Name: Wenqing Yan (颜温情)
Handle: Yuumei (幽冥 )
Nationality: Chinese American
Occupation: Full time artist, illustrator, graphic novelist, headphones designer and co-founder of Axent Wear.
Interests: art, science, anime, aquaponics, hackers, environmentalism, geodesic domes, and origami.
Art is the language through which I interact with the world and with myself. It is a flurry of emotions, a stream of consciousness and subconsciousness. The creation process is also a journey of introspection. It helps me process and understand the events in my life, the society around me, and where I stand within it all.
This website is a collection of my art, the accumulation of my attempts at communicating with the world. It is a portfolio of my life. From silly doodles to complex illustrations, from graphic novels to product designs, it reflects the diverse aspects of my interests, and the unobtainable goals of my hubris.
I'm often asked what inspires me to create, and it's impossible to explain without the full context of my life's influences.
I grew up under the polluted grey skies of China. As a shy and introverted child, I always had a love and fascination for nature. Many hours were spent watching nature documentaries, and imagining myself in these distant green fantasies with curious lifeforms of every kind.
I expressed my love for nature through drawing, and by age 2 I was doodling animals on everything. It was also the time when my father became a workaholic and left to pursue unrealistic ideals of wealth. He grew up in complete poverty of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, living off of rats, tree bark, and clay during the fanime. To him, money meant survival. My mother felt abandoned and devastated, so by the time I was 5, she left China to pursue the American dream with the promise of reuniting all of us in the mythical land of America. In Chinese, America translates to "Beautiful Country". It was also in order to own a dog, because it was illegal to do so in China at the time.
My grandparents took me in, and assured me that despite my parents' absence, they loved me just as much. I spent the next four years of my life being a studious pupil, focusing only on school and getting straight A's. I took the occasional art classes, along with calligraphy and ballet. It wasn't about what I wanted to do, it was about what I can be showed off to do. It is the common fate of many Asian children, carrying the burden of the family's pride and future. Because after all of the suffering and hardship they lived through, from starvation to bombings of WW2, how can this generation with all of the luxuries of a full belly and education ask for anything else?
By age 9 I was granted a visa to join my mother in America, but my father was never fortunate enough to obtain a visa. Distance and time has made the heart grow faint and the love fade to doubt. My parents divorced when I made the move to America. Again, I was promised that no matter the distance, they will always love me just as much. I made the optimistic transition to a brave new world. I will finally have a dog, and life will be better now, I thought.
Between learning English and adjusting to the culture, I kept my mind open to all of my mother's new boyfriends. They were nice, but in the end, she married the one person I disapproved of. I was too young to understand, but a child's intuition had told me something was wrong. They had a child and a year later they divorced. He was cheating on her, and planning to kill her for insurance money. My mother spiraled into depression and became suicidal. I was told by my grandparents to make sure she didn't go near a window or tall buildings. One day she confessed that she had packed up all of her things, and intended to drive away and never come back. She said god had saved her.
At the same time I got my first DeviantART account at the age of 12. It was a fun community of artists and kids like me, sharing our love of art and the ramblings of teenage life. My gallery at the time reflected the conflicts in my life. I was a child who loved animals and anime, I drew Yu-Gi-Oh fanart and dragons. But at the same time I drew bloodied angels, fake wings, and dreams made of lies. The typical mindset of an emo teenager discovering the harsher realities of life.
I fell in love with science, and began questioning my mother's religion. Our relationship spiraled downwards as she tried harder to force her beliefs on me. Either I go to church, or my dog goes to the pound. It was unnerving to see my mother who loved dogs so much now threaten the innocent in the name of her god. It only solidified my distaste for religion.
In time, she found new love and moved on with life. I continued with my focus in biology and environmentalism, being the good student in school because that's what was beaten into me. I also continued posting my art online. At times it was fun, at times it was the only way to release my confusion, frustration, and uncertainty at the world. The community feedback was always interesting, usually encouraging, at times challenging. And without realizing it, this distant connection to millions of strangers shaped my life more than the parents that I barely longer talk to.
At 16 I visited my father in China. It was part of the custody agreement. And suddenly it was all over the news, all dogs to be slaughtered in the neighboring province. Just because. "Just in case of rabies" they explained, despite the fact that they killed all vaccinated dogs as well, and rejected international donations for free vaccines. Blood and carcases littered the news. I was removed from it all, but the reality of it would not leave me. Sleepless nights led me to create my first activist drawing titled "Selfish" about animal cruelty. The incredibly positive feedback from the DeviantART community was a turning point for me. Countless people told me how it opened their eyes and changed their opinions. In that moment I realized that my art can be more than just a fun escape from reality or a ramble of my frustrations, it can leave a constructive message, and impact that world. I am no longer a passive observer of the situation around me, but an active participator who can alter and influence others with my art. I can attempt create the world I want to live in.
