Shann Larsson (/ʃɑːn/) is a mixed media artist based in Hong Kong, with a love for the surreal.
Could you tell our readers what is mixed media, and what it means to be a mixed media artist?
It is pretty much what you’d think it is – the combination of various visual art materials in composing an artwork. It however does not limit to traditional media such as oil and acrylic but can extend to found material, textures or anything visually interesting or inspiring to the artist.
I personally love textures and tactility in artwork – be it physical or suggestive through the coarse markings of particular media. I love the added voice it gives to a painting, its expressive quality. I hardly marry a single medium when creating any artwork. I feel that each material can be pushed beyond their traditional limits, and produce beautiful results – even more so when combined.
I often combine acrylics, inks, dry media such as charcoal or pastel which give me a nice textural palette to play with. I find that working in mixed media opens up a lot of creative opportunity in the artwork, as the application can bring out new unexpected directions. A unique ‘finger print’ can be made within this process – what you end up with will be one of a kind. You can work the media or have it work for you.
Have you always aspired to be a professional artist? Did you ever dream of following a different path?
As I kid I honestly had not imagined this would be a career path, though I thoroughly enjoyed art. I’m sure this had something to do with the fact we are never really told that this is possible, but more so made to think of it as a ‘hobby’. Despite this, art has always been my love. I would always be making something for myself or for others. I loved to draw, paint and experiment. I once started a short-term business with my sister and a friend selling ‘art’. I drew on post-it note sized paper and sold them to the neighbors for change or chocolate. I was what… 6? I got into a lot of trouble after that, my mother thought we stole it. Silly things kids would do!
Growing up I had various interests aside from art and design. When I was very young I had an interest in becoming a veterinarian, or maybe some sort of scientist working with wolves. I had an obsessive interest in the canine species after my first pet dog.
I’m glad this creative career has becoming an opportunity. I am still working towards a solid career. It takes time, persistence and determination.
What inspires your creativity?
I have a lot of interests that I suppose inspire my creativity. I love reading up on psychology, various studies that look into the human condition. I like understanding how the mind works and how it connects with the rest of the body – physiologically. I find the supernatural quite fascinating too, the paranormal, visual references from religious scripts or the occult. Historical photography, the Victorian era, antiques, old hand crafted material… Nordic art. I also love organic forms and natural structures from bones to blood vessels. Surrealist, expressionist, dark art are quite intriguing well.
My daily experiences and interactions can inspire my creativity too. Conversations, memories or distinct expressions I observe in people I know or complete strangers also inspire my creative process.
Aside from this there is the typical answer of music. I love good lyrics. I’m one of those people that get bothered by songs that sound good but are badly written. Interesting quotes or beautifully worded writing I suppose inspire me too.
Recently, you designed a fabulous poster for the Hong Kong Opera House, TOSCA, a Giacomo Puccini opera. Please tell us a bit about the
inspiration and the work involved?
This was actually a student based project I had done earlier last year as part of a course in graphic design. I am currently a student at SCAD Hong Kong pursuing a first degree. It is great learning the design aspects in graphics while implementing my own illustrative work within it.
Tosca tells a story of deceit and tragedy, with a lot of duality. I found it an interesting performance to work on though previously not well engaged in opera. I used traditional media and digital post production to create the image. I wanted to express the emotion of the opera, tension, using conflicting colors and a very gestural
illustration of Tosca. I love working with dualities, I find this can open up an inner dialogue, or attain a closer relation to a personal truth – if that makes sense.
How important are traditional art technique to you?
Personally, I find it a very valuable skill to have. I find it trains your perception. You learn application, color and layout in a way that isn’t a ‘click undo’ away. Sometimes that is what you really need. You learn patience. You learn commitment and to trust your instincts. Within the process, your successes and mistakes create
an honest piece which can be enjoyed by the viewer. It lays out the ground work for everything and I feel gives the artwork a bit of soul as it is crafted by hand – a bit of humanity. It is also an interesting documentation of time. It is highly personal. When observing artworks particularly by master painters I love being able to see the strokes or tiny mistakes if any. I draws you in and back into time. It allows you to appreciate process. If it is too perfected or too digital, I find it loses its expressive quality. Even when I work digitally, I do try to incorporate some traditional media into the work. I don’t reject digital arts as invalid or lesser, I just personally prefer those that incorporate the hand made.
