by Yué Wu, Artist & Director
Words by Nikolaj Hansson. Illustration by Sine Jensen.
Born in China to a family of artists and raised in Paris, Yué Wu has transcended his inheritance throughout the fields of animation, creative direction and art. He plays with animations for corporate brands while doing art and drawings. As you've probably figured out, he is one to look out for. Naturally, we sat down with him for a discussion on cultural barriers, the French aesthetic and what it takes for a work of art to bear importance.
I’m pretty sure that me coming from an artistic family had everything to do with what I’m doing today. My mom and dad draw and met each other at the Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. I grew up with my grandparents until I was nine, when my mom and dad went to study art in Paris. I was always in that world and I’ve always loved to draw. I think my parents wanted me to learn something more creative. They bought me a piano when I was a kid. Before I was born, they saved up a year's salary to buy me a piano. When I was three, I started taking piano lessons, but I hated it. I always hated it. I have pictures of myself crying while playing the piano. They finally gave up the idea of me learning how to play the piano in the end. They told me I was going to regret it, but I always liked to draw instead. I don’t know if it’s because of the environment. I grew up with my grandparents on my mother’s side. I’d always play in my their atelier, touching my grandfather’s brushes and pens and seeing his work in progress. He was a great inspiration to me. He taught painting as well. He did everything from silkscreen to wood edging. I’ve always been in it.
It seems that you don’t have a particular field, working with drawings, animation and creative direction, amongst others. How do you define yourself?
It’s an issue for me to define myself. It’s hard to explain others what I’m doing. So many people will say: “You’re an artist” or “You’re a graphic designer”. When people ask me, I tell them that I draw. Everything origins from drawing; painting, animation and so on. I’d love to make a full feature film with people who can write a beautiful story, I’d love to make art that’d be exhibited in a museum, I’d love to make products that people can wear. Yet drawing is my main expression. I’m still trying to define myself.
Is there something about the tangible state of art that is appealing to you?
Since I graduated, I’ve being working a lot in animation as well as in creative direction. But I think I chose the wrong field, monetarily. Animation is a lot of work, it’s quite painstaking. It takes a lot of time. However, at the end of the day, what I’m producing is either for a music video or advertising; both highly consumable things. Nowadays, there’s so much quality content. A few years back, not everyone could make dope videos. Now, with an iPhone 5 and a couple of apps, you can make a dope film on your iPhone. The industry has changed. I love animation but it’s very frustrating when people don’t realize how much work it is. Having worked so hard, sometimes day and night for two months, to produce 30 seconds, perhaps for a client. Not even for yourself. If those 30 seconds aren’t promoted wisely, they’re not seen. If you don’t have Internet connection, you don’t get to see it. Yet if you make a product or a book, it will be there. It can be in somebody’s house or in their toilets. Someone goes to take a shit, they flip it around and see your drawings. Or you make a piece of clothing, someone wears it and people will see it: “Oh, that is a dope piece”, you know? It lasts longer. Also, it’s beautiful to see something that ages, gets broken and used. If you do something real, you can also have it digitally but not the other way around.
How does the French aesthetic differ from that of China?
The French aesthetic is, just like France, old, demographically, culturally and evolutionary speaking. It has a lot of culture and their industrial revolution happened two centuries ago. China is only just experiencing that now. Being from China, we come from an imperial culture. There’s been a huge void with regards to culture in China due to the communism and everything. It’s hard to pinpoint what the modern China is today, unlike Japan who developed itself alongside many traditions. They took a lot of inspiration from the US, since they were occupied by them but they still have their temples, their craftsmanship and everything. In China, when the cultural revolution happened, they tried to erase religions and, alongside that, erased a lot of traditions. The aesthetic of the present China is a very young one. I’m looking forward to seeing the evolution of that and seeing the first generation, like myself, who have the freedom to do whatever they want but still remain true to their cultural background. People are just now slowly starting to dig outside the national borders, but the firewall is still on. I’ve been seeing a lot of Chinese artists and a new generation of people who are able to reach out and possess a hunger to look out towards the world. The general mass in China is all about consuming, so far. A lot of kids have really rich parents and, at the same time, you have the poor kids who are working at the age of 13. It’s hard to define, but the aesthetic, in terms of culture, is very young. They need time and information to find their own thing, but I guess it’s on its way.
It seems that Paris has grown to be, alongside Berlin, the melting pot of Europe. Being Chinese, living in Paris, in what ways has the ethnical diversity of Paris affected the creative class?
