Pop surrealist art by Kyla Yin James reveals stories through symbolism

Kyla Yin James is an illustrator and designer based on "unceded Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh lands" in Vancouver, Canada. Their work is inspired by subcultures, sociopolitical systems, the unconscious, as well as their mixed heritage.

Kyla loves to explore their connection to "intergenerational experiences" and how they apply to the present. Their work is filled with symbolism that creates surreal and speculative scenes that question the status quo.

"A lot of my illustration work can be interpreted as me thinking out loud, sorting through different symbols and ideas that I've encountered through my childhood and as I continue to exist in the world," Kyla tells Creative Boom. "I often feel like I'm processing my thoughts and feelings as I'm making."

Kyla grew up with both Chinese and Jewish traditions at home, which contributed to a "sense of always trying to navigate through the world", and "not feeling much of an internal sense of belonging". Kyla instead "looked for fragments of myself in various forms of storytelling".

"From a fairly young age, I knew that I wanted to be an artist," they continue. "My family was not thrilled to hear that. I started off studying illustration at Emily Carr University, then switched to a graphic design diploma at Vancouver Community College to appease their fears for my future. At a certain point, I began the process of separating their projections from my internal values, which has taken me full circle back to illustration again. Both skill sets work in harmony with each other, and I'm grateful for what I've learned along the way."

"Throughout my life, I've grappled with the question, how do I connect knowledge systems that are conceptually far apart?" Kyla adds. "I'm passionate about works that bridge together multiple cultures while showcasing them on equal ground. I try to answer these questions through my illustrations by combining traditional Chinese cultural and mythological references with art styles that I grew up admiring.

"Mythology, folklore, psychology, the occult, and sociology influence my work a lot – I love thinking about the connections between these subjects. I also can't deny my love of pop culture, I think it's a great vehicle to present new ideas to people."


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