Pencil lines, blocks of colors, lazy yogis, and happy animals. Hong Kong-born and UK-raised artist Charlene Man refuses to settle with one style or stick to the rules, but her works all invariably add a touch of humor as the finishing stroke. After a series of successful exhibitions titled Down Time in Japan and Hong Kong that explored the subjects of stillness and relaxation as a defense of laziness, Man is now busy preparing her upcoming Taipei exhibition in March, which will tackle the topic of “random thoughts.”
铅笔线条、大色块、慵懒做着瑜伽的人和没烦恼的动物们，这些都是Charlene Man作品中的常见元素。在香港出生、英国长大的她拒绝单一的创作风格，也不愿意循规蹈矩，更喜欢为自己的作品增添一点幽默风格。Charlene Man在香港和日本成功举办了一系列名为《Down Time》（停机时间）的展览，以停机为主题诠释宁静和放松的状态，为“懒惰”正名。Man现在忙着筹备她即将于三月份在台北举行的展览，这一次的展览主题是“胡思乱想”。
For Man, she considers being able to turn illustration into a full-time job as her biggest accomplishment. Many of her contemporaries have changed their careers or resorted to working for agencies. Being a free agent means more personal time and more room for creative growth, but self-discipline still played a big role in her success. Recently, we sat down with Man and had a chat with her about transitioning to a full-time illustrator, inventing words, and finding ways to be less boring.
Neocha: How did you start your career in illustration?
Man: It all started quite early on when I was at school. I was interested in doing art, but I always thought of it as a hobby. My parents were very against it as they wanted me to do math and science – like most Asian parents. I was quite rebellious and went with what I wanted to do. But back then, I didn’t even know illustration existed. At first, I wanted to do fashion illustration because I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do. I went to London College of Fashion for a year but I didn’t like it, so I dropped out and I ended up going to Camberwell College of Arts to start over.
Neocha: How did you integrate your cultures and surroundings – that of Cantonese and British – into your art?
Man: I created a project on Cantonese colloquialisms at Camberwell. Even though you might not have the cultural context, people could still understand it. I grew up in the UK, but I didn’t come here until I was 13. I obviously didn’t speak English very well and always thought that people considered me as being quite weird since I couldn’t say what I wanted to say to the full extent. I would put words together but the grammar was all wrong. They laughed about it, but then I thought, “Why do I need to speak perfectly? People can understand me anyways, so why can’t I just be myself?” There are no rights and wrongs in language anymore. We invent new words on the internet every day, so why can’t I just have fun with it? That’s when I started to make a lot more work about my culture and that’s when humor made it into my art.
Man: 我在坎伯韦尔艺术学院的时候，创作了一个以粤语俚语为主题的项目。这些作品是即使你没有这种文化的背景也能够理解的。我 13 岁才去到英国，所以最初我的英语并不好。我把单词拼凑在一起，但是语法都是错的，别人听了会笑。我常担心别人会觉得我奇怪，因为我没法完整表达出自己的想法。但我转念一想，“为什么我一定要说非常流利的英语以让自己看起来彬彬有礼？反正人们也能理解我的意思，为什么我不能只做自己？”自此，我开始不去计较语言上的对与错。反正互联网上每天都有人在发明新的词汇，不如就用它来做一些好玩的事情。于是，我开始利用这种特殊的身份来创作大量的作品，也正是这时，我的作品开始渐渐呈现出幽默的风格。
Neocha: How do you decide that “this is my style”?
Man: If all your drawings look similar, you’ll get recognized a lot quicker and easier. It’s the rules of Instagram. If you follow the rules you’ll get there. I try to go against it a bit. I don’t want people to ask me to do the same thing all the time because I find it boring. I want to keep doing new things, to keep myself motivated, and stay interested in art-related things. I actually enjoy the process of physically making something, like baking bread. I suppose that’s why my work always is more tactile and more hands-on. I want to do comics, but I don’t like to explain a lot. I still like things to be in a very abstract way. I feel doing a comics is telling a bit too much. If it’s just a single image, it leaves more to the imagination.
