SanQian, an illustrator from Chongqing, China, presents Space Dog, an ongoing passion project that mixes nostalgia with futurism and adorable puppies. Beginning in 2020, Space Dog has been SanQian’s “visual diary”, recording their journey through life’s ups and downs. With a solo exhibition in Beijing approaching on July 21st, SanQian sat down with Metal Magazine to speak about his creative process, unique and vibrant illustrating style, and his most recent breath-taking collection titled Space Dog.
I would like to start off by congratulating you on your recent exhibitions in China as well as the several recent brand affiliations you have with groups like Hermès, Procreate, and kaleidoscopeBooks. I’m curious. Is there a change in artistic approach when working towards an exhibition versus working with a larger brand? If so, how would you describe the difference? And which do you prefer?
Thanks for the invitation from METAL Magazine. For commercial brand illustration, I focus more on the visual needs of the brands in those projects. When making my own products, I focus more on thinking about how to make my design more interesting. I prefer to explore with the brands to make their works physical with different materials and textures.
I want to ask you a bit about your style. It’s very distinct. It reminds me of cartoons I used to watch as a kid, which gives your work a hint of nostalgia. How would you describe it, and how do you express yourself through these illustrations? What is the message you hope to convey to your viewers?
Exactly, I'm also influenced by millennial animation. I really like millennial and even earlier animation works. I prefer to use colours and shapes to express my feelings and emotions because they are always the most honest. I like to use the phrase visual diary to describe my creations. My creations are actually a record of my own journey - a record of my inner chaotic situation. If I were to convey a message, I would like my work to give people courage.
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Let’s discuss Space Dog, an ongoing project since 2020. I noticed that older illustrations in the collection feature more creatures and people as well as portray the art on a grid lined and sectioned display. The newer works seem to be far more minimalist and geometric, veering from the older morphing visuals. What are some things you’ve learnt over the last two to three years via Space Dog? How do you think your art has evolved?
My previous works were more specific in creation approach, and before that, I was more eager to let people read and understand the inner meaning of my works. My studio is more closed than before, which directly leads me to pay more attention to the inner spiritual experience of people so that I gradually leave behind the physical material.
I’ve read your comments about various aspects of your graphic design style. Let’s start with the puppy, a recurring character in your pieces. It’s almost as if viewers are experiencing outer space and different entities from the puppy’s perspective. How do you (or did you) foresee the relationship between the viewer and the puppy?
During the pandemic, I lived alone in my house for six months. During that time I was very desperate to find an emotional outlet, and I had a strong feeling that the world was falling apart. When I couldn't face the unsolvable, the only solution was to forget the problem, and space puppies existed as such (laughs). While talking with a friend, I thought of having such a layer of perspective that can dig deeper.
Also, what’s does the puppy mean to you personally? Do they have a name (or do they go by Space Dog)?
When I was a child, I had a small black puppy, which was a very important playmate of mine. It is difficult to create a hierarchical division between people in their early years, and I put myself on an equal footing with the dog. Such an experience made me withdraw my identity as a human being in observation. Each dog represents a projection of my own heart or a state I long to reach, and I give myself the mental cues that bring me more positive energy.
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In many of your pieces, I noticed a heavy technological influence. It appears as though many of the designs are laptop or computer home screens with different applications pulled up for viewers to see. What is your intention behind this choice, and how would you describe your relationship with technology and its influence on your pieces?
I was born in the millennial era, and it is hard to say that I wouldn’t be influenced visually in this electronic information age. The Internet has made creativity more diversified, and I am just using it as a person who is influenced by it, actually without intention, by just extending the graphics that occupy a large part of my life visually. I wouldn't want to resist such influences, and I would even say that I think technology has largely expanded my creative life, allowing me to produce more work at this age.
How do you go about making sure to incorporate your signature theme into each piece, while making sure to bring something new to the table each time?
I don't feel guilty about painting the same thing over and over again. I believe that the present work must have its own meaning at some point in the future. Often, I can't tell why I create in this way - all I want to do is record my thoughts.
You also spoke about how you use meditation as a way to cope with anxiety and creator’s block. I could also imagine that graphic design and the art itself acts as another coping mechanism. How do see the differences between the roles of meditation and graphic design or art in your life?
Graphic design or art plays the role of a medium for me. It is self-healing and serves to present the state of the person. Meditation is more regulating and improves emotional issues. It serves to improve the state of the person.
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Who are some of your biggest influences when it comes to graphic design?
The Japanese artist, Tadanori Yokoo (横尾 忠則), breaks the rule that graphic design can only be achieved in a single way. His flexible use of different textural elements breaks the barrier between three-dimensional space photography and graphics, and he gave me the idea that design can be free.
What do you see as the next step in the project Space Dog? And are there any other exhibitions or projects you are currently working on that you’d like to share about?
This project will continue until I get tired of it, or rather, until it has completed its mission. For now, I still have the desire to create it. Excitingly, I have a solo exhibition in Beijing [that started] on July 21st.
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