I didn’t know a word of French when I arrived in France. My parents taught me two sentences, that I could use to defend myself with in school. “Stop that” and “Enough”. Those were the two words that I knew. Coming from China, where everyone is just Chinese to entering a class filled with kids from Mali, Pakistan and Yugoslavia was quite amazing. However, it was quite violent as well. I immediately started to fight at school on a regular basis. In China, kids strive to be good. They wear the red scarf and we salute the flag in the morning while singing the national anthem. You earned points when you behaved well. In France, it was the opposite. Kids would try to be the cool ones. But attending a school with crazy diversification inspired me. I got to know small parts of the world. I knew a sentence in Croatian or I ate Malian food with my friend’s family. That is a great aspect but in France, there’s something about the melting pot that doesn’t really work as it does in the US or in London. In Paris, you have the mix of Africans, Chinese, Sri Lankans; a good mix of people. When we grew up in France, the kids that were born there, but had other ethnic roots, were not accepted well by society. Especially in the field I am in. They don’t really take you seriously if you’re not from the right place or if they don’t know how to pronounce your name. I always used that as something to fuel my ambition to make it and to prove them wrong. I wanted to say: “Yo, I am Chinese but I am also French now”. I want to be that person, even though my name is not francois. I want to make Paris shine. Paris made me what I am. I want to represent Paris in the way I see it and in the way I dream of it. I want to represent my city to the fullest.
Are there any particular artists that inspired you to go all-in on an art career?
I'm still in a transitional phase but I'd love to go all-in on an art career, especially after having worked with advertising and production companies. I definitely feel like, even though it may not be financially interesting, I'd rather say something meaningful than surrendering my skills, as long as what I'm saying bears a certain importance to it. Seeing somebody like Scott Campbell, who is a tattoo artist, putting a lot of meaning into what he does and trying to explore different mediums even though his skill is by the hand inspires me; the concept of having no boundaries between illustration, painting etc. For me, a true artist is always learning and trained to explore new things. Granted, some artists repeat their motives and there's skill and beauty in that as well. But the people who I respect more are the ones who don't solely rely on their skills but also try different things, Scott Campbell being one of these. J1 as well, he was one of the first graffiti painters in Paris from the BBC crew and was a mentor to me. He never made a commercially successful career but he's a true artist who evolved from true graffiti; not repeating the style of others. SKKI as well. His style is amazing. Also somebody like Ai Weiwei, of course. When I first discovered him, I wasn't really into whatever happens in the political spectrum. Usually, in France, they love that kind of shit. When I saw his work on the sunflower seeds, I saw a video of the process and he's explaining how he's been working with that village of people. The sunflower seeds truly represent what's being Chinese means. My aunt and grandmother have this gap between their front teeth from eating sunflower seeds and I remember summer nights, after having had dinner, watching the television and eating sunflower seeds. This is China. One of the most famous songs in China is one that they used to sing to Mao goes something along the lines of: "Dear Chairman Mao. You are the sun of our life." or whatever. The Chinese society was a communist one but it was never about individuality until now. Yet eating sunflower seeds and following the sun represented the state of mind in China, both for good and for bad.
Do you need to create, in order to express yourself?
Definitely. I suck at writing, I can express myself orally but very fluently. I always have stuff that I need to say and I believe that I have a strong opinion on things. When I was a kid, my parents told me that saying stuff isn't enough. I always had to fight. The only tool that I have is to create stuff.
Some artists claim that no one is born with a unique or individual style of drawing. Instead, it evolves through replication of others until you reach a point, where you have developed your own style. What is your perspective on this view?
I guess everybody replicate when they start. I always try not to copy which is impossible since everything has already been done. Whatever you do, it'll remind people of something else. Personally, I don't feel like I've found my own style, but some people tell me that they can recognise my drawings. I don't know. You always need to combine different things in order to explore who you truly are. The penbrush represents how I find my own style. It's a free hand drawing with the basis of a Chinese calligraphy. If you only copy one person, you'll be a subsection of them. But if you copy that person, copy another one and combine the two, it becomes your own shit.
What does it take for a work of art to bear importance?
That's the best question. If I had the answer to that, I would apply it to everything I do and boom! I haven't found the answer for that yet but that's the goal. At the same time, it's also very subjective. You see some art, the colour can be vibrant or appealing; that can be all it takes. I guess what it takes for a work of art to bear importance is that it touches you. It touches everyone in different ways.