I met Yigi Chang, an artist and illustrator based out of Toronto, at the Toronto Pride Parade. He sat behind one of the booths while he promoted prints of his erotic artwork and his most recent series of illustrations, called “Queer as Folklore.” The series explores the mythological origins of gay culture—it's here where you can find an illustration of a campy, naked man springing out of a jack-in-the-box closet while onlookers uncomfortably run away. His most memorable work—though most memorable for its shock value—were the pixelated penis and vagina tote bags he had crafted himself. The tote bags are so highly pixelated that up close they look like nothing more than a conglomeration of monochromatic squares. Take a few steps back, however, and you get a scandalous flash of genitalia bound to confuse passersby.
Though he probably didn't remember me, I remembered Yigi Chang.
Chang's work struck me because his soft swirls of colour meeting hard-hitting lines had a personally appealing aesthetic. But, the content of his work is what kept me hooked. From a “goldstar gay” baby relentlessly trying to escape his mother's arms to a detailed drawing of two men open-mouth kissing, his art makes statements. Chang's work is controversial and risque. He sits far outside the line of conventional as his work mocks ignorant beliefs about gay culture and challenges conservative sexual values.
He also had a rad moustache.
IX: You came from OCAD U, Toronto's prestigious university for the visual arts. How did your peers, professors and the institution react to your almost pornographic, highly provocative illustrations?
Yigi: I had a wonderful experience at OCAD U. My peers were wholly supportive and encouraging, and the environment was very conducive to creative thinking. When I first started to conceptualized my series, “Queer as Folklore,” my professor, Gary Taxli, had some legitimate concerns. He brought up questions of whether I was using shock value as a substitute for substance and if these illustrations were too self indulgent. Was it all just smut? And if it wasn't gay would this all still hold its appeal? It made me aware of the tone I was taking with these pieces and reminded me to apply a critical lens to my decision making process. By the end of the year I was awarded the Project 31 Illustration Faculty Award.
IX: What was the first explicit image you remember drawing and what inspired you to draw it?
Yigi: When I was about 9, my dad worked for a publishing company and he would often bring back catalogs of stock photography which I would dissect with a pair of safety scissors and hoard clippings of all the shirtless hunks. I drew those beautiful men onto loose sheets of printer paper but because I was afraid of them being discovered, I would overlap new drawings onto the old. By the time there was no more paper to draw on, I had created an orgy of lines that became indistinguishable at a distance. I was also a really messy kid, so these naughty drawings would get mixed into other stacks of paper and inevitably ended up in my dads hands. After a few confusing and awkward conversations, he would just offer to recycle the stacks promising not to “look through them.”
IX: I was at the Gladstone Hotel a little while ago and a saw a piece of art featuring a grid of cupcakes with various genitalia performing various sexual acts morphed into the cupcake tops. Although sexuality has always been a common theme in visual art, the playful juxtaposition of sexual imagery seems to be on the rise. Do you agree? If so, why do you think this new way of presenting sex is becoming popular and how does it relate to your work?
Yigi: I feel as though our society as a whole is becoming more open and receptive, and less tied down with a sense of shame when dealing with sexuality. We are being better educated about sex, so it's becoming less scary and it's easier to find humor in it. It's a good time for us whose work is spicy enough to catch your attention but not so saucy that you cant find a place for it in your home.
IX: Your “Queer as Folklore” series explores the “mythological origins of gay culture.” What's the most ridiculous myth you've heard people believe about gay culture?
Yigi: The funniest misconception I heard was when gay friend of mine thought that the lesbian sex act, scissoring, was coined because ladies would need to snip apart their tangled pubic hair after sex. I doubled over with laughter when I heard this and then the next thing I knew, I had a new illustration!