Atlanta-based illustrator Fangyu Ma creates decorative and narrative illustrations that bring viewers joy thanks to their vibrant colours and unique animal imagery. It's all part of her mission to approach subjects from different angles and present the world anew.
Originally from a small city in China's Shandong Province, Fangyu Ma has become a Communications Arts Award winner, a selected winner by American Illustrated, and has even scooped accolades from the Society of Illustration LA. And as a Savannah College of Arts and Design graduate, she loves to create digital art which experiments with a diverse range of subject matter.
Art seems to be in Fangyu's blood. While her parents were busy with work when she was growing up, Fangyu spent much of her childhood with her grandparents in the countryside. "My grandfather was skilled in pen and ink, and my grandmother enjoyed drawing simple floral patterns that she would stitch onto insoles," Fangyu tells Creative Boom. "It's likely due to their influence that I began drawing at a young age."
Having originally been accepted into the Academy of Fine Arts architecture department, it wasn't long until Fangyu realised that her true passion lay in illustration. It led to her pursuing further studies abroad, where she learnt in a "free and open environment" with lectures from the likes of Niki St. Phalle, David Hockney, and Koolhaas.
"Niki St. Phalle's work had a profound impact on me," Fangyu explains. "Her personal story of transforming her violent paintings into cheerful ones after a traumatic childhood inspired me to have the confidence to reinvent myself.
"This led to a transition in my style from black and white to colour, which I continue to incorporate in my decorative paintings today with the aim of bringing pure visual pleasure to the viewer. I also use illustration to tell stories and express my perspectives, resulting in a diverse range of styles in my portfolio."
Speaking of her portfolio, Fangyu's work is split into decorative and narrative illustrations. She explains that her decorative illustrations serve as "purely visual representations", while her narrative art is a means by which she can express her ideas and opinions.
"For instance, a still life piece would fall under decorative illustration and could be displayed in a restaurant to enhance the ambience," she says. "In these works, I use bright, lively colours to evoke a pleasant mood, as I aim to create an attractive illustration that can stand on its own."
Animals are a recurring theme in Fangyu's decorative illustrations, with the artist singling them out as a personal favourite motif in her art. In particular, rabbits and flies play a prominent role. "I use rabbits and flies as my subjects because they evoke both feelings of weakness and insignificance, as well as the strong reproductive abilities of rabbits and the vitality of flies," she reveals. "By doing so, I hope to challenge traditional perspectives and encourage new ways of seeing and feeling."
In terms of her narrative work, Fangyu points to her graduation project, The Room, as her most significant foray into the medium. Based on her childhood experiences and trauma, The Room is set in virtual locations in order to highlight the protagonist's relationship with their space and the ambiguous, repressed emotions they are feeling.
"Although it lacks a clear storyline, it is an abstract representation of real events and serves as a memory and history of the self," she concludes. "I express this in a silent yet powerful manner, hoping to connect with the audience."