Puzzleman Leung constructs a narrative through props in a series to make you look twice
Taking the reins from Maaike Canne in the next instalment of our Thread of Inspiration project, Puzzleman Leung creates a series of off-kilter still life from a wide pool of references.
Thread of Inspiration is a series in partnership with Pinterest which explores how inspiration can come from unexpected places. Throughout the year we'll be inviting a host of creatives to create amazing artworks, and sharing the intriguing stories behind how they come up with new ideas. Every other month a new creative will be introduced, tasked with creating new works inspired by the artist who came before them in the chain.
Picking up the creative baton from Maaike Canne in the next leg of our Thread of Inspiration series – a chain of projects where each is inspired by the outcome that came before it – is photographer Puzzleman Leung. Tasked with the job of inspecting Maaike’s depiction of a futuristic illustrated city, which was inspired by Ricardo Bessa’s animations for television series The End of the F***king World, the Taipei-based photographer actually became inspired by what he perceived as missing from Maaike’s works.
Within the illustrator’s seven pieces made in the last instance of this project, Puzzle instantly noticed a couple of possible jumping off points for inspiration. His instant thought was simply how neat the works were, admiring the highly intricate line marks across Maaike’s depiction of a library, a bank, a casino, a bowling alley, theatre and hotel. Looking wider at the series as a whole however, the photographer noticed the lack of a person, or as he would put it, “a character”, to play a role within the works. With portrait photography making up a larger part of his portfolio to date, it’s no wonder he noticed the fact that this was missing, but it actually led Puzzle to make character-less works too. “My first move,” he tells It’s Nice That, “was to trace the character, like a detective in the movies.” The outcome therefore is a selection of highly art directed investigative imagery.
Deciding then to build a series of photographs which could act as imagined clues for a viewer to investigate themselves, Puzzle began building a world of references around this imagined character. At the start of any project Puzzle tends to widen his pool of possible inspiration, explaining how he “usually looks for many photographs for references to help me with the vision,” he explains. “Until I see something really fascinating, which will begin to close the inspiration circle and start to form the structure.”
At first however this inspiration circle was filled with smaller circles, mostly jumping between two themes of bold colour-centred photographs, and food. The latter is a consistent inspiration for Puzzle it turns out, since it’s something he’s in contact with daily, and he tends “to find my inspiration through daily life. It naturally becomes some of the inspiration,” says the photographer. “When I see something interesting in daily life, I will observe it for a while, and although I may not use it in the first place, I still hope one day I will in future work.”
As a result Puzzle has a constant backlog of possible ideas and concepts, which his photography can be applied to, and always in a highly colourful way stylistically. Researching thoroughly into colour palettes, and other artist’s use of block colour within a photograph heavily at this beginning stage, the consideration of colour “is one of the most important factors in my works,” in general says Puzzle. “I always get inspiration from colour and lightness.”
Utilising Pinterest to gather these references for his Thread of Inspiration outcome, it’s a way of working Puzzle is used to, and fond of as “Pinterest is the main tool I use when I start a project or I am shooting,” he explains. Puzzle finds this most helpful in the beginning, settling on a key word for a reference, “then I get more suggestions through the relation,” he explains. A tried and tested way of generating ideas and aesthetics in his work, “I always get more ideas unexpectedly,” he adds. This explains what an outside viewer might perceive as quite a random thread of ideas at the beginning of Puzzle’s Pinterest board, where references jump between perfectly arranged plastic bags to a portrait, a sculpture, French toast, egg yolks, matcha tea ice cream, some Penguin paperbacks and the work of Guy Bourdin.
It all begins to become clearer however following the introduction of a few Twin Peaks references, setting a general mood for the soon-to-be made series at this point.
These darker references, coupled with the colour explorations made at the beginning of the project, then led Puzzle's images to come together in more coordinated groups. At this stage he also started adding his own tests, or quick snaps of materials he was picking up for the final shoot day. “It helps a lot,” he adds when we ask about the benefits of adding your own imagery to a Pinterest board, rather than just collecting the references of others. “The images I get from Pinterest are helpful for the idea, while the self-taken images are more realistic and practical for execution,” adding a timeline feel to his overall board too.
Deciding to also create seven images just as Maaike had done, from his vast references Puzzle settled on depicting his own series of objects in warped setting too. Describing the final outcome as a bit like “an alien’s daily life on earth”, objects you may recognise are tweaked and warped until they’re just a little off, but not totally unrecognisable.
For instance one of the images, Pliers, is the product of three images: a lobster cracker, a literal pair of pliers, and a velvet blue jewellery box with a chewed piece of gum inside. The final image is a reimagined combination of the three: a jewellery box leading with the blue colour palette, but inside lies a hilariously placed lobster claw, upright in place of where a ring should be. Another image, titled Disappear, is a similar combination of Puzzleman’s references, namely a photograph of Laura Palmer from Twin Peaks and a sculpturally contracted netted bag. Taking a portrait to then be distorted within the bag itself for this final image, its careful placement again tricks the eye on first glance.
In another instance the development of one of Puzzle’s re-imaginings is a little more complicated. An image of a soap bar being used a memory card holder – including memory card neatly popping out – was actually originally inspired by an image of a piece of cherry pie. Not just any slice pie of however, the reference image has its contents spilling out, but the viewer remains unsure if it’s blood or cherry liquid leaking onto to the plate. Inspired by the double-take like quality the reference image evoked, “I wanted to have something more from daily life and non-food, but in a clear shape,” Puzzle explains. “Therefore, I found soap to be the better choice,” as an object which we still come into contact with, and recognise immediately on a day to day basis.
When it came to preparing for these meticulous shots where an image would need to immediately draw a viewers eye and allude to a background narrative, several plans had to be made. For the final images to work cohesively, the photographer split each image into background and foreground to consider as a series, rather than just a singular image.
To start he considered the backgrounds – each final image has a solid background colour making it distinctive from the next – developed from an idea he had for a possible prop. Asking himself such questions as, “What kind of background would appear during this kind of situation for each shot?” this thoughtful process allowed “the background echo to the subject.”
The actual shoot day itself is one Puzzle admits as “pretty stressful”, considering the high level of organisation and tension with each image. Regardless, “I quite enjoyed the shooting,” adds the photographer. “I planned how many shots to have finished each day, usually it’s two to three. It took time to set up the props, lighting and when these two things were almost done, I started to try a different angle and setting. Sometimes the satisfaction came at the beginning, while some came at the end.”
And yet despite this thoroughly thoughtful process, none of the final images Puzzle has selected feel over composed. In fact, it’s a level a of humour which a viewer immediately notices, our own team chuckling over outcomes as the images came in. “I am pretty satisfied with the final pieces, as they’re quite my usual style,” explains the photographer when discussing how this series fits within his wider work. “Humour and colour are two important elements in my work and I’m happy I was able to utilise these two elements for the shooting.”
Now completed with his leg of this creative relay, Puzzle’s excited to see who and how his work is interpreted next. Considering the vast inspirations the photographer pulled from Maaike’s works it’s not a particular outcome he’s hoping for, more that he hopes his works provide enough inspiration. “It will be great if I find some traces of my works too!”
About the Author
Lucy joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In October 2016 she became a staff writer on the editorial team and in January 2019 was made It’s Nice That’s deputy editor. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about new and upcoming creative projects or editorial ideas for the site.