David Chung’s paintings are filled with an array of fabulously vibrant characters all caught up in highly charged situations or captured in one of many colourful emotional states. Arresting and engaging narratives are combined with deliciously sharp wit and astute observation to deliver humorous scenarios which shoot straight to core of the human condition. Chung’s infectious optimism provides the cornerstone on which he exercises cathartic methods of creation, through which deeply personal and poignant experiences are processed; providing a constant source of personal growth via enlightening discoveries, along with the purging of negatively encumbering emotions. The personal nature of Chung’s journey only serves to strengthen the ubiquitous appeal of the profound and all too human qualities in evidence in his fascinating anthropomorphic characters.
David Chung was born in 1982 in Albany, New York, although he spent the majority of his early childhood in Hong Kong and Taiwan. After a time the family moved back to Upstate New York where David completed high school. His further education saw him graduating from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan, as an illustration major in 2006. Since then David has developed an impressive career as a designer within the animation industry, and has worked on shows such as, ‘Futurama’, ‘Robot and Monster’, ‘Clarence’ and ‘Sanjay and Craig’. On top of this, David also finds the time to paint, and as an exhibiting artist he has shown his work extensively around the US.
WOW x WOW is over the moon to be able to bring you this exclusive interview with David, in which he talks about his work as an animator, the cathartic nature of his work and also the first piece of artwork he ever sold. Thanks for reading!
Hi David! First of all, thanks for agreeing to free up some of your valuable time in order to have this wee chat, we really appreciate it. If you could please start us off by introducing yourself and talking about your background, touching on anything you feel has been relevant to shaping David Chung the artist?
Man… let’s see… where to begin. Well, I spent the earlier part of my childhood living in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Then my family moved us back to the US where I spent the remainder of high school in a small town in Upstate New York. I was like 1 of 2 Asian kids in my school who got bullied everyday for not being white. I later found out that the other Asian kid wasn’t even Asian, he was just mocking me by squinting when he saw me. Anyways, I feel like jumping between the two worlds had a pretty big role in shaping how my work is today. A lot of my visual influences came from Asian food packaging and cartoons from my childhood. But I feel like my actual voice developed after living in the States for a while. Which is probably why I tend to use humor in a lot of my work… I found that laughing things out was more enjoyable than going the whole angsty emo route.
We’re interested to hear about where you’re currently living and what you like about the area? What is the art scene like there and do you feel a part of that community?
I’m currently living in the Santa Clarita Valley, it’s about 45 minutes outside of LA. Me and my wife have been living there for about 3 years now. It’s kind of a drive to get anywhere, but it’s close enough that it’s not that big of an inconvenience. Plus it’s just FAR enough where we don’t have to see anybody if we don’t want to. When I first moved out to the west coast, I was living within and around LA for a while. It’s got such a great art scene, which is one of the biggest reasons why I initially wanted to move out here. At the time social media was still somewhat in its infancy, so being out where the action was had a big impact on me. I mean even though everybody can just double tap and scroll off to the next flavor of the minute while sitting on the toilet nowadays, there is something about being around actual like-minded people who you can make a greater connection with.
Can you remember the first piece of art you ever sold? How did the sale come about and how did it make you feel?
The first painting I ever sold was for $30. I sold it in a small art show at my University to another student. Honestly, I didn’t think much about the sale. But I realized that the only place that artists could show their work was at their school, in a small room only to other students. This lead myself and a couple of my friends to open up our own gallery so that students could show their work in an actual space open to the public. We were young and cocky, and super inexperienced. We didn’t know how to run a gallery at all. But the students actually really loved the place, it made them feel like they were a part of something greater. I feel like I learned a lot from it and I’m still proud of ourselves for doing something, even if it was a shitty gallery that only lasted 3 years.
You have worked for many years within the animation industry. Can you give us a bit of backstory on how you got into the business, what your roles have included, and some of the shows you have worked on? What have been some of your career highlights?
Honestly, I think I got into the industry by accident. No joke, a small animation studio had me in for an interview thinking I was someone named Michael Chang. Nobody, myself included, realized they had hired the wrong guy until after they handed me the paperwork and called me by the wrong name. To not seem racist they ended up giving me the job anyway; as awkwardly as possible. That job ended up being a nightmare and a blessing in disguise. Aside from working for a studio 20 hours a day and only getting paid every February 29th in weed, it was a good learning experience in figuring out what types of studios NOT to work for. Since then I’ve jumped around from studio to studio doing a bunch of different things; from character designs, props, backgrounds, and being design supervisor. My favorite show to have worked on is the current show I’m on, ‘Sanjay and Craig’ at Nickelodeon. But my favorite show to have worked on as a fan is ‘Futurama’.
