New York-based illustrator Weston Wei takes a sideways look at how people cope and co-exist with illnesses in his new picture book project inspired by his ten-year battle with allergic rhinitis.
Titled Symbiosis, Weston's thesis project is a prime example of his work. "My art combines narrative and conceptual styles," he tells Creative Boom. "I'm influenced by surrealism and pop culture. I love drawing figures with vivid colours, often incorporating imaginative objects as visual metaphors. My working process includes new digital mediums and traditional painting mediums."
This combination of the everyday and the extraordinary manifests itself in Symbiosis as characters fending off giant germs, navigating a flurry of deadly threats, and feeling pinned down by enormous, overgrown thorns. It's a style that purposefully avoids a literal approach and taps into the work of his artistic inspirations, namely David Lynch, Edward Hopper and Edvard Munch.
But even though it delves into surreal imagery, Symbiosis is based on a real story. "It's based on my experience and journey with allergic rhinitis," he explains. "These images are part of a series of illustrations and a picture book based on this struggle."
Having been diagnosed with allergic rhinitis at 13, Weston has spent the last decade battling with the condition and coming to terms with it. "Allergic rhinitis is inflammation of the inside of the nose caused by an allergen," he reveals. "It typically causes cold-like symptoms, but for some people, symptoms can be severe and persistent, causing sleep problems and interfering with everyday life.
"The symptoms of allergic rhinitis occasionally improve over time, but it is unlikely that the condition will disappear completely. Unfortunately, my situation is severe, and I am preparing to live with my rhinitis for a lifetime."
To tell his story, Weston divided Symbiosis into three chapters. The first covers how he learned about his disease and how the condition caused him pain and panic. Meanwhile, the second part details his drug treatment. "I was trying to fight against allergic rhinitis through external means such as drugs, syringes, and traditional Chinese herbal medicine." As for the third part, this chapter tells the story of how he adjusted to his condition psychologically.
"I gradually discovered that all physical diseases are more or less related to the psychological state," he adds. "I tried to let myself and allergic rhinitis achieve a harmonious coexistence through psychological adjustment. This project aims to convey my thoughts about the relationship between our physical body and disease, to sympathise with more people struggling with illness, and to tell them to believe in their mental power."
Illustration has proven to be the perfect medium for Weston to express his ideas, with the artist having previously studied communication design only to become frustrated with playing around with vector shapes. It appeals to him as it allows him to depict a topic in a "conceptual and surreal way", which still leaves room for the audience to understand and relate to it.
"In Symbiosis, I didn't draw my story with allergic rhinitis in a straightforward manner; I didn't draw the syringes, pills, nasal sprays, hospital, and mechanical devices," he explains. "Instead, I drew some imaginative scenes, like when I depicted insomnia caused by medicine injections. I drew a blood moon, some thorns tied to the character, and some evil creatures on the dark side. People's imaginations of dark and pain are attractive and incredible; I hope people can relate to their feeling about disease and pain by looking at my imaginative paintings.
"Also, the topic of this project is Symbiosis. Humans haven't found a way to defeat many diseases; what we can do is live with them together, but safely. I want to convey the same meaning through this project. Fighting doesn't work for some health issues; all we can do is adjust ourselves and reconcile with them."
This approach starkly contrasts Weston's previous projects, which have dealt with negative issues. "No matter depression, anxiety, or actual physical pain, unless we fight against them by using the medicine, mental adjustment is a potent and helpful antidote," he concludes.
"I hope people can relate while processing this project, but also get inspired by my experience and get along better with their bodies, both physically and emotionally."
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