streets I will automatically be labeled as a Street Artist. I cared too much and for what? I think you have to be wild sometimes.

Total freedom of expression, I get it… What about the perfect location?
Cyh: Where you can have the most exposure, I will say downtown is the perfect area. I know that with Graffiti you can’t make money. I wanted to create a very iconic character that people will easily recognize, like fucking Macdonalds, people know the logo, right? Then it became easier, you can do whatever you want if people recognize your work. My logo becomes Taipei city logo…

True. What about doing larger piece, do you check out the location beforehand and sometimes come back two or three days later to execute?
Cyh: Sometimes the walls are talking to you, like « this is yours! » you have to work by instinct, I never do a sketch, it’s freestyle. I am have more confidence, I feel powerful when I am free of everything. If I am very careful, start to think about details, I’ll lose the power, the energy…

In Taipei there is a lot of videos and camera, must be tricky to do anything with them…
Cyh: Yes, I had some troubles with the police.

Don’t you wear a mask or something to cover your face?
Cyh: I think it will make things worse. I do everything by night, it’s safer.

If the police catch you here, what’s the consequences?
Cyh: Usually, you have to pay money.

You choose your location in a careful way, you don’t tag on personal properties, like a house, stores…
Cyh: Yes, but one time I didn’t really paid attention to the property I tagged and it blew up all over the Internet, it made the news, people shared the info a lot!

But that’s great publicity I guess…
Cyh: Kinda yes but people didn’t like it, people were like « he can’t do that and shit! ». I don’t see the difference because there’s no good and bad Graffiti. One thing happened too, I remember drawing a shutter on a coffee shop, the owner was so mad that he kept sending me messages, I ignored them all but the funny fact is that two months later I found out that he decided to kept the drawing, made a little one mixed with the one I drew. Later on the shop became a quite popular photo spot!

Did he send you something afterward?
Cyh: No, he didn’t, he was just pissed, and talk shit about me but he kept my drawing (laughs)!

The fact that they are not many Graffiti in Taipei’s streets make yours more visible too.
Cyh: Definitely.

In my opinion, your work emphasizes the city view…
Cyh: Thanks!

Did you travel a lot to put your Graffiti mark all over Taiwan?
Cyh: I’ve been to Taichung a lot and to some other cities but when I was there I mainly put stickers…

So, you’re not doing collage work anymore.
Cyh: I could, I’ve done some but like I’ve said, it takes a lot of time, and it’s not my style, my signature...

You told me that you had the opportunity to be a part of some Art zines, can you tell me a bit more?
Cyh: Yes that guy Stephane Blanquet, a quite famous French Artist, he reached me through Facebook and asked if I was interested to be a part of this project (Les Crocs Electriques). In fact, my drawings and Graffiti works are quite different even know you can still see the flavor in each of those Art pieces. We made three zines together. (1)(2)(3)

Have you ever been to Europe?
Cyh: No, I’ve only been to the US, Mexico, Japan, Thailand, China…

What is the next step for you?
Cyh: To get more attention overseas. I might go to Japan next year. If I can make something there, I will go to the States then why not fly to Europe, who knows?

Do you have a morning routine?
Cyh: Not really, it’s very freestyle. Before I had this military type of agenda. I will say I am trying to work -at least- five hours a day, keep drawing, staying busy as much as I can. Once you got a whole body of work you have to find a way to show it, since I don’t have any manager, promotion is the key. I have to think about how I can make a business from my work.

By making small projects, invest by producing small objects, stickers, tee shirts…
Cyh: Yes, you have to think about a specific purpose, organize your work. You have to develop your style, build a fan base which will eventually grow over the time and that’s how you’ll survive.

Finally and last question, do you collect Art?
Cyh: Yes I do. My collection is mainly composed with Street Art and Lowbrow Art pieces from based Los Angeles artist Luke Chueh. I also I collect African tribal Art masks & sculptures.

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