Guangzhou may be a step behind the established art scenes of Shanghai and Beijing, but Chinese illustrator Tony Cheung doesn’t necessarily see it as a negative. He says, like many other first-tier cities in the country, Guangzhou is a materialistic place where the people are overly focused money, and that this ultimately leads to the marginalization of non-mainstream art. Since art isn’t seen as a lucrative career path, fewer people are interested in it. “Of course, less competition might make artists lazier and financially less successful,” he notes. “But the peaceful and relaxing atmosphere in Guangzhou’s art circle is really appealing to me.”
就城市的艺术发展来说，广州可能稍稍逊色于上海或北京，但中国插画家庄汤尼（ Tony Cheung ）并不认为这是一个缺点。他说，像中国许多一线城市一样，广州也是物质主义盛行的地方，这里的人重视金钱导致了非主流艺术的边缘化。由于艺术不是一门利润丰厚的行业，越来越少人对它感兴趣。“当然，竞争少了可能会让艺术家变得懒惰，在收入方面也不太理想。但是，广州艺术圈宁静和轻松的氛围很吸引我。”他说道。
This same sense of peacefulness, however, does not translate into Cheung’s work. His images are nightmarish and chaotic, rife with sexualized schoolgirls, mutating phalluses, and grisly acts of violence. But these grotesque scenes aren’t created just for shock value alone; it’s a way for him to deliver his message to a populace that he believes to have been largely desensitized by a bombardment of digital media. “Our daily life is so full of all kinds of violent productions like photos, movies, news reports, and even advertisements,” he says. “Our generation is so used to it, which means as an artist, you need stronger stimulation to attract people’s attention. So violence and sometimes sex is the way for me to satisfy myself and the viewer, but at the same time, it’s a reflection of our visual reality.”
The brutal violence of Cheung’s work is his way of pointing out certain societal injustices. “For me, violence as a word has been mostly used to describe physical harmful force, while spiritual or systematic violence are neglected,” he says. “Fewer people consider social injustice, sexism ideology, or class discrimination as violence as well. So I bring my criticism against all types of violence into my works, covering them with physical abuse and pleasure. In all, physical violence is just a metaphor for violence that is less visible.”
Even the hyper-sexualized girls that populate his works are more than they appear; at first glance, they might seem like twisted male fantasies, but what it requires is for viewers to look beyond the surface. From crying heads in lieu of breasts and limbless women, Cheung’s disturbing imagery intends to anti-fetishize the female form as a means of challenging a male-dominated society.
Cheung’s art forces viewers to confront discomfort on many levels. He paints the ugliness of real life, and through these revolting visuals, he hopes to inspire critical thinking and change. “I don’t know if my works truly reflect the reality of things, but at least that’s what I try to achieve,” he shrugs. “Reality is not something that inspires me, but rather reality is something I care deeply about and feel eager to change.”