“I think what the audience doesn’t know about work as an artist is that it’s a process where sometimes you don’t know what you’re doing… But as you are doing something and you get the chance to hear feedback, the whole thing can develop upon that feedback and it’s like a loop. I’ll be doing something and I might need that feedback and I might change what I’m doing and develop upon it and for me personally, with this progression, my art grows and it gains more and more meaning as it goes.”
Lin Shih Chiang (林士強) is an all-rounder, try-everything kind of illustrator from Dounan, Dunlin County who moved to the capital ten years ago. With a happy-go-lucky demeanour that is as charming and cheeky as the Japanese style influenced characters he creates as ‘L2C’, Shih Chiang was enthusiastic and gladly talked about anything I wanted to ask him with a big smile – in between sips of beer… and whiskey.
Hey L2C, before we go any further in this interview, I must know your name! By that I mean your alias – just what does L2C stand for exactly?
It’s actually in my real name. In Chinese my middle name is ‘shi (士)’ and a lot of people think that it’s ‘tu (土)’ and basically that sounds like 2. So it’s just the abbreviation of my name but I changed the T to 2. Yeah.
Well it’s very nice to see you again. The last time I saw you was when I met you at the opening of your solo exhibition – Albums You Must Hear Before You Die – What inspired the idea for that?
I wanted to do a showing that is musical related because I think music expresses a lot of emotions. So I decided to paint fake album covers and each picture has some sort of emotion in there or maybe even political concepts on some of them. Sometimes when I’m upset or angry at work, I’d definitely paint something emotional so it was just a chance for me to change music’s emotional value into pictures.
What made you decide on the specific albums that you wanted to make a ‘fake version’ of?
Some of the albums are my favourites. Some of them like the Pink Floyd album cover especially made me think about my country and its situation. I don’t necessarily listen to all of them; sometimes only the album cover images themselves touched my heart.
So wait… Why did you choose a Justin Bieber cover? I hope he is not a favourite of yours…
[Laughs] That was just for fun!
Well I thoroughly enjoyed it and so did Nat Murray! We are big fans of yours! In fact, he was the one that showed me your previous zine. But can you tell me why you chose a zine format to showcase your work?
It basically started as a way for me to have a record of my exhibition. So it came naturally over time. Every time I had an exhibition I would make a zine for it and it became its own thing and I could start selling them.
How many have you produced so far?
I made 3 so far. The first one is called ‘Monster Movie,’ the second one is ‘Roaches in My Pants’ and then the third one is the latest one – ‘Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.’
Are your produced images sold in any other format?
No… Oh but many years ago I printed my own illustrations on t-shirts.
Why did you stop that?
Because no one was buying them [Laughs]
What I didn’t know though until popping by your event was that you do paper creations and sculptures as well – and quite skilfully at that. Now that leaves me wondering – what other things do you do creatively?
Well for the current exhibition I wanted people to not just go to an ‘exhibition’. I wanted to have that ‘live house’ feel. So that’s why I did all these paper sculptures and masks to represent the fake band I created. That’s what I actually do every exhibition, I make paper sculptures for each zine.
And when we met and chatted it up a little bit you briefly mentioned that you also have a full time job that was quite interesting if I remember right – elaborate further this time!
My job is to draw cute characters just like Hello Kitty, that kind of style. The company that I work for runs Japanese cartoon character brands. I work for the development of new cartoon characters.
It’s really interesting to me that instead of managing people or consulting fashion brands and so on, you guys basically manage the image of characters and try to make new characters famous! Tell me then, what makes a great character great and have mass appeal?
It depends on the client but I think the most important is having his or her particular style and a defining characteristic – for example a character with oversized arms, something like that. You also have to make an interesting story or back story for them so that gives them their personality. But really most of the characters my company do are really, really, really cute characters. [laughs]
What is the usual back story of a really, really cute character?
The most famous character done by our company, as an example, is this Taiwanese black bear and his story is that he lives in a very happy jungle and his style is that he has big hair – an afro – but his body is grey actually.
As for your illustrations online, a lot of them have a pleasantly juvenile and cheeky quality to them – can you explain to me why?
I think my style is not too serious and something that makes fun of something. I mostly use acrylic paint and I like dark colours but I try to make my images as colourful as possible. I like to put insinuated meanings in my images.
Though in comparison to what you just described, your Tumblr layout is quite plain and well – just white. Any reason behind this?
Ah, my Tumblr site is just like my simple diary. I will do some black and white drawings and put them there and most of them express my emotions. I usually do a drawing every other day or two but sometimes I won’t go on there for a long period of time – it depends really. It’s mostly about my emotions towards my office job. [laughs]
Let’s get the specifics of the array of emotions then. How would your drawings look like when you’re angry?
Well when I’m angry I’m the kind of person that just screams inside and suffers so I tend to draw figures in ‘orz’ positions and style (a Japanese based emoticon of a man pounding his head on the floor) or just figures with their faces looking down at the ground.
What about happiness?
I end up drawing people dancing. [laughs] Dancing and naked!
I draw people that are maybe missing a hand or some other body parts.
Aside from these sketches, where do you put your other types of artistic work? Do you have any other site that you run?
Actually I have another Tumblr account and it’s all about painting.
Oh I didn’t see that one!
Well my style is really complicated so I try to organise and separate these different styles of work. So yeah I got one for mostly drawing and sketches and I have the other one for painting.
I know we already talked about the number of emotional states that propel your creativity but excluding these factors, is there anything else that inspires you to produce work?
Sometimes movies… but I think I look a lot at other peoples’ graphic work and I will feel the emotions and meanings of their work and transfer it to my work. [laughs]
Well you seem like someone in touch with your emotions so let’s get a bit more personal here L2C. Tell me about what you appreciate the most about Taiwan as a local Taiwanese.
The people. The people more than food!
People actually usually say the food! What about Taiwanese people is better than Taiwanese food?
I think when you ask a Taiwanese person a question they would respond to you passionately!
Are you one of these passionate Taiwanese you talk about?
Yeah, sure. [laughs] But if you don’t ask me anything I just look angry, maybe.
Julia: OH! Yeah, in English we call that ‘resting bitch face!!’
I see. [laughs]
Anyway, what about your educational background – what did you study in university?
I didn’t go to university actually, I went to a preparatory or vocational school – something similar to this here in Taiwan. I focused in English actually but now my English is no better than a Taiwanese high school student [laughs].
What made you decide to not pursue art academically or go to university?
Actually I did want to go to an art university but I was too lazy to prepare for the exam. I was so lazy and besides I’m not very good with reading.
But before all these academic pressures and life decisions, what did you dream of becoming when you were growing up?
First I wanted to be a comic artist but I naturally just wanted to try everything and I progressed to painting and drawing in a more general direction.
And now that you are all grown up and you are pretty much in the direction that you’ve always wanted to be at – painting, drawing, sketching and illustrating all this fun and humorous art – what is your biggest motivation to continue producing more and more? What makes it still exciting for you?
It’s my specialty. In Taiwan it’s hard to survive when you just specialise in one thing like when you are just painting or just doing comic work and so on. They have to do other work like working in McDonalds or something. But I wanted to prove that my ‘specialty’ is the only thing I need to survive and that’s it.
If you’re in Taiwan this month, check out L2C’s solo exhibition at (C9-14) No.2, Dayi St., Yancheng Dist., Kaohsiung City, Taiwan. The exhibition is on until the 27th of March.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JULIA KAO