“My name is Huang Huihong and I specialize in painting it,” Huang writes on his personal website. It’s a strange enough proposition to make the 25-year-old artist’s work worth a second glance.
Make no mistake: Huang Huihong is not an easy moniker to live down. To Chinese ears, it’s a little too close to a silly variant of Huang Feihong, the martial arts master of popular southern lore.
“[My name] was usually misunderstood and ridiculed. But now I feel very grateful that my grandpa gave it to me,” he says. The three characters in Huang’s name are homophones for the colors yellow, gray and red, the main colors used in his art. Picking up a Willow Branch was Huang’s first painting to be based on his own name. Although in retrospect he considers it a clumsy effort, it was an essential step that kicked off his main series. Born in 1990 in the Guanxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Huang graduated from the Institute of Modern Design Art at Yunnan University of Finance and Economics, where he majored in animation. Today he works as a printed clothing designer in Shanghai and paints in his spare time.
His style began to take shape in 2012 with a series of weird cartoon images featuring a man with a 1950s-style pompadour, bizarre organs and humorous and fantastic expressions.
He describes his works as quiet, balanced but paradoxical. The figures in each are pure and evil, sweet and obscure, and lovely and creepy. Among the best examples are Huang’s paintings of a girl eating her necklace, a pink skeleton boy and faceless narcissus woman.
Taohua Tanshui, which depicts two young boys embracing each other in a red pool under a peach blossom tree, was created before he graduated. The painting was inspired by the farewell poem of Li Bai and captured Huang’s mood during the last college year.
The Spring was his capstone design project that he spent a month developing. Using a Chinese typical cavalier perspective, it collects the 12 figures of his previous works into one scene.
“I have gentleness in my personality, but I’m also eager for something wild. I love the niceness of pure things while I appreciate the shock of the offbeat. I hope my works can express such paradoxical emotions,” Huang says.
The narcissus, peach blossoms and ginseng figures frequently appear in his works.
“My favorite flower is the narcissus. In the film Big Fish by Tim Burton, the main characters meet in a sea of yellow narcissuses. The romantic scene impressed me. When it came time to bring some Oriental elements into my works, I chose the peach blossom favored by ancient poets and the mysterious ginseng of Chinese medicine,” he says.
While Huang’s favored technique is painting, his works exist in the digital world – far removed from the limitations of pigments. Digital painting first appeared in the US in 1960s, and became popular with the availability of affordable consumer computers.
Huang took an interest in digital painting in high school. When he enrolled in university, he bought his first graphics tablet and began to teach himself the art. “Compared with traditional painting, digital painting is more forgiving in the way it lets you recover from mistakes and experiment with different techniques,” he says.
“In the future, I hope to combine digital and traditional painting in my works,” he says. “Every artist or designer dreams of having his own studio. If I did, I would have more time to concentrate on drawing and thinking.”