Athens-based Greek illustrator and painter, Alex Chien is known for his works showcasing fantastical cartoon like characters. These characters are often painted with bold colors and a strong narrative that enhances the audience’s interaction with the work into a more alive and comfortable experience Most of the stories behind his paintings are his perspective on reality by commentating real life situations and emotions often in a humorous pop surrealistic way.
He has earned a BA degree in 3D animation at Middlesex University and has an MA in illustration from the Arts University of Bournemouth. Alex has also participated in shows in Greece, UK, Europe and the US while his works appear in private collections around the globe.
Recently, I caught up with Alex and had the chance to talk about his artistic process and influences.
Rom Levy: Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from, and how does that affect your work?
Alex Chien: My name is Alex Chien I am born and raised in Athens, Greece. I live in the suburbs of Athens in a very quiet place with a lot of woods and green, which I didn’t appreciate while I was a child, but later when i grew up. I need silence to work. Being Greek affected me from a young age to appreciate art and history. I remember enjoying going to museums and exhibitions with my family.
What inspired you to become an artist, and when did you know that is what you wanted to do?
The first thing that inspired me to create I think was cartoons on TV . I loved that in their “universe” there was no gravity no pain nothing, only adventure. I tried to copy them but I couldn’t, so from very young I started creating my own cartoons and stories. More professionally, I realised that I want to do art for the rest of my life when I took part on an exhibition at the age of 21. The feeling of discussing the work with others and exchanging opinions really fulfils me.
Who are your biggest artistic influences?
I don’t watch specific artists to get inspired, though Peter Saul and George Condo really influenced me. However, the first one who I really looked up to, mostly conceptually, was Salvador Dali. I loved the contradiction in what he did, by using realistic aesthetics to depict a completely paradoxical image. The first paintings i created, were surrealistic and I believe my current style is still influenced by surrealism.
When is your favourite time of day to create?
My favourite time is right after I wake up or late at night. However I can create almost at every hour during the day. Nowadays I prefer to have a routine on painting every day at least 8-10 hours . This helps me more on organising my mind and being more productive.
What motivates you to create?
I don’t believe in motivation. I will create even if I don’t want to. I try to push myself to become better and better every day. I believe that if you just wait for inspiration or creativity you will lose a lot of days without making something. For me that won’t help me with my vision. I want to become the best version of myself.
To get more in-depth about your practice, what is your process of creating a painting?
I start with doing some sketches, then I try to figure out the colour palette, then usually I choose the sketch which I like the most and execute it. Nothing special on the process, the only thing that takes a lot of time are finding the right sketch and masking it in order to spray from my airbrush. I don’t use a blade to cut the masking tape because i am very clumsy with things like that and it could destroy the canvas, so it takes 5-6 hours a day to mask my paintings. As about the coloring, i try to photograph and take it to photoshop in order to select the correct colours . This is a very strange way i found in order not to waste time trying to figure out them forever.
How do you develop the scenarios in your paintings, and what do they aim to deliver to the viewer?
I develop my stories from nowadays situations and I use animals in the place of people, in order to make the narrative funnier. I try to make paintings that will make the viewer happy and nostalgic. I use humour on every aspect of my life, so it comes naturally in the paintings as well. I don’t like nowadays pretentious seriousness. In the end by creating an alternate universe filled with my own version of characters gives you a godly kind of feeling. Every one is the creator of their own universe when painting.
Who are the characters in your paintings? And why did you go for cartoonish figures?
The characters don’t have names yet and I am not sure if I am going to name them. The reason is, that I still keep developing my narrative, adding more characters and elements. Lately, I’ve been using the dog and the dinosaur more often because they were my favourite childhood toys. I used to take them with me everywhere. They made me feel safe and its strange that when I draw them I have the same feeling. I try through these characters to make people feel warmth and nostalgic. The figures are cartoonish because of my love of cartoons and also my graffiti background. We used to make cartoon characters next to our pieces because they are faster and easier to draw. My artistic style is very influenced by my graffiti I used to do, but now has taken a whole different direction. The shapes I used to create on the letterings are very common with the shapes of my characters though. If you see an old piece of mine, the relationship is very clear.
How do you develop these characters? Can you tell us more about that process?
First of all I choose what I want to create; e.g. dog horse dinosaur etc. After I sketch until I find the character I am happy about. I try to make my characters look like each other and be recognised that I created them. From very young age I drew characters. I couldn’t create just a scenery or objects I want put characters everywhere. I personally feel empty and bored when I see a scene without characters.
Why paintings? How do they help you deliver your concept in comparison to other mediums?
I think it’s my favourite way of expressing myself because I am very bad at writing or saying what I want. Also the viewers can see my story and build their own story as well. However, I want to use other mediums as well. I don’t want to be stuck in just one way of creating. I have plans of making sculptures in the future and I wouldn’t hesitate if another creative opportunity presented itself.
How does your background in animation influence your painting style?
A: Learning motion and placement in multiple frames was very useful, especially when its coming down to just one frame. It’s easier for me to imagine the story of what I create after doing animation. Furthermore, I think it’s clear that movies and animation clips inspired my aesthetic choice of characters.
Have you ever painted a mural ? If not, were you ever interested to do so ?
Yes I had but not a lot. I probably would if I liked the project and the building.
What is next for you? What new exhibitions do you have coming up?
In the near future I will have a print release, with Moosey art, and a solo exhibition in May, at their gallery in Norwich. My schedule is full until late 2023 with more shows and my first little sculpture release.