Here’s my short interview with her in full.
ØH: Where are you from in China, and did you plan to work as an artist while living there?
XY: I am from a very small town named Kaifeng in the middle east of China. My hometown is very slow and old with rich history. People from there are more laidback than ambitious. They would rather spend time on walking their dogs in pajamas than overworking. Back to the time I lived in China, I supposed to be an engineer in Industrial design as same as my father. None of the people I knew from my hometown was artist.
ØH: How did you end up studying art in Norway?
XY: After graduation from university I wanted to take a master abroad. Norway came to my mind since it is both close to culture and nature. Especially nature, the desire of living close to sea, stream, and sand, blue sky and forest was very strong. In China there are many places with very beautiful nature as well, but they are often far from the cultural resources centre. I think Oslo is a good place to stay because the European culture and great nature joins here in the city life. It is more like a balanced answer than either or.
I always draw and enjoy making drawings since childhood. My drawings were raw, unpolished and very colourful back then. No one including myself ever took them serious. But KHIO did, this art school picked my immature drawings
ØH: Have you worked with, or read, comics before starting at art school in Oslo?
XY: Back to then I didn’t like comics. I had an impression that the majority of comics I could get were commercial and boring. I preferred picture books.
ØH: Do you find any inspiration in Chinese comics, or are you inspired by other stuff?
XY: After moving to Norway, somehow Chinese culture became much more fascinating than ever. I found a lot of inspiration in Chinese folk art and literature. Accent Chinese were master of using white space in expression. They used white space in their drawings to stand for water, sky, distance and even time. The also left a lot of white space in between of the lines in poem. When they want to say, “ I miss you”, they say, “ The moon is beautiful.” It is imaginative and poetic. I borrowed whitespace from there to my work here.
Also my concept of comics had a big breakthrough by Norwegian comics. The variety of comics is so wide here. The first comics artist who enlightened my work was Bendik Kaltenborn, I leaned how weird and free comics could be. Since I came to Norway, comics become a new tool to catch and communicate feelings and thoughts, instead of my poor language.
ØH: Nature and solitude are a theme in your stories, is this something you have brought with you from home, or something you learned to love in Norway? I am asking because I’ve been to China once, and enjoying nature and being alone didn’t strike me as very usual things to do in China. My impression is of course coloured by the fact that I stayed a long time in the giant city of Chongqing, but I also remember hearing about very huge differences in the view of being alone in Norway and China.
XY: It is very interesting that you noticed the theme “solitude”.
Yes, you are right. As a country with 1.4 billion populations, “being alone” is not the most popular thing in everyday life. Most of the time we live in groups and are used to have very intimate relationships with those around us. But, meanwhile, Chinese culture contains a long history of hermit tradition. Living in seclusion is an important way for intellectuals to pursuit spiritual life.
For this book, I made it in the first two years of moving to Norway, when I was mostly alone. Being in Norwegian forest sent me back to the time of childhood. Both my parents had to work so they left me to play in a small garden. It was the long hours that I spent in that garden with plants insects and earth gave me the first education of making stories.
ØH: What are your plans for the future? Will you be staying in Norway, continue with comics or plan to do something else?
XY: I am making a picture book about a girl seeking her mother through memory and a comic series about living in a cabin.I think in the future I will keep working on the path of storytelling. I am very interested in twisting the boundary of reality and wishes.
I like staying in Norway. Because no one notices me so I could hide and look around freely. Also when I look back to China, It seems so beautiful.