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The Chinese Illustrator Whose Surreal Drawings Let Us Ponder The Reason Why – JOMI

Illustrators are a rare breed: Are they artists or designers, painters or cartoonists? I talked to Chinese illustrator Jomi to see if I could find any sense in these questions.

I first came across Jomi’s work at the end of 2016, when I saw a poster for her solo show, No Why. Straight off her works drew me in. The cartoon figures contrasted with the surreal subject matter, suggesting something deeper in the mind of the artist.

For instance, there is the drawing of a dark skinned girl with big afro hair in a short summer dress, patterned with bananas. She’s standing upright, a plug inserted into her nose, and the lead connecting to a wall socket that is shaped like an eye. What does this mean?

“It’s hard to find out the exact way to describe my work,” Jomi told me. “I would say that my work is an expression of my mood or just a thought at that moment.” But do you do this to make a statement, I ask? “I don’t like catering to others because that is not what I want, which explains why I seldom make any changes after finishing a painting. I guess every illustrator and designer would agree with me on that,” she says with a laugh. “To make a change to a painting is to change the original idea.”

Jomi’s work is heavily influenced by South Korean illustrator Henn Kim. Both their works feature women a lot, but there’s one big difference; Kim mainly employs black and white, whereas Jomi’s use of color is a major feature of her drawings. “It’s true that most of my works depict women,” suggests Jomi. “I like using colors and I found women very colorful. The other reason is that I am more familiar with women. I really hope that, one day, I could depict various kinds of women as well as using colors more boldly and skilfully.”

Another influence is UK based illustrator Manjit Thapp. She also features a distinctive woman figure throughout her work, and uses bold blocks of color. “I love the women in her paintings. They look so special,” says Jomi. “Her skills of using colors are very attractive to me, too. In fact, I am inspired by different illustrators in different phases. They are the models who direct my way.”

As we continue to chat away I want to know more about the solo show Jomi held at DAAD in 2016. “It simply explains my attitude deep in my heart. Why do you want to put the plug into your nose? Why are there so many eyes watching from the refrigerator? Why? Why is she wearing a pair of fried eggs for a bra? Why it is tape strips instead of stretched noodles? Why? No why!”

Jomi makes a good point here. Often art is questioned, as if it needs to have a meaning to be art, or an artist has to be doing what they do for some higher reason. “The truth is, often there isn’t a reasonable explanation,” she explains to me. “People are constantly changing, perhaps due to stress of life or other reasons. It is common that things do not always follow your common sense. Wouldn’t it be so boring if everybody and everything turns out to be just what you think they are?” Indeed, wouldn’t life be boring if there was always a reason why.

At the end of 2016 Jomi released a calendar, which was illustrated in her signature style. The calendar uses beautiful details of Chinese calligraphy along with a page for each month of the year with illustrations that depict the features of that particular month.

“I love recording and I keep a diary. I record things in case I will forget them. In this way, when I look back at them, I will remember like they are hidden surprises in my life,” Jomi chuckles. Unfortunately the calendar has sold out, but hopefully it will be available again in the near future. “If there is a huge need in the market, a second print may be considered.”

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