Artist Interview: Michael C. Hsi­ung

July 01 2016

Cooper: You grew-up in Chinatown, Los Angeles and currently reside in Los Feliz, right? How much longer will this be your home, is there a place you and your lip foliage would rather be?

Hsiung: Yep, I was born in Chinatown, and grew up in various parts of the San Fernando Valley.  After I graduated, I went to college up in San Jose State University and eventually moved back to LA in 2007. Now, I live over in Los Feliz close to the Observatory. It’s a nice area with walkable bars and stuff. While Los Angeles really feels like home to me, I think I’m always open to living somewhere with a little more nature and less smog. Where that might be I’m not totally sure, but if I can do art from there, then I’m game.

Granted we’ve only spoken over the phone and email, but it’s always so good to meet and want to support such a genuinely nice guy. Would your friends say that your personality influences your work, or does your work influence your personality?

I would imagine most of my close friends would all probably say that my personality influences the stuff I make, but that being said, I think they’d point to the ‘tweaked’ or 'weird’ part of my personality that is doing the handy work. I hope that’s a good thing, ha.

You make your own 'Shitty Stickers’. I just heard yesterday that it is possible, if not probable, one could find one of your hairs stuck in the adhesive?

I’m pretty sure if I’ve ever mailed you a zine, drawing or shitty sticker packet, you received unwanted strands of mustache or head hair attached to the adhesive tape. Since I make them at home with limited space in my 'studio-bedroom’ operation, there’s just no safe and hairless area. Oh yeah, sorry if you ever got a pube. hahah.

Your work involves illustration, mostly ink (micron pens, radiographs) on paper. Would you mind elaborating on your interest in mermen, centaurs, cryptozoo- and other mythology?

I’ve always been interested and fascinated in mythology, fantasy and cryptozoology when I was a kid. It probably started with learning about dinosaurs and Greek Gods that sparked it which later developed into comic book collecting and playing Dungeons & Dragons. I guess it wasn’t really until I got settled back in LA and drawing that I started “researching” again at my day job at the time. I’d start printing out tomes of stuff from the internet of unicorns, krakens, centaurs and stuff … take them home and read it.  Naturally, when I started drawing I gravitated towards trying to incorporate these influences, passions and interests into some of my stuff, which eventually lead to centaurs, satyrs, and mermen.

Do you obsess over titling your work? How do you approach it?

I probably obsess over the titles quite a bit, but it’s funny how either you’ll notice it, or not. Either way, it really is my favorite part of creation. It’s like stepping away from what you’ve made and being able to add another layer of humor, confusion, or fun to something you made. I think I originally started titling them by using references to chapter book titles from books like Tom Jones, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, andDescriptions of Northern Peoples. I guess it was my nerdy homage to books in my collection. Nowadays, I’ve imbibed enough archaisms, which I like to use to purposely confuse, misdirect, or add humor to works.  I’ve tried to shorten some of the titles over time because they’re hard to keep track of.

How would you describe the life of an artist living and working in Los Angeles?

Personally, living and working out of Los Angeles has been great for me.  I try and maintain a simple life, walk as much as I can.

I’d describe the life of an artist living and working in Los Angeles as a hustle. We’re all trying our darnedest to make a decent living through various ways, some have jobs, some have lots of jobs, and some maybe just one - but either way we’re all making and creating.  LA is a great place for that I think because of the amount of creative folks who come out here, and the weather does help a lot.

How would you best describe who you are as an artist?

An Asian bum with a mustache who draws pictures.

Do you remember the first time someone referred to you as an artist, or showed their appreciation for a piece of your work? Can you describe the first piece of art you traded for dough?

Hmmm, I don’t really recall the first time someone referred to me as an artist, but the first piece I think was at the Hive Gallery in downtown.  A yoga instructor who was full nude but had a painted on bathing suit had bought a drawing of a ice skater I drew throwing roses. That was kinda of weird.

What were you doing before you committed to pursuing art as a profession?

I was working as an assistant to a grant writer at a museum. Previous to that I was a typist promoted to background investigator in San Jose. I also worked in a bunch of schools as a teacher’s assistant for development. I’ve pretty much worked a job from the age of 15 till I ended my stint at the museum in 2009.

If you had $250 to spend in two hours, how would you do it?

Throw a small party for my friends because I like to give back to the community. (jokes)

Has being an artist affected your personal life?

Being an artist has greatly affected my personal life in so many positive and different ways. I’ve finally found something I enjoy doing, that gives me confidence, and has allowed me to meet new and interesting people!

Art led me to different opportunities like working for Vans to being able to collaborate with my talented sister, Pearl, on projects like Fight To The Death. It’s led me to be frugal, resourceful, and more self reliant. But It hasn’t always and still isn’t always stress free and easy - there’s tons of ups and downs. So I’ve really learned to take things in stride this year and just not focus on things I can’t control. It really has allowed me to figure out my own way of living. I mean I can’t fail if there’s nothing else I can do.

Maybe I don’t own a fancy car or a house, but I’m happy with having participated in life through making art, even if its a drawing of a merman sucking on his own tail or two fat guys riding on a bike.

So, you work from home? How does your studio enhance or hinder your creativity?

Working at home works well for me, although I do use part of my bedroom as my art studio. The first couple of years it totally worked out and didn’t have any problems, but I gotta say it’s harder and harder every year now to create in the same space. I’d love to have another bedroom or a close studio to be able to work in on a daily basis, but for now, I’ve set up a table and light in my living room to draw in. It’s got windows and more light in general.

What is your relationship with the Internets as it relates to art making?

Generally speaking, I use the internet as it relates to art making mainly for research and stuff like that. Sometimes I’ll find images to reference or just research some article I’ve read, which usually leads me to other interesting finds. Sometimes I’ll compile image folders of things I just basically find interesting. I may use them in drawings or I may never have any use for them. Not a very exciting relationship with the internet sadly.

Any mediums you’d like to explore that you haven’t already? Film?…hint…hint

I’d like to check out more painting, animation, sculpture, film or whatever really … just gotta do it really.

Final words?

If you mess up drawing an eye, throw an eye patch on it.

Interview by Justin Cooper © 2014