I continued posting anime fanart and random ideas, but I also made began posting more and more environmentalism themed artworks. I tried to bring awareness to oil spills, shark finning, climate change and more, with educational info and links to donate to nonprofits in the description. It slowly became what I am known for and my online followers would message me with articles about issues that they believe need exposure. I loved the sense of community and I truly felt we were all working together to make a difference.
As the years went by, I graduated as valedictorian from my highschool and was accepted into UC Berkeley. I choose that university with the full intention of majoring in Biology or Environmental Science because these are the subjects I love and want to make a difference in. During my Freshmen year, I learned from my professors that the biggest challenge facing environmental protection isn't the technology needed, but a lack of public support. The numbers and statistics of climate change is just that, numbers and statistics to the public eye. It doesn't translate into real consequences, because numbers and graphs don't elicit emotions, but art does.
That summer in 2009, I contemplated making a switch to majoring in art. I was visiting my father in China again when I decided to work on a short comic called 1000 Words. It's about a little girl requesting the help of an artist to mend her broken family. The comic was very well received by the DeviantArt community, and still remains my most well known and popular work to date. Many viewers told me how much the story has helped them with their own family issues, either finding closure or even helping repair their marriage. In that moment, more than ever, I realized how much art can make a difference. I made the complete switch from science to art major afterwards.
During the same summer, my step mother lost her mind. It's been 3 years since I've last seen my father, and somehow she viewed my visit as a conspiracy to get my dad back with my mom, which is completely false. She told her 8 year old son at the time that I was this evil and black hearted person trying to break up his family, then promptly ran away for no apparent reason. To my half brother at the time, he saw me as the person who made his mother disappear and took it upon himself to resolve things by trying to kill me with a kitchen knife. It's definitely a surreal feeling to have your brother feed you french fries one moment, and then hold a knife against you the next. After I escaped to my grandparents' house, my father did not seek mental treatment for his wife and I've never returned to his home since.
The seemingly unending family drama drove me further away from them, and more into my own work. Unlike other Asian children, I no longer felt an obligation to please my parents by becoming a doctor or lawyer. I can freely pursue my love of art without compromise. I was completely devoted to my education, to my art, and to myself. Despite being a technical "adult" in college, I was traumatized by my dysfunctional family and needed time to heal and find peace. I created more comics and works dealing with family problems, partially to release my own emotions, and partially to help those going through the same pain but couldn't find a way out.
That same summer in China inspired me to create my first comic series, Knite. While walking under the polluted night sky, I saw a twinkling in the distance that couldn't have been stars. My father told me it was people flying kites at night with strings of lights attached. I thought what if people flew these kites on purpose to put stars back into the polluted skies of China? That became the premise for Knite as I explored the conflicting forces of globalization and environmental protection in the land of my birth. To the Chinese people living in poverty and working in factories toward their dream of a better tomorrow, pollution is the least of their concerns. Corruption runs rampant from corporate to government as environmental safety is pushed under the table, and the innocent citizens caught between the consequences of their greed. Not ironically, my father was once part of such corporation. As an adult, I tried to look back and untangle the conflicting socioeconomic forces that shaped my childhood through Knite.
Both 1000 Words and Knite was very well received and before long, I was approached by a publisher to bring my stories into print. That was the beginning of my professional art career. I balanced college and drawing as best as I could, attending convention and giving panel talks on the weekends while spending the rest of my time on reading textbooks and studying for exams. Learning about all the diverse political issues in class helped me incorporate a more well rounded view into my graphic novels.
In 2010, I became deeply interested in whistleblowers, surveillance, censorship, and hackers who fight for the good of society. It became clear to me that all issues are related. For example, farmers who protested the illegal dumping of chemicals in a small town in China were shut down by the police, and any news about it was censored from TV and the internet through the Great Firewall of China. I realized one can't just talk about environmentalism when censorship and no freedom of speech was preventing people from sharing the truth. Information is power, and that became the basis of my current comic graphic novel called Fisheye Placebo. Under the reign of a Surveillance State, hackers fight for their freedom of speech through a convoluted game of strategies and tactics.
After graduating from Berkeley in 2011, I worked full time as a self employed artist, focusing on my comics and selling prints of my work and my books for a living.