Cheng-hsu Chung’s unconventional beginnings in illustration and animation started as elaborate doodles on the pages of his old maths textbooks. Before going on to study animation in Taiwan and completing an MA at the RCA in London, drawing, for Cheng, was an escape from studying. Never bound by the maths behind drawing, Cheng’s love for the animated world grew organically; with very little access to and influence from the traditional Disney spheres of animation during his childhood. Because of this, he believes he had the space to develop his own visual style which has led to the non-conformity of his artwork today.
“My work is a celebration of life,” Cheng says, describing his signature style as “loud, noisy and fluid” with his out-of-proportion characters, spontaneous character performance and anarchic visual style. Yet, despite its apparent unconventionality, Cheng’s work maintains an authentic relationship with the world around us; spending lazy summer afternoons in Berlin cafés, people-watching has always been an essential part of Cheng’s creative process, studying human movement and behaviour. Most importantly, though, Cheng’s work is a voice for the queer community - grounded in reality, exploring sexuality, gender and queerness in modern love and relationships.
Cheng says that he wants to “build a world of his own” where he can invite us into something that we can ultimately relate to. As both illustrator and animator, Cheng has complete agency of his universe – an empowered universe composed of his favourite parts of our world where, as a Taiwanese and queer person living in Europe, he often describes “feeling like an outsider” often. By inserting his own experiences into his work, he creates his own authentic universe which touches on familiarity for everyone.
Cheng brings his anarchic, abstract universe to life in his grad-film, ‘Adorable’. Describing it as an “explosion of everything he’d ever learnt”, the highly acclaimed film explores queerness, love and discrimination in modern society, fantasising about a world which champions the freedom of gender fluidity. It expertly demonstrates the coalescence of his illustrated and animated worlds. For the project, Cheng transported over 2000 acrylic hand-painted frames into his animated universe to give his abstract illustrations and character designs an immersive and emotional narrative.
At the time, Cheng looked up to the bold and surreal individual style of American animation director, Bill Plympton, who made him realise that you don’t need to follow many rules in the world of animation. In fact, ‘Adorable’ proved to Cheng that his authenticity as an artist would be equally celebrated in the commercial world. After Dazed Magazine premiered the piece, Cheng was commissioned for an adidas spot where he was able to use the same medium of acrylic hand-painted frames. Freshly armed with confidence, Cheng realised his eclectic style has its own rightful place within the commercial world. And he didn’t need to follow any of the mainstream rules to earn that space.
In fact, Cheng particularly enjoys when the characters themselves don’t follow the rules. They don’t care about the plot – they simply do what they want. Drawing influence from avant-garde filmmakers such as Alejandro Jodorowsky, the director of the cult classic ‘The Holy Mountain’, Cheng says that “a filmmaker’s job doesn’t need to revolve around the plot” but instead can be an “immersive experience with aesthetic value.”
“I realised we don’t need to know what’s going on in every scene. We can simply enjoy it as a nice piece of narrative,” he says, echoing his preference for uninhibited and spontaneous character performance in his work.
Above all, though, “you don’t have to follow a certain standard to solidify your artistry,” Cheng advises the filmmakers and animators of tomorrow. “If you keep pushing boundaries, your work will mature.”
“If you have something in mind that you want to do, then go for it,” he adds, humbly claiming much of his success has been characterised by spontaneity and risk-taking.
“To me, my work is like time travel.It’s a journey travelling through the body and mind of everything I’ve been through, all connected together like a collage.” Through this unity of art and experience, Cheng’s viewers can uncover their own authentic universe. And when you’re in your own universe, there are no rules.