“I studied fine arts in university and I literally spent the whole time playing basketball. And then, I was conscripted to the national army. Afterwards, I worked for 6 months as an underpaid and overworked graphic designer… It made me realise that I am not satisfied with working for other people and that I’m best at drawing. So that’s when I worked for 4 years in a ramen shop to support myself so I could finally do graffiti.”
As the creator of the bright cheeky cartoon entities hanging around town (some happily vacationing abroad in Brazil and beyond), Han Junyue (韓君岳) can easily be supposed to be the kind of artist that is cut from the same cloth as his own graffitied creations. Instead, one will meet a modest man who collects austere-looking beer bottles, at ease working and living with his mother in the same house he grew up in.
Do you remember the first drawing you’ve done? [Tell us about it!]
HAN: The first clear memory I have about drawing was when I was in elementary school and we had a trip to SunYatSen Memorial Hall to try depict it. I was with this classmate who was really good with drawing, even better than me at the time, but I didn’t want to lose the game so we tried to compete to see who could draw better and that’s when I realised ‘Oh I’m quite good at drawing.” I was around 12 years old.
Is there a story or a personal significance behind your pseudonym? Why Candy Bird?
[Laughs] I’m laughing because a lot of people I meet or even my friends ask me the same question. But actually there is no special story behind it at all. Basically, when I was in university I liked this basketball player called ‘Larry Bird’ and also my nickname was ‘阿鳥’ which is ‘a bird’ in English. So when I had to sign up for Facebook back then, I didn’t want to use my real name so I tried to ‘play cute’ and that’s why I put the word ‘candy’ together with my nickname ‘bird.’ I continued using it when I started graffiti.
I’ve noticed that most of the colourful human-like caricatures you draw have their eyes closed. Why is this?
First, I just wanted to create a character that is a little bit sad, gloomy, and melancholic. I find that they reflect these emotions better this way. Another reason is that I found that eyes are pretty hard to draw and when you do graffiti it needs to be fast because you are trying to avoid being caught; so this is why I decided to skip it. The characters were created by instinct and the interesting thing is that I only realised later that they share similarities to me in a way that when I am feeling stubborn, sad or cheeky, I feel like I look like them.
In what ways is the execution of illustrations in public places different compared to carrying out work on paper, canvas, and other more traditional channels?
They differ in two ways. The first one is about the space. To draw on a paper or a canvas, you are often indoors and when you are doing graffiti of course it’s usually outside. When I was drawing indoors, I felt enclosed and alone. When I am doing graffiti I felt like there were more opportunities for interactions. The next one is about the logic to create these things. Because the paper is blank and all white, you need to start from scratch and you have to heavily consider the rules of composition. This is why I’m not good at drawing on paper and I find it boring. As for street art, when you are working on a public space you choose, there are usually elements already existing there; things like air-conditioner units, electric posts, and even cracks on the walls. This triggers my imagination; I can imagine the story of the space, it’s history, and the kind of people that go there.
On that note, how do you think people’s perceptions change because your art is outside the context of traditional art venues?
Once a piece is put into galleries or even museums, people think it’s art without a question and they admire it instantly. But with graffiti the appreciation is less constant; it changes from person to person. In general the prestige is lessened, and this is what I observed based on my experiences. For example when people see me doing street art here in Taiwan, they constantly ask me “Are you still a student?”; in China, they ask me “Are you doing advertisement?”
But one thing is for sure, the younger generations are more appreciative of street art.
Some people regard street/urban art as vandalism. How do you feel about that?
Fuck them. I’m not going to force them to change what they think. But I think that they just lost the chance to experience a great kind of art form.
Aside from bringing social issues into light, what other objectives do you want to accomplish through your art?
Before, I focused on social issues because I had some friends who were social activists. Despite everything they did – strikes, demonstrations, petitions – the media didn’t cover it. So I decided to show the people what was happening and do it through graffiti. I find that in the past two years though, there are more and more strikes and demonstrations. It’s not unusual anymore and actually became kind of popular, although I feel like these protests became dry and more like slurring personal attacks on other people. In turn, the real issues are not being taken care of. So I decided to switch my focus on universal concerns of humanity. In my opinion, being human is our core and most of the issues we have are from ‘human’ problems. This is what I tackle now and hopefully I am succeeding to do it. At the moment, I will only do a graffiti about a particular issue if it is really, really important and I want people to know about it. But it’s not all about that… sometimes it’s simply about making something fun and making people laugh!
As a young artist and a local Taiwanese, do you think Taiwan provides a stimulating environment for artistic growth (currently and in the past)?
I was born and bred in Taiwan so if I got influenced by it, it is a little bit obscure to me and only an outsider could probably see that. Since I am also from Taipei city – the most non-Taiwanese place in the country – there are a lot of Japanese and American influences so I’m not really sure about the influences the place had on me. I don’t think about places influencing me much. I feel like the biggest stimulant for me personally is Buddhism. I am a Buddhist myself and it made me no longer focus on my own feelings. Instead it made me think more about how the world works and the relations between people.
How do you feel about being ‘Candy Bird’ and being recognised under that name nowadays?
When I see the media covering ‘Candy Bird’ or when people talk to me, I go “Oh.. oh yeah” because it’s almost like they are talking about a 3rd-person or an object dangling in the air. I feel detached to ‘Candy Bird’ so I don’t really care about the image or the persona; although if it’s criticism about my artistic abilities then I would be glad to hear it. The thing is no one has ever said anything negative to me directly so maybe that’s why I am more interested to know what people talk about when I’m not around. [Laughs]
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JULIA KAO
TRANSLATOR: PO-SHAN WU