Life on canvas

Still life with London-based illustrator Joey Yu
By Undine Markus | Art | 16 April 2018
Photography Naomi Wong

London-based illustrator and curator Joey Yu has kept a list of every film she’s watched since 2014. From Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York, to this year’s coming-of-age romp Lady Bird, the list allows Yu to “directly see what films affected me at different points in my life.”

This fascination with influences and reinvention is an ongoing interest for Yu. Whether it is the way we reinvent ourselves before major life events or by gradually assimilating to new cultures and habits in our local boroughs, she is inherently curious, questioning and documenting her everyday life with a pen and paper. Her resulting artworks capture everyday life at its most playful and – at times – mundane, from couples eating in restaurants to busy street scenes through lush garden panoramas.

These days, the Kingston College of Art graduate works from her home studio and is particularly interested in studying patience in many of its forms – explore her space via photography by Cantonese-British photographer Naomi Wong.


Undine Markus: What informs your work?
Joey Yu: I’m really obsessed with films and I’ve kept a list of every film I’ve watched since 2014. I can directly see which ones affected me at different points in my life – Synecdoche, New York, In the Mood for Love, Joy, Akira, and Ladybird. Also, my curious and talented friends inform my work a lot, we learn from each other and make sure we’re always questioning things. Hopefully I’m going to be working alongside one of my dearest friends Charlotte on a project – how nice is that, to work with people you love.

UM: How does living in London filter into your work, particularly the observational sketches?
JY: I don’t want to forget any of it, I think that’s why keeping a pen and paper with me all the time makes so much sense. To record it and understand it. There’s this unique, hungry energy in the people who live here, I don’t know whether it’s that London is so diverse, or the mad unpredictable weather… or the rent…

UM: You’ve recently started integrating elements of writing, is that something you want to expand on?
JY: Definitely. I used to write more than I draw, I miss it.

UM: What are some of the ways in which illustration has the potential to improve our lives?
JY: More than ever, I think patience is of such importance! You have to remind yourself, you don’t have to have everything right now, you don’t have to come to conclusions right now. Illustration slows things down for me – but also, hopefully, for the viewer. When I was little I used to look at Chris Riddell’s illustrations for hours trying to decipher them, imagining the artist making certain marks and how he would have composed his images. I value patience in all of its forms so much. Not just illustration, but any form of interaction with real physical things. They’re reminders of time.


“I value patience in all of its forms so much. Not just illustration, but any form of interaction with real physical things. They’re reminders of time.”

UM: How do you see your craft evolving over the next twenty years, does technology play a part?
JY: I think there’s always ways of incorporating tech with old school techniques so you still retain a sense of autonomy and human quality. One of my favourite animations is called Tekkonkinkreet, for that they utilised 3D mapping technology with hand painted artwork to cover the rendered shapes. The mixture works so well and definitely shows how you don’t have to lose the life that handmade work gives. But also, man, books are never gonna die.

UM: Recently you’ve branched out into the fashion world and worked with various brands, are there any particular designers or seasons that have stood out to you thanks to their print work?
JY: Another thing I’m obsessed with! Recently, I’ve been looking at some of the 1960s paper dresses – they are so fascinating to me – disposable clothing that is printed with these amazing bold graphic contrary colours. There are a couple archive articles floating around about them online. I think Ossie Clark did one too, I love his stuff.


Follow Joey’s work here.


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