Illustration with Poan Pan
Alex: How Would you describe your work to someone who’d never seen it before?
Poan: My work is really personal, like an instant response, to the world news around us. It’s like a really intimate, personal reaction to how the situation is, or like, my daily experiences. Its how’s I capture everything, with my sketching.
A Do you feel like your work has a journalistic quality to it?
P I would say that, sometimes it’s like photography, capturing a certain moment, but the audience have the freedom to imagine what I want to say to them or what I want to express.
A What’s your preferred topic to cover? How do you pick your subjects for your work?
P I think like everyday news, but not like radical or like kind of… I pick like the most positive things with humour within it. I’m not like a really straight-faced and serious guy. I love to be humorous and make jokes to bring out the bad material a little bit.
A Did you study illustration at university?
P Oh no, I studied Graphic Communication Design at Central St. Martins. I just graduated last year. Before I did a foundation, and at that time I was doing full illustration. That’s the reason I wanted to do a more broad course, because you can do a bit of everything over the three years. If you decide you aren’t good at something you can just do another thing. As my final project I did like a 2 minutes around animation, so at that time I was drawing and trying to come up with some ideas, but I realised I just really loved the narrative and the emotion so thats why I really made the push to become an illustrator.
Most of my friends who look at my work, and even the tutor, was like “Are you going to apply for CSM fine art” and I was like “No that’s not the reason I’ve come here” I’m 27 years old, I already have a BA in Taiwan so I didn’t want to do just fine art, I wanted to find a design aspect to dive into, like a creative industry. That’s why I chose Graphic Communication Design, to find out if illustration was my true passion, or maybe there’s some other perfect design, or coding, or other stuff – photography that I want to try. And after the 3 years I figured out that illustration is truly what I want to do. The emotional feeling I get from illustrating is different from what I get from all those other things.
Sometimes when I get a commission, I feel the pressure – but at the same time I love doing illustration. It’s really weird to say, from the pressure i’ll get a fever and a headache, but I still love it.
A Did you grow up in Taiwan?
P Yes I was born there, and lived there almost my whole life, until I was 23 or 24. And in Taiwan there’s duty you need to do like, about 4 months in the military, and then you can do whatever you want. So I finished it, didn’t really know what to do after that, I knew I loved drawing but didn’t know it could be a career or something.
A When you do the military service, do they encourage you to stay on afterwards?
P Oh yes they will try and acquire you, or like try to make you think it’s a good job to be in the military, or a soldier or something. But I was like – no. Before that I’d never been in a situation under so much pressure – you follow orders, everything is very restricted. I always kept a sketch book, tiny notebooks, smaller than A5 I think. I kept drawing in them and I created a tiny zine when I finished my military service.
A Do you think you experiences in the military service, being aware of the countries politics and military matters, shaped your work in any way?
P I actually think it went the other way. Personally I don’t enjoy politics at all, like I have my opinions but that’s it. In Taiwan, we have lots of political issues with China… I don’t like illustrations on the issues that aren’t so light hearted, with some kind of humour or awkwardness.
A Do you feel that your work is a bit of escapism from the more serious and heavy political issues?
P That’s really nice, I never really thought of it like that – escapism. I feel like illustrations have a nature of tenderness, or settling, but I do like to create an awkwardness or embarrassment. I’m not an outgoing person, or social every day. I prefer to stay alone and create stuff, draw, and listen to music on my own. Every time I need to go out, to meet people or socialise, I get a weird feeling.
A So you find you work is a way of communication with people without that feeling of discomfort?
P Yeah I would say that.
A What is the message you hope people get from your work?
P Oh that’s very simple – I hope it puts a smile on their face. There’s an illustrator called Jean Jullien, I always love his work and I admire his humour. I think that’s what I want when people see my work. His work does sometimes cover more heavy or political subjects, but always from a humorous point of view, meaning people can have their own opinions without being preached to.
A What’s next in terms of your work? Is there anything new you’re thinking of trying?
P Well I’ve been doing some work based on the Francis Bacon exhibition at the Royal Academy. That was amazing, I was amused by the concept of violence in humans, he says we’re like animals. He cannot see the difference between humans and animals. That’s how I understand it. Ive been thinking about it since – I think I can see a similar motion in my work, in how humans are limited by society and rules, how we’re told what to do, and how violence is some sort of attempt at freedom from that.
A What would would you like to offer up as your Who’s Flying the Plane? Hidden gem?
P There’s an illustrator I really admire called Jordan Robertson. It’s a kind of figurative way of representation… I think I like his personal projects about TFL, the London transport system, its not commission, its personal work. I really like the colour use, and the texture. Sometimes it’s really hard to give a still image atmosphere and texture, or energy. I take a lot of inspiration from him.
You can follow Poan Pan on Instagram here.
Interview by Alex Wilson