My Decorative and Illustrated Expression, Atlanta-based Illustrator and Designer Fangyu Ma

Fangyu Ma is an awards-winner Chinese illustrator and designer based in Atlanta. She was recognized as the Communication Arts Award winner, American Illustration Selected winner, Society of Illustration LA winner, etc. She graduated from Savannah College of Arts and Design with a master’s degree. She primarily creates digital art and enjoys experimenting with diverse subject matter. Her portfolio is divided into two distinct categories: decorative and narrative illustrations. In her decorative still-life pieces, she incorporates bright, eye-catching colors to bring joy to the viewer. Her animal-themed works are unique, as she aims to evoke a strange and sentimental mood through her use of animals as a medium. By approaching these subjects from different angles, she challenges traditional perspectives and encourages new ways of seeing.

Party Night, 15×17 in, Digital, 2021

Thank you for joining us, Fangyu. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

My name is Fangyu Ma and I come from a small city in Shandong Province, China. Growing up, my parents were busy with work, so I spent much of my childhood with my grandparents in the countryside. My grandfather was skilled in pen and ink, and my grandmother enjoyed drawing simple floral and avian patterns that she would then stitch onto insoles. It’s likely due to their influence that I began drawing at a young age. I took the art exam during college entrance exams and was accepted into the architecture department of the Academy of Fine Arts. However, during my junior year, I realized my true passion lay in illustration and decided to pursue further studies abroad.

I am grateful for my time at the Academy, where I was exposed to a free and open environment with lectures by renowned artists from both home and abroad. I had the privilege of hearing Niki St. Phalle, David Hockney, and Koolhaas speak in person, and Niki St. Phalle’s work had a profound impact on me. Her personal story of transforming her violent paintings into cheerful ones after a traumatic childhood inspired me to have the confidence to reinvent myself. This led to a transition in my style from black to color, which I continue to incorporate in my decorative paintings today, with the aim of bringing pure visual pleasure to the viewer. I also use illustration to tell stories and express my perspectives, resulting in a diverse range of styles in my portfolio.

Blood Orange, 12×12 in, Digital, 2021

What is your art about? Do you have a topic or theme that you are currently working on?

My artwork is divided into two categories: decorative and narrative illustrations. Decorative illustrations serve as purely visual representations, while narrative illustrations express my ideas and opinions. For instance, a still-life piece would fall under decorative illustration and could be displayed in a restaurant to enhance the ambiance. In these works, I use bright, lively colors to evoke a pleasant mood, as I aim to create an attractive illustration that can stand on its own. 

Orange Pie, 12×17 in, Digital, 2021

Animals are a personal favorite theme for my decorative illustrations. In these works, I use rabbits and flies as my subjects because they evoke both feelings of weakness and insignificance, as well as the strong reproductive abilities of rabbits and the vitality of flies. By doing so, I hope to challenge traditional perspectives and encourage new ways of seeing and feeling.

Blue Rabbit, 20×20 in, Digital, 2022

My graduation project represents my most significant foray into narrative illustration. Although it lacks a clear storyline, it is an abstract representation of real events and serves as a memory and history of the self. I express this in a silent, yet powerful manner, hoping to connect with the audience.

What is the most exciting thing you’ve done or accomplished so far?

The completion of my thesis, “Self Portrait-The Room,” was the most exciting moment for me and has earned me several illustration awards, for which I am deeply grateful. This series is the culmination of years of thoughts and emotions that I have finally been able to express through illustration. It is both a highly personal work and the voice I most want to be heard. All my years of drawing practice have led to the creation of this piece, where I was able to convey my enduring emotions and fears in an abstract and figurative manner. My hope is that this work will bring strength to those who have experienced similar feelings and serve as a reminder of the power of reinvention and the ability to overcome victimization.

The Metropolitan, 20×14.38 in, Digital, 2022
The Rubik’s Cube, 20×14.38 in, Digital, 2022

What does “community” mean to you? Has your local community changed you as a creative?

My close friends, both locally and across the United States, make up my support system, and we all face similar challenges such as studying abroad, finding affordable housing, securing employment, and figuring out our next steps. During our most trying times, we uplift and encourage each other, sharing both the pain and the joy. We have late-night conversations, bond over delicious instant noodles, and support each other through it all. I am so grateful for their unwavering support and I hope that we can all fulfill our dreams.

I am also thankful to Li Tang for this interview opportunity and for providing a platform to feel the support of community. In the future, when I am in a position to do so, I aim to pass on this same sense of support to friends who may need it.

Tiger, 20×20 in, Digital, 2022

Is there any advice that you would like to share with others?

I believe that having the right mindset is crucial. The ability to accept defeat gracefully after giving it your all is a valuable skill, and it takes courage to start over and keep moving forward.

The Chessboard, 20×14.38 in, Digital, 2022

text & photo courtesy of Fangyu Ma

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