Jonathan Jay Lee is a Taiwanese-American illustrator and artist, now based in Hong Kong. A graduate of Parsons School of Design in New York, Jonathan has developed a vibrant style that draws from both Japanese manga and Western comic book traditions. Through his unique depictions of Hong Kong, he tells us stories about the city that are iconic, and at the same time, feel authentic.
Jonathan Jay Lee是一名定居香港的台裔美籍插畫家。畢業于紐約帕森斯設計學院的他，吸取了日式和西式漫畫的精髓，作品畫風異常明媚。通過對香港獨到的解讀，他筆下所描繪的正是這座城市最典型和真實的面貌。
Neocha: Tell us about your journey of becoming an artist.
Jonathan: I actually got started as an artist the “safe” way, in that I got into and went to one of the best design schools in the world. After that, I played it all or nothing. I interned, hustled, and asked for work wherever I could. I put myself out there as much as I was able to with exhibitions and networking, often with the help of friends and family.
Definitely the biggest challenge was having to prove to others that I could do this, that there’s nothing wrong with being an artist. I grew up in an environment where achievement was measured by my grades, and wanting to pursue a creative career questioned all of those notions. I suppose that you could say my biggest struggles were internal. Is the work good enough? Am I a fraud? Will people one day realize this and send me away forever? But as a professional you can’t have the luxury of having uncertainty in yourself.
Neocha: Can you tell us about how you developed your style?
Jonathan: Style is not something I think about too much. You just make what you make, and somehow you’re drawn to certain things, just because. I love and grew up with comics, so I was deeply inspired by that. If someone were to create the greatest and most amazing thing in the history of the world, I would say it would exist in the form of a comic book. I still get goosebumps from Inoue Takehiko’s drawings for his work on Vagabond. Moebius’ sci-fi landscapes make me want to cry, and the smell of print still inspires me.
Neocha: Hong Kong plays a big role in your work. How does the city inspire you?
Jonathan: I was born in the states and my family is from Taiwan, but Hong Kong is my home. I took it for granted when I was growing up, but it wasn’t until after I left that I missed all of its charms. Capturing those charms was a challenge when I was given a steady editorial gig for a few years, in which I had to illustrate the many different streets of Hong Kong. Each street had its own appeal and special kind of seduction. It was because of that and my hatred of Hollywood representations of the city that inspired me to represent Hong Kong in a way that it deserves. I love meeting people who come through Hong Kong, and then one day decide, “OK, I’m done, I don’t need to go anywhere else. Let’s settle here.”
Jonathan: 我在美國出生，父母來自台灣，但我的家卻在香港。我過去視它爲理所當然，直到我離開後，我開始深深思念這裏的無盡美好。曾經有幾年，我有一份穩定的編輯工作，這份需要我創作香港不同街道的插畫。當時我發現捕捉這座城市的美妙是個挑戰，因爲每一條街道都有它自己獨特的魅力。就是基于此，以及我對好萊塢式浮誇呈現的反感，讓我想用一個更適合這座城市的方式來展現香港。我喜歡和那些來香港的人們見面，然後在某一天我決定: “好吧，不再糾結了，我不需要去別的地方了，不如就在這裏定居下來吧。”
Neocha: A lot of your artwork seems reminiscent of street photography, in that it captures everyday moments in public spaces. How did you start creating this kind of work?
Jonathan: It first started with a project called Ho Lee Fook, which Black Sheep Restaurants commissioned me to create a number of pieces that revolved around Graham Street Market. The market has been around for over a century, but would soon be demolished to give way to developing properties. For that, I went out and collected as many references as I could about it, and decided to create moments of nostalgia. The most beautiful thing about illustration is that it is representative. Photography can be faked sure, but its real beauty lies in the truths it tells. In that sense, these illustrations represent my truths of living in Hong Kong. Once I had the setting in place, each piece told its own story in a strangely inevitable way.
Jonathan: 是從一個叫做“Ho Lee Fook”的項目開始，這個項目是我受Black Sheep Restaurants集團的委托，創作一系列表現嘉鹹街市場周邊環境的作品。這個市場已存在一個多世紀了，但馬上就要面臨被拆除，新建設也將開始。爲此我想盡辦法收集盡可能多的參考資料，決定創作一些可以讓人緬懷這個地方的定格小瞬間。插畫的美妙之處在于它的表現力。攝影也可以不真實，虛實之間，這些插畫真實展示了我所生活的香港。每當作品設定一確立，每幅作品所承載的故事就躍然紙上。
Neocha: What are some of your future projects?
Jonathan: I have some very cool projects that will come to life in Singapore, in the U.S., and of course in Hong Kong very soon! I’m also a Professor of Illustration at SCAD Hong Kong, an institution that I’m very honored to be a part of. Education is important, and I feel like I am finally at a place where I have something to offer to students who are venturing on a similar path.