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Home FEATURES Artist Interviews Interview: Michael Hsiung

Interview: Michael Hsiung
Monday, 23 April 2007 06:31
"Mermen are always awkward and heavy drinkers, centaurs have a special male bond, ice skaters are sort of falling all the time, and Hitler is always doing things unrelated to his Reich days."

We came across Los Angeles based artist Michael Hsiung's work after posting it on the site earlier this month and we were instant fans. In lieu of writing a long winded intro about how much we like his work and why it makes us crack up every 5 minutes, we thought it would be smarter to just post the biography section from his website (written by Robin Lee) as sort of a "get to know the artist" portion of the interview.

"Michael Hsiung will tell you he has never taken a drawing class, which is not really a lie. He took a drawing class in Pasadena once, which then led him to a nude drawing seminar where he encountered the beauty of fat, sweaty men. He will also tell you that this did not influence his artistic career and that he is not as magically retarded as people might think. After a brief stint knitting scarves in northern Canada and chasing an un-artistic career, Sir Michael came back to California a little over a year ago in pursuit of harmonizing anxious sprites and attending a softball competition. His harmonizing brought him to Los Angeles where he beset upon his friends drawings and sketches reminiscent to those of a common eight year old we find riding the short bus and taking the long way home.

After gaining slight admiration and approval from his peers, Michael continued his illustrative pursuits concentrating heavily on dejected animals, hedonistic culture and oppressive leaders of past. Though it is tough to say where he gets his inspiration, there is a heavy D&D undertone; dungeon masters, centaurs and unicorns grace the pages of his sketch pad, intermixed with history- Hitler, Adolescent Hitler and Baby Hitler, to name a few. Winter Olympics and mens figure skating are also rampant themes and in combination with each other, we get somewhat of a glimpse into Michael'sbrain(s): a permutation of fantasy, facts and broken shot glasses. Michael currently lives in Los Angeles near his sister's cat, Prince, where he maintains a steady following of bar friends and homosexuals, some more closeted than others."

awkwardmomentopen.jpg
// After an awkward moment, Mermen smoking and drinking

What do you do and where do you do it?

I work at a museum full time in Los Angeles. My “undercover job” is as a grant writer’s assistant. I cut and paste for about 8 hours of the day and I'm really good at wearing sweater vests. Sometimes they let me troubleshoot Microsoft Word for other employees. (Go to File, then to Preferences, Games, and choose Mindsweep.)

In keeping with my current curiosity regarding Southern California, how did you decide to live in LA?

I was living in San Jose for a really absurd length of time. When my roommates decided to move out of our loving home, I decided to move back to LA for no apparent reason other than that my sister and my good friends lived there. It’s been good to me so far.

I hear Korea town can be sort of rough. How come you don’t live in Echo Park and Silver Lake like everyone else?

Well I think it’s because I’m poor and ethnic. If I lived in Echo Park and Silver Lake I would de-gentrify it and property values would drop. Plus people in Korea town think I’m Mexican or Korean so I feel more accepted, even though I’m neither. I’m black.

There are a million good restaurants in the Los Angeles area, but if people don’t tell me about them, I’m completely lost. In the interest of having me co-opt your opinions, what are your favorites? (If you don’t want to give away your secrets on the web, we can talk later).

Honestly, there’s this great place by the park I’m unable to disclose at the moment for political reasons. (I was just threatened by a friend). But if you’re in town, I’ll take you there – blindfolded and cavity searched of course.

There are lots of good restaurants in Korea town. You can still get dog. One of my favorite eateries is this place at the LA Zoo. They have side window "specials" like you would never believe. Oh, Auntie Em’s in Eagle Rock, the cart dog people and tamale guy in Echo Park. Street food is good. Best diarrhea you’ll ever have.

decapitatingroosteropen.jpg
// Man trying to decaptitate the giant rooster

After reading your website’s intensive bio, I can only think of one question. Tell me about “the beauty of fat, sweaty men” and their affect on you or you work.

I remember when I first encountered them in my figure drawing class. The only art class I ever really had. The teacher, who thought I was a raver because I wore beanies, made me sit in a nude figure drawing session. I remember being really disgusted at first staring at this fat, sweating dude… I mean I could see beads of sweat on his “privates.” Now that I think of it maybe he was punishing me for not finishing my work. Regardless, it’s affected my work and me ever since.

But now, being the mature artist that I am, I understand the beauty I didn’t see before in “fat, sweaty” men. Fat men have more interesting curves to draw. Their shapes are more natural and fluid. Sweat is natural if you are sitting under a hot lamp.

