One of our Ones to Watch 2018, illustrator Jeffrey Cheung has delighted us once again with a new publication of paintings and drawings. The book features his signature energetic nude figures, set forth in vibrant colours, with a touching innocence and simplicity of style. He says of his art: “Over the past few years, my practice has shifted from zines to painting canvas, and decks for queer and trans skateboarders. My practice is fluctuating and has become more involved with creating community space and how my visual art can be used to uplift others.”
With no text to accompany the images beyond the artist’s name, splashed on the cover in the bold blue letters, Jeffrey’s publication is less a narrative-based book than a gallery of images which hold weight both as standalone artworks and as a collated sequence. He tells us: “This book is sort of a collection of paintings and drawings from my show, In Unity, last year at Hashimoto Contemporary in San Francisco. My good friends at Tiny Splendor decided to do a full-colour book out of the pieces and it turned into this publication.”
The book reflects Jeffrey’s social values, demonstrated by his participation in inclusive skateboarding and publishing collective, Unity. He states: “My work has always been related to my queer identity, and with projects like Unity skateboarding and press I have been able to celebrate diversity and inclusion on a broader scale and create a community around that.” In accordance with his dedication to building and fostering a creative community where queer people, trans people and people of colour can find a safe space and a platform for artistic expression, Jeffrey’s new book is an exuberant and affirming declaration of inclusivity. In his words: “A lot of my visual art is celebrating queer and trans bodies and especially queer and trans people of colour. I felt it important for that type of positive visual representation of QTPOC identities to be portrayed and celebrated in art.” In this light, his book is not a piece of activism as such, but rather an artwork that says, “we’re here, and we love each other!” It’s a euphoric promotion of QTPOC visibility.
Chiefly made up of dynamic group compositions or cosy twosomes, with the exception of one resplendently pink single figure craning round to grin at the viewer from behind a proudly displayed backside, the drawings in the book foreground all the fantastically awkward messiness of bodies and sex in a joyous recognition of non-conforming bodies, sexualities and identities. They are frank without being crude, intimate without being sentimental, funny without being pejorative. The bodies in them defy standardised, binary categorisations. Women with penises and men with breasts, of all shapes and colours, press up against each other, intertwine their limbs, lie on top of one another, dance, jump, bend, stretch, sit, lie and hug. Naked, stripped of hierarchies and social signifiers, Jeffrey’s characters are all equal, and equally exultant in their unabashed, irrepressible delight in being bodies, doing all the wonderful things that bodies can do.
Jeffrey treats the book as a forum for self-expression and as a platform for the celebration of sexuality and gender identity. In the still excessively conservative and exclusionary world of publishing, where certain kinds of voices are often given greater opportunity to speak, or unfairly lauded as having more important things to say than others, Jeffrey’s book opens up a space where systemically marginalised voices and experiences are not only acknowledged, but celebrated.