Meet the illustrator Dian Liang whose work hopes to be like “a pill for therapy”

The Shanghai-based artist and illustrator talks us through her psychological works that hope to touch the viewer’s heart.

14 May 2021

We’ve never seen anything quite like the work of artist and illustrator 梁 电, Dian Liang. Born in a town called Wuxi near Shanghai, a town known for its beautiful scenes of Lake Tai, Dian recalls her early years filled with popular culture that many other 90s kids will be familiar with. Teletubbies, The Simpsons, comic books, manga, Windows 98 computers (where Dian would play Resident Evil 2) all these things would go onto inform Dian’s unique artistic style. She tells us, “like with a lot of kids, animation, comics and games were my whole world – so it became natural for me to live and I preferred to live inside a fantasy.”

Fantastical is one word to describe Dian’s moody artworks. Detailing how her signature technicolour style came about by accident, Dian takes us through her visual language, something she attributes with the terms ‘blur’ and ‘oasis’. When it comes to the former, the artist explains: “I have an obsession with anchoring my paintings in ‘ambiguous feelings’." With a background in traditional fine art, Dian combines this technical knowledge with a psychological twist. Uninterested in drawing people as “realistically as a photocopier”, in her work, Dian questions what she calls “the unrealistic side” of the human mind.

Asking what her subjects are driven by, Dian’s works are “an attempt to paint psychology.” Blurring is a way of expressing such nuanced emotion. Sometimes it can feel a bit like walking through a mysterious fog, but this process of emotive discovery is what Dian enjoys doing most. “The poetic tone coming from the unknown and the possibilities hiding in the fog are the things I live for.”

As for the ‘oasis’ side of things, Dian sees this as the place to contain this fog – “inside of which infinite possibilities are sleeping”. As a child, her parents took her to various nature sites around Zhejiang Province: rock mountains formed like animals, grotesque shaped trees, caves hidden behind waterfalls, underground tunnels, concealed shrines, steep mountainous roads and so on. All these places allowed the young Dian’s imagination to run wild; she'd picture magical creatures living in unknown corners where secret things would happen. In turn, this is what the oasis aspect of her practice embodies – an intriguing landscape where a wanderer could happen upon an oasis at any given moment. This is something that Dian strives to replicate in her paintings.


Copyright © Dian Liang, 2021

This myriad of winding creative avenues pours into Dian’s work. A combination of digital futurism and traditional painting prowess, Dian developed her practice while studying Experimental Animation at CalArts, an experience she describes as “eye opening”. There, she sharpened up her ideas and set a plan for her aesthetic. While Dian’s degree in animation proved fruitful for many reasons, over time, she also realised that animation was not for her, falling out of love with it for its lengthiness. “It can feel like you are trapped in a marriage (with your film),” she says, “but can’t easily get a divorce because you don’t want to lose everything.” Finding herself in this anxiety-inducing situation, Dian found a release through illustration and painting. With making still images, she found the necessary space to let her imagine run wild, and she hasn’t looked back since.

The illustrator talks us through a recent project, a collaboration with animator Amy Lockhart. The pair were asked to contribute an interpretation of Hello Kitty punk manga icons for a comic zine. At the time of the commission, it was winter in China which, for many families, symbolises hot pot season. So Dian decided to illustrate her character gathering round the table and enjoying a hot pot. In the midst of lockdown, she had also taken to studying lots of different dog breeds with the hopes of adopting one. In turn, the illustration became about “hot pot dogs” which also serves as the title of the work. Dian adds on the project: “This kind of feeling-based work process really provides me with unpredictable but fun accidents.”

In the future, Dian is looking forward to releasing a personal animated short film. This film marks the first moving animation in her newfound artistic style, a departure from the more cutesy characters that she worked with during university. As for her development as an artist, however, Dian will continue to make art with the hopes that it can touch someone’s heart. “When I do my own paintings, I don’t ask for anything from the audience. Instead, I’ve got so much to share with them – my thoughts and feelings are hard to form through verbal language.” She concludes our interview on this thought: “I wish my work could be something like a pill for therapy for someone to pull through hard times. Maybe even a shock for the spirit to become a braver person with grander freedom. I will definitely not give up doing that.”

GalleryCopyright © Dian Liang, 2021

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Copyright © Dian Liang, 2021

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.

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