Let’s talk about your work for a minute. You have several re-occurring themes; mermen, ice skating, unicorn, Hitlers (of all sizes) and so on. How did they find themselves into your work?

I’m actually not sure. I was sort of doodling Hitler at my friend’s house and we couldn’t stop laughing. The other creatures and animals are probably a byproduct of my D&D interests. It wasn’t until I drew much more did I see this unhealthy pattern and fascination with all these themes. Mermen are always awkward and heavy drinkers, centaurs have a special male bond, ice skaters are sort of falling all the time, and Hitler is always doing things unrelated to his Reich days.

divisiondayopen.jpg
// A short sketch of two mermen planning to plunder ruins with an unfortunate outcome


banvardcdback.jpg
// Scenes from a Distraught Man trying to cure his Diseased Warthog

Do all your characters have names and stories? Do you find that giving them identities makes it easier or harder when it becomes time to kill them?

I’d say most of my characters have stories, but not names. I would find myself drawing a certain animal, killer whales for instance, but they would mainly be interacting with just penguins. There would be probably 5 or 6 drawings I’d do involving situations that I imagined consciously or unconsciously between them.

Killing them off is easy, even pleasurable. I think when I found myself bored or exhausted with drawing them that they would be “killed off.”

Do you ever feel remorse for these killings?

No way, kill’em all and create new things.

I’ve heard you site Dungeons and Dragons as being an influence in your work. I’m afraid that you will have to explain that one.

Ha ha. Well I was a big dork as a kid, and played lots of this fantastic table top role playing games, one being Dungeons and Dragons--by myself. I was really into the monsters and the magic spells involved. . . and I dunno… I guess it helped with my imagination, but not my sex life. But imagination is more fun…um right?

I seem to pull a lot of sarcasm from your work. Seemingly inside jokes that make the art more personalized for the viewer. Would you describe your work as sarcastic?

I think there’s definitely something about me making my own jokes in them. I like to laugh, make my friends, laugh and have a good time. I think this is something that just comes out when I draw. Sometimes sarcasm, sometimes sadism, but most of the time just fun things I hope.

Spooningopen.jpg
// Containing scenes in which the baby angora unicorn and man stay warm on a cold day

How long have you been drawing for? Do you think you have progressed over time?

I’ve been drawing on and off for most of my life, but more seriously I guess for about a year or so. I stopped at some point and fell out of it when I was in college and stuff. As far as progression I’d say in a weird way I’m drawing what I’ve always sort of have drawn as a child. My dad gave me some old childhood drawings I made and they are all of animals and bearded men fighting – horses and dinosaurs. I still have these old Chinese exercise books from when I was a kid and they are filled with melting faces, people crapping, and facial hair. Nothing has really changed. Ha ha. I just freaked myself out.

When did you decide to make the leap from “drawing for fun” to “drawing for a living”? Have you made that leap yet?

I don’t draw for a living yet, but it’s sneaking up on me. I don’t do it yet, but I feel myself gravitating more and more to doing it for living. I find myself wanting too. It’s starting to take up more and more of my free time, which is fun and great. As soon as it isn’t fun I think I’ll start applying for suicide.

mermaidenopen.jpg
// Mermaiden holding martini saying goodbye


slaveshipopen.jpg
// On the mysterious ship whose true history will never been known.

I hear that you sleep with pizza and hamburger pillows. Do you find that it makes you dream of food?

Definitely, I often wake up chewing on them. I think the one reason I can’t be vegetarian is because of those pillows. I also have this Oscar Mayer’s wiener pillow I like to sit on – it doesn’t make me dream though . . . it does other stuff I’d not like to talk about.

How is that you were able to grow such a bold and strong mustache?

I have no idea. I think it was probably because I started shaving for no apparent reason as a teenager. I should have shaved my cheeks more because I can’t grow a beard. Hot dogs helped too.

Anything you’re really excited about right now?

I’m really excited about an upcoming show at Gallery Revisited in June. I’m going to be showing with Cole Gerst, which I’m really excited about. I hope to have a little book of illustrations accompanied by writings from acclaimed sci-fi author Kathleen Brzezinksi. Also I plan to have 5 look-a-likes there for photo-opts at the opening. Also the blog I’m writing for www.ourartsite.com . They have been really great friends and supporters!

You can see more of Michael's work on his website www.michaelchsiung.com and also here.
{moscomment}

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