Jason Chuang illustration

Jason Chuang taps into buried emotions in his dreamlike illustrations

Drawing on surrealism, science fiction and historic art, Jason Chuang uses his symbolic imagery to convey the complexity of the human experience

“Most of my personal drawings are highly reliant on the subconscious,” says illustrator Jason Chuang. “I try to let my mind be free and draw from my feelings. I am a very sentimental person.”

Based between Taiwan and the UK, Chuang describes his work as “surreal and dreamlike”, drawing inspiration from the surrealist movement and embracing the way dreams can “reveal parts of our suppressed experiences” and “memories tucked away”.

Jason Chuang illustration
Inner Saboteur. All images by Jason Chuang

As a child he would go to a weekly art class and absorb the stories his teacher told to the group. Uncomfortable drawing in the class, he often came away with “untouched blank paper” but a mind full of ideas. After making drawings throughout high school, he went on to pursue illustration in higher education, having recently graduated from an MA at the Royal College of Art in London.

Now a practising artist and illustrator, he is reluctant to hem in his style and actively avoids having too much of a formula in his work. “I like to see every single piece is a new challenge, an unfamiliar territory for me. It’s scary, exciting, but painful sometimes, and I have to hold back on the default of doing things I know would work when things aren’t working out, but the payoff is much more valuable to me this way, so often I’d rather trust the unknown and stay away from following a pattern.

Jason Chuang illustration
Expiration Date
Jason Chuang illustration

“The medieval oriental art also inspires me hugely,” he says. “I’ve been trying to bring in the elements from this period of time in Asian art as a nod to my own heritage.” He also draws on “Eastern philosophy and sci-fi films, especially ones to do with time travel and films that challenge the perception of reality”.

Chuang recently took part in a talk called Asian Comics: Beyond Manga alongside three other comic artists, where he recounted his experience of working within the world of art and illustration so far. “I spoke about a pivotal point of my practice when a highly prolific art director in New York told me my work ‘looks too Asian’, and how it’s a negative quality to have and won’t appeal to the public,” he explains. Ultimately, though, he says “that experience [strengthened] my belief that having an Asian background is an integral part of me, and it certainly influences my experience being in a western society from a young age, and the importance of using one’s unique voice.

“Like a lot of amazing artists I follow, I try to push myself further into more unfamiliar territories, [and] when it comes to comics, I don’t really think of Asian comics as a category,” he continues. “I don’t feel that it defines me as an artist, but there is definitely influences from my background in my work, and I hope that people would look at the title ‘Asian Comics’ without much preconceived notions but rather with an open mind.”

Jason Chuang illustration
Days Spent in Isolation Part I

While Chuang speaks of the anxiety he felt drawing in those childhood art classes, today illustration is less a source of anxiety than it is a vehicle for dealing with those feelings. He sees the process of putting ideas on paper – and iPad – to be meditative, and has found it to be a way of processing alienation, loneliness, heartbreak, and, of course, the pandemic years.

His non-linear personal series Days Spent in Isolation, which won an award at the World Illustration Awards 2021, tackled the feeling of being stuck indoors. “In the beginning of the pandemic, I was in a state of constant anxiety, at the same time fearing that falling ill will prevent me from painting for a long time, and became even more productive than usual,” he says, adding that “the pieces I produced during this period are highly personal and will always be special to me.”

Jason Chuang illustration
The Other Half Part II

The past few years have been transformational in other ways, with Chuang leaving the confines of the educational system and entering the freelance world. “I still find it really difficult to find the balance between work and rest, commissions and personal work,” he says. “Everything happens in my room now, I love it and hate it at the same time, my work hours are very fluid, and my life routine can get quite messed up, and it’s also hard to find motivation sometimes.”

Yet he’s finding a rhythm again in daily rituals, and is trying to give himself breathing room from work when he needs it. “I have some small and big plans for the future, so it’s really important to take good care of myself and try to stay calm and not get too overwhelmed,” he says. “It might sound a bit miserable but I am generally hopeful and positive about what my future holds for me.”

Jason Chuang illustration
Jason Chuang illustration
Jason Chuang illustration