Once you have an idea for a painting, what’s next? If you could give us some insight into how you tackle the creative process?
Once I get an idea for a painting I usually start sketching out thumbnails of the action and composition. The characters in my paintings are usually characters that I have developed that fit a certain personality. If their personality fits the mood of the painting, that’s usually who I’ll use. Then I try to place them in situations that depicts the mood that I’m trying to convey.
How autobiographical are the images you paint? It appears that your art may be a very effective form of catharsis? If so, could you give us the tale behind one of your most cathartic images?
I really do use my paintings as a form of self therapy. It helps me work out whatever issues I’m going through and hopefully makes me more self-aware. I could pretty much tell you exactly what I was going through in my life at the time of each painting… I mean I won’t, but I could. Plus, everybody has their own personal story they have that they link to each of my paintings. I wouldn’t want to ruin their experiences with my own. I actually have heard several really personal stories from people who’ve been into my work. It’s fascinating to hear other people’s interpretations of something very personal to you.
One of the most cathartic images I’ve worked on is about a bunny struggling to make a series of blocks fit into a star shaped hole (and no it’s nothing sexual. well… okay, maybe a little). I was going through a really rough year where all of my efforts towards certain things just weren’t working out. All of the frustrations I’ve been dealing with finally just poured out into that one piece. While working on that piece, I developed a deeper sense of patience and humility.
As an artist whose work contains a strong narrative element, can you let us in on what initially got you interested in visual storytelling? Also, what would you say are some of the most important ingredients that go into making a successful visual narrative?
With the illustration’s that I create, I’ve always been fascinated with trying to be able to tell a story with one image. If I pulled a single frame from a film, which frame would best describe and draw me into wanting to know more about this story. With each piece that I create, my characters are always in the middle of an action. I feel like this leaves the audience to ask questions or fill in the gaps with their own imagination. They want to know more about this world and why the characters are doing what they’re doing. I appreciate it when people can have some sort of connection and relate to a piece.
As we move through life we continue to grow and change. In what ways have you seen your work evolve since you started down the path of being a professional artist?
Even though I’m 33 now in the time of doing this interview, I feel like I’m only just now unwillingly becoming an adult. If you look at my earlier work, you can tell that my life was just filled with shit that my younger self would worry about. Such as socializing, being hungry or passing bodily gases and fluids. Nowadays it seems like myself and my characters are involved with heavier responsibilities and concerns.
How do you tackle a creative block?
When I get a creative block, I try to force myself to leave the studio and get away from whatever I’m working on. It’s basically like turning your computer off and on. Sometimes it starts right back on, other times it requires 53 updates because you haven’t shut your computer off in weeks.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
“Don’t be an idiot.” – Desiree Fessler
In order to get a better understanding of the personality of an artist, it can help to get a peek behind the curtain. Would you be willing to share a story from your own life, one which you feel has contributed to shaping the person and therefore the artist you are today?
This story is rather recent, but from people who are the closest to me, they can all tell you shit like this happens to me far too often. Anyways, to keep a long story short, while Desiree and I were walking our dog late one night, an old lady who lives at the end of my neighborhood ran up to us and begged me to investigate her house because she believed she had an intruder. In her house she finds and hands me a golf club that she discovered mysteriously in the middle of the floor. I wield it like a weapon as I follow her further into the house. A concerned neighbor busts in on us as it looks like i’m about to bash the back of this lady’s head in with a golf club. We resolved our misunderstanding after an intense interaction and go on a Scooby-Doo type adventure together within this lady’s house. Later we find out that there was no intruder, it was only the ghost of her dead husband who frequently hid behind the bedroom curtains in his underwear masturbating. It’s things like this that keep happening to me that provides me with the outlook on life that I have. There’s always weird shit going on in even the most mundane daily activities, but it depends on you with how you deal with them.
If you could own one piece of art from the world’s collections, what would it be and why?
I saw that there’s a museum in Spain that has a display of two Tyrannosaurus Rex skeletons doing it doggy style. I would like that. Because why not!
What’s next for David Chung?
I’ll be having some more toys made as well as working on a few shows in the coming year. Keep an eye out for it!