Can you give us some insight into how your first commercial project came to fruition? What did the processes involve?
It involved research and risk taking. At the time I had no formal training, and so I had to demonstrate reliability, quality work, and confidence in executing the task at hand. To attain this I’d attend creative events as much as I could and spoken to working professionals. Or even just observed current artists with similar backgrounds to myself to see how they stepped into the creative field. I’ve ended up working in a variety of fields I never imagined I would – from fashion to music video shoots. I still have lots to learn!
Is networking the necessity for gaining exposure in the Hong Kong art scene?
Yes, it is very necessary here and of course abroad. It is a common mistake to believe all work gets ‘picked up’ online. Too many people do this and get disappointed. They expect immediate results. Maybe a few years ago this would have worked (I had gotten interviews and offerings through networking online). Today with the dramatic
increase of art sources, social sites and so on– it is far too easy to disappear into a muddy cloud of work. You may get ‘discovered’ but that would be a slim chance I think. You need to go a step further – get out, talk, show some of personality and interest people with who you are and your passion. A web page will only say so much.
What has been the most revealing reaction to your art? Which piece? Why?
I’ve had a few emotional reactions to my work which furthered my interest in pursuing it. It fascinated me how strokes of color could communicate thoughts or feelings potent enough for an emotional reaction. Some expressed fear, some expressed sadness others inspiration or some kind of catharsis – like a response to the sound or lyrics to a song.
I’m not sure which was the most revealing reaction to a particular artwork – but one example could be ‘Crack III’, a color pencil drawing of a foetus (a rare occasion where I stuck to one medium!). Here I played with the portrayal of power and fragility, quite a human thing. I used a foetus, composed of what appeared to be vessels. The
unborn baby looks at peace while the vessels look at war – blue against red. Is the baby weakening or is it strengthening? A lot of people found it both disturbing and beautiful at the same time. Which I guess is what caused their intrigue and reaction – a duality, between two.
What is your own favorite piece and why?
It is hard to say, this changes over time. ‘By Your Ghost’ could be one of them. This piece was originally done in a sketchbook, I still remember what I was listening to and what I was doing. It was one of many spontaneous pieces of personal expression.
Do you have any art displayed on your wall right now? If yes, which piece or pieces and why?
Unfortunately, no. I have not reached that stage yet. I’ve been following lots of artists and photographers over time and would like to one day own an artwork of theirs.
Are there other artists that inspire you? If so, why and how?
I adore a lot of artists for their messages and craft. Though normally not big on hyper-realism, I’m a big fan of the works of Austrian artist Gottfried Helnwein. I discovered his work as a teenager and still am fascinated by it today. He creates beautiful hyper-realist paintings of subjects a lot may find dark or disturbing. I find them very thought provoking and beautifully composed.
What is the most enjoyable aspect of your profession and why?
Flow – getting started may be hard but once you reach that state – amazing. Its a state where you don’t want to stop, you are fully engaged in what you are doing. When you feel like you could put out multiple works, and do not want to sleep as you’re so fully inspired.
Are there any courses/classes you would recommend to someone who desire your career path?
I think it would depend on what skill set you would like to pursue. Advancing the basics will help broaden what you can do, give you more to bounce off of. I’m working on a career between graphic design, illustration and fine arts and so a lot of practices come to play in merging it all. I’d say nothing is really that straight forward. Experiment, try various things out. I’ve been told that I sometimes apply ‘interesting’ techniques in my process – usually the result of trying build something before reading the manual so to speak. Experiment and play and you’ll figure out what you need. There are multiple resources available to creatives today even accessible online. Research and do stuff. Play around and build up your skills. I’m still doing this and have so much I’d like to achieve.
Share with us your proudest moment in your career, thus far?
All of the achievements have been ‘proud’ moments. I’m just grateful to have gotten this far and hope to make more new milestones for myself in the creative field.
Lastly, do you have any projects in the works you would like to share?
I will be collaborating locally with an artist here known as Danny The Greek – we had previously collaborated in ‘Beautiful Decay’, a joint exhibition at Voxfire Gallery in 2012. We hope to have something together sometime early to mid next year.