Neocha: 你是如何确认 “对，这就是我想要的风格”的？
Neocha: What are some of the obstacles you’ve faced, and how did you conquer them?
CM: We have this collective called “Day Job” – there are ten of us. The idea was that we wanted to make illustration our day job. When we first started, we all had part-time jobs. I was working in a clothing store and someone else worked in a biscuit factory. Most of us are illustrators now. But at one point, I didn’t have a job. I was just sitting at home and my mom came in, saying “You’re looking for a job? Why don’t you do something?” But I was actually doing something – I was drawing and thinking about my next move. That’s when the idea for the exhibition came to me and I started contacting galleries. After the show, I received more commissions that I really enjoy doing, more relevant to what I’m interested. I think working on personal projects really helps. You never get what you don’t ask for. I learned that from my failures. I used to have low confidence, but it’s common when you first graduate. I thought things like, “I’m still not a full-time illustrator. My friends are doing much better.” But I realized that people don’t approach you not because you’re not good enough. It’s because they haven’t seen you yet.
CM: 我和另外9名艺术家有一个合作项目叫《Day Job》（正职工作），想法是创作有关我们正职工作的插画。毕业后刚开始画画的时候，大家都有在做其他工作来维持生活。我在一家服装店工作，还有人在饼干厂工作。直到2014年，我才辞去最后一份正职工作。现在，我们大多数人都成为插画家了。有一段段时间，我没有工作。有一次我宅在家里，我妈妈走了进来，说：“你有在找工作吗？为什么你不去找些事情来做？”而那时候我的确有在做事情——我每天都在画画，心里也知道自己接下来想做什么。就在那时我想到了举办展览然后开始联系一些。展览结束后，越来越多人找我画画，那些是我喜欢画的插画，更符合我的兴趣。我觉得做个人项目很有用，你不去问就永远得不到自己想要的东西。我正是从自己的挫败中学会这一点的。我那时候不是很自信，大部分刚毕业的人应该都会这样。那时我会觉得“我还算不上是一个全职的插画家，我的朋友要优秀得多了。”人们没有来找你并不是因为你不够好，而是因为他们还没看到你。
Neocha: So you’ve now moved back to Hong Kong. How are you inspired by this change in location?
CM: I moved back to Hong Kong on purpose. For years, I’ve only visited and didn’t live here. I never got to do the things that I want to do. I want to see Hong Kong and visit all the streets. I see it very differently now, in an artistic way. I now appreciate things that I didn’t use to when I was younger. Places like Sham Shui Po are developing. But I find that Hong Kong is losing its culture bit by bit. That’s why I made Villain Beating). It’s something that might disappear in the next few years. For me, it doesn’t matter you’re in England or in China. Where you are is not a limitation. The internet allows you to make things that you like and easily share it with the world.
CM: 我是特意搬回香港生活的。我长大后一直没有在这里生活过，除了偶尔来旅游，我从来没有机会在这里做我想做的事情。我想要真正地看看香港，去走遍所有的街道。搬回来，我才能不断探索这里的艺术场景。现在我眼中的香港很不一样，我会以艺术的角度来看它。当你年轻的时候，你不太会欣赏某些事物。香港有些地方你一般不会自己去的，譬如深水埗，现在这些地方也发展了起来。我发现香港的一些本地文化在消失。这也是为什么我创作了《打小人》（Villain Beating）这幅画，这种文化可能会在未来的几年消失。我会尽我所能来保护这些文化。互联网真的可以给你很多机会。如果你做的东西是你喜欢的，人们就会有机会看到它，无论你是身处英国还是在中国，地理位置并不是限制。
Exhibition: Small Thoughts
Exhibition Dates: May 7th, 2017 ~ May 22nd, 2017
B1, No. 6, Lane 72, Section 2, Zhongshan North Road
Zhongshan District, Taipei
Contributor & Photographer: Shanshan Chen