Lydia Chan dives into the colourful and romantic world of monsters and aliens in her vivid creations
The London-based artist talks us through “the magic of making” and calling on childhood visions of science-fiction to craft an endless world of fantasy.
- Joey Levenson
- 20 May 2021
“I would describe my visual as immersive, large scale, maximalist with a capital ‘M’, colourful,” says Canadian-born and London-based multidisciplinary artist Lydia Chan. Working primarily as a set designer for the fashion industry, the dynamic world-building elements of Lydia’s work have become her signature. Oftentimes playful and incredibly textured, the environments she crafts are as immersive as they are fantastical. “I think the process of making and the material choices really inform the final result,” she tells It’s Nice That. Born from her childhood obsession with cartoon figures and designer toys, Lydia’s sets are characterised by cartoons and creatures, rainbows and romance, and bring a vivid pulsating energy that travels beyond the 2D realm of the screen into a fully-realised 3D world. “My intention is always to create a space with a very distinct aesthetic so you can jump into it and feel it anchoring you into a different story,” she describes.
Lydia invites chaos into her work with careful curation.“I think life is characterised by imperfection,” she says. The romance of imperfection is what ultimately leads her to chaos, as to “curate chaos is how you can create environments that have life”.
Now, however, Lydia is more interested in creating her own characters to live in those environments. Her latest project, Beaded Monsters, came about six or seven years ago “inspired by colourful alien sci-fi monsters created based on a mathematical technique”. They are beautiful iridescent creations that prove the many facets of Lydia’s artistic talent, showcasing a wide range of interesting shapes, colours, and patterns that marry science with fantasy. “That difference in scale is what gives us space for grandeur, excitement, exploration and discovery,” she explains. But, what’s most important for Lydia is “the childlike energy” of these monsters. She notes how these feelings of grandeur from science are parallel to “how children see their existence in relation to their surroundings,” much of which she draws on in her own set design work. It seems that Lydia’s inner child is still very much alive and active, and rather than shy away from it, she embraces it in all its artistic possibilities. In fact, Lydia proudly declares her creative practice as always “playing catch up” with her juvenile ambitions.
GalleryLydia Chan: Monster Series (Copyright © Tsz Lo and Wei Prior, 2021)
“I remember my father took me to Sum Sui Po and I bought a big box of pretty acrylic beads and started making little dogs, strawberries and Pikachus,” Lydia recalls, explaining how she formed the idea of Beaded Monsters during a 2000s trip to Hong Kong. It was years later when she thought to herself: “Wouldn’t it be so cool if I could have a big colourful monster necklace?” And so Lydia set off to make one in the vein of the same beading technique she’d seen in Sum Sui Po years prior. Her desire to make these creations led her to a “Molecular Aesthetics” class taught at the National Taiwan University, where she learned how to create a beaded sculpture that showcases the complex beauty of science. “The monsters I have created now are an intuitive development of the same technique, applied to create larger-scale pieces,” Lydia describes, highlighting how expansive her concept is. However, the complex and large-scale nature of her monsters has proven difficult to document, which is why she collaborated with photographer Tsz Lo and graphic designer Wei Prior to create beautiful images of her vision. “I’m currently developing these monster pieces into art installation and large scale sculptures as part of my fine art practice,” she explains.
Lydia’s ultimate intention is to develop her artistic work away from fashion and towards the chaotic beauty of monsters and aliens which has allured her for years. As of late, she’s been commissioned by Now Gallery for its 2021 Design Commission – her first solo immersive art installation and performance space. The show is an extension of her beaded monsters, entitled Your Ship has Landed. It’s essentially about “reinterpreting the lockdown experience as the experience of a space explorer being held up in their spaceship in anxious anticipation to arrive in a new world,” Lydia explains. And, better yet, as part of this project, Lydia will finally be able to achieve her childhood dream of making a designer toy, as an Art Toy based on her alien creatures is currently in the works.
From 2D, to 3D, and 4D, Lydia wants to continue to “share [her] fascination with these spectacular creatures” in a way that moves her work away from the escapism of fashion and the body, and on to the greater fantasy of the larger cosmos above.
Lydia Chan: Monster Series (Copyright © Lydia Chan, Tsz Lo, and Wei Prior, 2021)
About the Author
Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. They were part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.