Huanhuan Wang’s work takes us through boldly imagined scenes and settings. Consistent in it all is an almost tempera-paint palette and a meditation on reoccurring themes and motifs. For the artist, desire is at the heart of human existence alongside its opposing force, harm. Desire and pain are inextricable, and in her work, we can find them in all their elaborate knots. Painful and beautiful, it is hard to look away.
Huanhuan Wang, please introduce yourself and tell me a bit about your work. How did you develop your style?
I really consider 2020 my year of creation. During that year, I studied illustration at the Brussels Academy of Fine Arts in Belgium and embarked on a series of nine-panel comics centred around the theme of narrative. I have an emotional void in my life, one with which I feel a deep resonance. My desire to create first stemmed from here, and it’s something I still experience today. I have found freedom through drawing, which I see as my window to express emotions, yearn for desires and understand pain.
Tell me about the fantasy elements of your work. How do you approach new projects?
In my personal creations, I am passionate about expressing two types of fantasy elements. The first type is the tangible representation of sharp objects, such as sea urchins, nails, thorns, and so on. The second type are wet and viscous, different sorts of liquids such as tears, blood, dew, and so on. These two categories respectively express my understanding of harm and desire.
I am not an optimist and do not believe that there is anything permanent about human affairs and emotions. This permeates the form of my artwork, and I use strong and intense colours to emphasise the contradictions at the core of tragedy. These two typologies of expression within which I excel are difficult to incorporate into the commercial demands of the public. I can only manifest them in personal projects. In each personal creation, I approach it as a proposition. I first develop the literary content before creating the visuals. For example, I created a series of personal works centred around the theme of Flower and Nail this past March and aimed to achieve unity between the concepts and visual aesthetics. In this project, I downplayed techniques and instead focused on elevating the true intensity of my expression.
I am curious about the sensual play of your imagery. How do you represent desire in your work?
There is always a fire burning in my heart.
I constantly yearn to be loved, consistently loved. Through drawing, which I see as a gateway for my soul, I find an outlet to represent damaged and suppressed emotions. Within my work, I hide secrets and stories. Besides drawing, I also write novels, using these fantastical means to fulfil my lost kingdom. The purpose of these outlets is consistent, filled with narcissism, vulnerability, sensitivity, destructiveness, and violence. Desire unfulfilled is a stasis in life, and lack of desire is an initial driving force behind my expression.
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I understand you work commercially as well as maintaining your individual practice. How do these modes of working differ?
I only release commercial work with which I am satisfied on the internet or include it in my personal portfolio. Each year, a significant portion of work fails to meet my satisfaction. I believe every experienced illustrator faces the same dilemmas: the pain of commercialisation, the confusion of not aligning with a client's aesthetic opinions, and, at the most basic level, the inability to receive fair financial compensation. The profession of illustration has its limitations – it presents barriers to becoming an exceptional artist and raises concerns about basic livelihood security.
What have some of your favourite commercial projects been?
Among the commercial projects I have released so far, my favourite is a series of illustrations I collaborated on with the Chinese jewellery brand Kami Anger at the end of last year. I created illustrations for their new collection of eight jewellery pieces. This was perhaps the only client that allowed me to express violence and desire within the artwork. The client had no specific requirements for my creative process; they sought me out because our aesthetics aligned. Such projects are incredibly precious and rare. To encounter them is a stroke of luck for both parties involved.
When working with clients, how do you balance your own aesthetic with their goals?
In the first two years of my career, I approached clients with a newcomer's mindset, aiming to cater to and align with their objectives. As a result, most of the outcomes were presented in a disastrous manner (although I believed the clients were satisfied). Due to my personality, I also tend to suppress my own expression at work, which further leads to poor communication efficiency and futile efforts. However, last year I adopted a more assertive attitude. I proactively inform clients about the overall design direction and possible outcomes. When faced with unreasonable modification requests from clients, I am willing to refuse them.
I saw some intaglio etchings on your profile, how do you approach different mediums? What is your favourite to work in?
During my time studying in Brussels in 2020, I had the opportunity to participate in the school's intaglio etching studio. I absolutely loved this ancient printing technique, and the final result on paper possesses a closer resemblance to true works of art. I have never been able to consider myself an artist, and the art training I received was primarily geared toward commercial purposes, emphasising pragmatism and short-term benefits.
Despite my personal efforts to avoid getting trapped in the quagmire of commercialisation, I cannot escape the conditioning and assimilation imposed by commercial projects on creators. As a result, there is a common phenomenon where students are more likely to produce impactful work than professionals.
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Your colour palettes remain consistent across work, so energetic and hyper-saturated. What informs this approach to colour?
Over the past few years, there have been changes in the content and form of my creations, but there has been almost no variation in my choice of colours. Subconsciously, I seek to represent more passionate, powerful, and conflicting visual expressions. This naturally lends itself to higher saturation colours, ultimately merging it into my skill set and aesthetic framework.
Often love and violence coincide in your compositions. Tell me about the emotions of your work.
My artworks and literature creations cannot be separated. I prefer intense and passionate emotions in literature. One novel that I particularly adore is Wuthering Heights. The characters' passion and violence deeply attract me. Literature has the power to create a fantasy of eternal connections, combining despair and hope, soul and body, materialism and desire, love and hate, love and death. Illustration can also reflect this destructive passion and beauty.
Your illustrations are often quite narrative. Have you considered any longer-form mediums? What is next for you? Any dream projects?
I have always been interested in animation and comics and recently, I have been experimenting with them. However, illustration is currently my main mode of expression now, both in terms of my personal work and commercial projects. I also take on some cover loops. One of my dream projects is to create a picture book with a substantial amount of artwork!
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