When artist Chris Yee began creating the cover artwork for the 2023 OzAsia brochure, his aim was to combine traditional Chinese design with contemporary flair. The result was his striking digital illustration Perspective Pathways.
“Often in my work, traditional Chinese design is referenced and modernised to infer a new perspective,” Yee says.
“I wanted to depict South Australia’s leafy sea dragon to create a bridge between two cultures – traditional dragons representing luck and strength, with a version of the creature that is natively Australian.
“With my work I like to generally reference traditional visual symbolism and interpret cultural signifiers to something that speaks more to my personal experience. Something that is visually Asian-influenced but also very much Australian and suburban. Colours, shapes and symbols are transformed in a hyper-colour blend to feel modern, new and hopefully unique.”
Yee’s work came to the attention of OzAsia organisers last year when he exhibited in the group exhibition Pendulum at Nexus Arts, curated by Jonathan Kim.
The festival’s executive producer, Joon-Yee Kwok, says: “I really liked Chris’s tapestries so I went to his website for more examples of work, and discovered the graphic novel, psychedelic, illustrative work, and thought the vibrancy and youthfulness of his work would lend itself to capturing the OzAsia spirit.”
Yee, who lives in Sydney, says the use of water in the cover artwork was also crucial to telling the story of the Australian-Asian identity.
“With my take on the OzAsia Festival artwork I wanted to inspire and represent the new Asian-Australian identity,” the 33-year-old artist explains.
“To me, the element of water is crucial to the foundations of what we know as Australia. Water has been used by our Traditional Owners of land as foundations to thrive and flourish. Water has been used to welcome migrant families from far and wide, and in Asian cultures it represents life and purity. The movement of water is an element I wanted to capture in the energy of my artwork.”
Yee is exhibiting at this year’s OzAsia Festival with his show Home-Land, comprised six new digital artworks. These works also explore the modern Asian-Australian identity, which he says feels “familiar, unrecognisable and everywhere in between”.
“The exhibition is really an expression of free form and variation in which I hope an audience can resonate with in very nuanced and subtle ways,” he says.
“Visually, for a lot of the works, I was inspired by Australian landscape painting and skylines. I wanted to interpret this visual Australian tradition and give it my hyper-colour twist to interpret what feels like ‘home’ to me in this land we know as Australia.”
When it comes to the festival program, Yee says he is “extremely proud and honoured” that his artwork was chosen.
“It means a lot as I love advocating for Asian-Australian creatives, as well as creating nuanced storytelling from suburbs and areas that I identify with.
“Being part of an event like OzAsia Festival is huge. It’s amazing seeing such a diverse range of Asian creatives connecting different pockets of storytelling together. Throughout my whole career I’ve been forever interested in identifying a new face for representation for Australia, so seeing my work on the cover is absolutely mind-blowing.”
As well as creating his own artwork, the animator and designer also works commercially across advertising, producing, video directing and animation, and is currently teaching a multidisciplinary digital arts course at Sydney University.
He says he has collaborated with some big names during his career, including Apple, Estee Lauder and Justin Bieber.
“Some crazy jobs I’ve worked on include directing a Subaru car ad, even though I can’t drive, and I worked on animation for a Justin Bieber music video,” he says.
Home-Land is showing in The Galleries in the Festival Theatre Foyer at Adelaide Festival Centre during the OzAsia Festival, which runs until November 5. Read more OzAsia stories and reviews here.
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