We posted Jun Cen's work in the erotica section recently, and his work--specifically, his animation, Mutual Tunnels--struck me with such force that I wanted to ask him some questions myself. Jun Cen received his MFA from Maryland Institute College of Art in 2013 and is an award-winning Chinese artist currently based in New York. His artwork is dark and wildly sensitive in all of its iterations, from illustrations to sequential art to hand-drawn animation. If you watch anything today, watch Mutual Tunnels--it is a stunning accomplishment in concept, handiwork and execution.
Some of your work has a wonderful, enigmatic sensuality to it. How does the erotic inspire your artwork?
I think we are not only human beings, but also sexual beings. Sexuality is one of the things that affects the way we perceive the world and define ourselves. Most importantly, it is something that arouses all human senses (sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch). To me, art is mysterious and powerful. I want to create something that my audience can experience with their senses.
Are there particular animators who've inspired your work? What did you find you could achieve through animation that you could not through mere illustration?
Yes, there are a lot of animators who have inspired me, such as William Kentridge, George Dunning, Kon Satoshi, Koji Yamamura, Daniel Sousa, and others. Animation is magical to me. In the process of making the animation I felt like a child at play who was taking the game seriously. I was not only creating a piece of art, but also an imaginary world. The color, texture, movement, and sound make this world dynamic. This is what I found I can achieve through animation that is hard to achieve through mere illustration.
What was the hardest part of producing this animation? Will you be making more?
Mutual Tunnels is my first animation. I had no experience or knowledge of animation before the project. To make the movement of the characters convincing required a lot of observation and imagination. Yes, now I am too addicted to quit making animations. I have a rough idea for my next project, but I might make a comic before starting to make the animation. I guess animating the characters was the hardest part for me.
Does your Chinese heritage influence your artwork? If so, how?
Yes, it does influence me in many ways. Both classic Taoism and Zen Buddhism share similar beliefs regarding introspection. Ancient Chinese philosophers considered water to be the highest form of being. Just like water, the more flexible a human's mind could be, the more receptive that person could be toward internal and external conflicts. The idea of having an open mind to see things from multiple perspectives inspired my artistic practice. That is why I keep the concept of my art vague. It is a personal introspection, but also allows my audience to relate to the piece in their own ways.
What sorts of things do you dream about?
I usually dream about things related to my daily life. However, last night I dreamed that I could fight with a supernatural power like the characters in Manga comics. But there were two people who also had the power and were trying to assassinate me. They had cold and evil faces. I suddenly recognized they were two of my college peers. I kept myself in a high school classroom so they could not endanger a crowd of people.
If you could hang out with one person, living or dead, who would that be? What would you do?
I would hang out with my grandfather who had died before I was born. Because all my relatives have forgotten the village our family was originally from, they moved to the city I grew up in at a young age. My grandmother is 96 years old and apparently has forgotten it as well. My father tried to find the village by searching for families with the same last name in other villages, but he failed to find it. So I think this is an interesting family mystery. I would love to ask my grandfather about it if I could hang out with him.
Are there any rituals you have when you do art?
Not really. But I like to turn on the music before I start.
If you were gifted with a superhuman power, what would it be? Would you use it for good or evil?
I might not want a supernatural power for fighting like the one I had in my dream. But it would be great if I could time travel. I would definitely use it for evil, because I could easily undo it by traveling to a previous time.
Do you have any advice for aspiring artists/illustrators?
I would say that it is very important to be curious about things.
Interview by Lauren YS