Emotion, movement and the essential everyday – we catch up with Joey Yu
As well as discussing her recent collaboration with Lulu Guinness, we talk to Joey about the immutable elements of her practice and Kung Fu movies.
- Harry Bennett
- 29 April 2020
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
Taking no nonsense from anyone anymore, Joey Yu has learnt from previously taking on every project thrown her way. She tells us she “made mistakes, good and bad ones.” Now, after “living a crash course in freelancing the past couple of years,” the London-based illustrator is “taking it slower and figuring out the projects, themes, thoughts” she wants to explore longer-term. Not feeling a rush to produce, she adds: “I’m going to hold onto some ideas for a little while! Incubate them.”
Joey has also found a new enjoyment out of quick turnaround on projects, telling us “it keeps me on my toes, I come up with solutions and new methods I wouldn’t have found if I had extensive time to rework and rework.” This spontaneity is part of the beauty of her practice – without overthinking what she is making, Joey offers an unapologetically raw perspective, not burdened with unnecessary exposition.
This attitude change, however, has far from affected Joey’s masterful output and her inspirations. “I love movement, that’s never changed,” she explains, fascinated by the breadth of worldly things that falls into that category, such as “perspective, feeling,” or “the weight of movement.” Despite her creative medium being static, Joey explains that “to create a drawing that still feels like movement is the thing I’m hunting for.” A fully accomplished feat, we can’t help but wonder at Joey’s rule of expression, the candour and energy found in her work, creating ecstatically but gently joyful images so rich with feeling and life they seem more representative of the world than what our own eyes see.
Currently watching a lot of Kung Fu films and documentaries, Joey is fascinated by the elegance of the movement within the martial arts on screen, drawn by the “sentiment for showing all the mark making, the mistakes, the movement of it all.” She makes reference to Jackie Chan who discussed the contrast between the fight scenes in American action films, which utilise slick camera editing to “enhance a fight scene, or disguise the stuntman’s movements,” and his movies which don’t hide anything. Joey feels the same disposition in her work, telling us: “I like leaving in the dirty bits, the workings out in my drawings too, in that same way... those unfinished parts of drawings are what I feel more connected to most of the time.” This honesty in Joey’s work is what makes it so significant – there is sheer transparency and innate truth behind it.
A recent collaboration Joey had was with the kitsch British accessories brand Lulu Guinness. “I was approached mid-2019 to pitch a few ideas, and we settled on the idea of the supermarket, an ode to the beautiful, essential everyday,” Joey tells us, finding herself at home within the wonderful feeling of “bumping into people you know as you go about your daily routine.” The project also allowed Joey to explore packaging, having always adored the “decorative nature and the necessity of it,” relishing in the idea that luxury items “adorned with florals or jewels” were instead emblazoned with “very prosaic items.” Although the nature of the subject is of eternal relevance, the pandemic has “resulted in a very apt collection,” Joey tells us, producing “a collection celebrating the only place you’re allowed to be right now – the supermarket.”
The pandemic has offered, amongst other things, a challenge to an ongoing live drawing series Joey has that depicts couples together. “I spend a few hours with them in their home, a kitchen or a bedroom,” Joey describes “and draw them whilst hearing them talk about how they met, what they’re up to and so on.” Made for no other reason than “to capture people in love,” Joey loves the intimacy and emotion of the act, being given access to incredibly personal insight. “I’ve done a couple over lockdown,” she explains, “so it’s not stopping me making work!” She adds: “We Facetime, and it’ll be a bit blurry, but I like the challenge.”
This series captures the primary essence of Joey’s work: emotion. “I am an emotional person,” Joey tells us, adding “I’m glad for it; my entire life I’ve grown up crying, feeling overwhelmed when I watch a film, or read a book if I resonate with it.” Joey finds contentment in extreme emotion, loving the “tide that completely sweeps over you.” Feeling becomes the practice and the process of her work, the subject and the motivation, telling us “the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do is to make people cry too – is that sadistic?!” This is due to the emotional release that seems only to be found in art, “I just want to elicit the same emotion on someone that I’ve felt from other artists.”
Joey’s artistic endeavour doesn’t end at eliciting emotion but also recently included the significance of location. A recent show of Joey’s, at Unit London, exhibited work produced in the south of France, in the same “part of the world where Matisse and Picasso would spend their time and make work too.” Documenting the autobiographical bliss felt whilst on holiday, Joey worked “with a group of women who all work in the creative world.” Reflecting on her time there, Joey tells us: “To be there together as female artists felt like we were making a little bit of history in our small way.”
Joey remains optimistic about what lies ahead, seeing the current state of affairs as a “reset” if what she had planned this year doesn’t avail. Still ambitious, however, Joey concludes: “I am looking to the future as a shiny wriggling baby fish that I will keep feeding, and we will see what it grows into!”
About the Author
After graduating from Winchester School of Art, studying graphic arts, Harry worked as a graphic designer before joining It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in March 2020. Feel free to get in contact with Harry about new and upcoming creative projects.