Those who dwell in the Internet’s darker corners might recognize a certain kinship between Cui Jun’s artwork and kuso culture, a form of extreme camp that finds magic in things that are so bad they’re good.

As a self-described shut-in, Cui spends months at a time in his room, venturing out only to buy cigarettes. The limiting lifestyle provides him with both a wellspring of black humor and endless hours to polish and perfect his works.

“When I looked out, I saw there were way too many people on the street. So I started inventing their jobs and social status in my mind. In my head, some of them are killers or chengguan (urban management officers),” Cui said in an interview with Hiart.cn.

He is currently a signed artist on Hiart and works on its Hishop, a platform which fosters young creatives. Before becoming a signed artist, Cui spent eight years in Tongzhou’s Songzhuang art colony – an area he once called “Tonglifornia.” Cui spent years in a shabby bungalow living paycheck to paycheck after graduating from an art academy: the offer from Hishop bought him his freedom.

Cui’s interest in art was fixed during childhood. “I remember I had a teacher who asked us to draw balloons. While other kids just colored theirs in, I tried to add highlight and shadow like what I saw when looking at an M&M. The teacher’s praise for my work made me feel proud,” Cui says.

As a Virgo, he frets over the details in each piece. Crowds are a common motif in his creations, and people with all manner of occupations and stories come together at his bus stops and subway stations or on his streets.

“What the viewers think about my work is sometimes more interesting than my own stories,” Cui says. In addition to creating canvases that are densely packed with characters, Cui’s impeccable brushwork leaves many viewers thinking they are looking at prints of digital works rather than original acrylic paintings.

Cui loves to embrace the conflict between the ordinary and strange. In 45 Minutes to Learn Alien Anatomy, he invents a class that teaches students how to dissect an alien – an inversion of the classic abduction trope.

Sometimes he attempts to mimic the structure of classic art. His The Anatomy Lesson of Mr. Freddy is a painting that salutes Rembrandt’s famous The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp. But this time, characters are replaced with figures from horror movies such as Billy the Puppet from the Saw franchise.

Cui says his first solo art exhibition, The Adventure, which ended at Hi Art Center on April 5, offered him the chance to summarize his last two years of work – a time he looks back on with a strong sense of achievement,

But he has many other brilliant ideas itching for a place on his canvas.

“I’m planning to change up my scale and themes to offer something different in my next solo exhibition.” Cui says. “The world we live in is even crazier than the world I imagine, and it merits more exploration.”

Karena Hu

About Karena Hu

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Karena was born with the English name Karen but decided to add an “a.” She dreamed of a career in astronomy, but bad scores in physics kept her out of the science department. She seeks other worlds in reading and writing and is a super fan of the Hunger Games trilogy.

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