Art as Representation w/ Marcos Chin

Episode · 1 year ago

Art as Representation w/ Marcos Chin


Marcos Chin is an artist whose work includes intersectional representation of queer stories and Asian stories. Today we are talking about his body of work. Being a commercial artist, Marcos has had to work in spaces where his artwork may be considered “bad for business”. We talk about how he navigates his career as a professional artist while also being able to stay authentic and true to who he is as an artist.

Be sure to follow Marcos on IG! Your host is Levi Chambers, co-founder of Gayety. Follow the show and keep up with the conversation @Pride. Want more great shows from Straw Hut Media? Check out or website at Your producers are Levi Chambers, Maggie Boles, Ryan Tillotson and Edited by Silvana Alcala Have an interesting LGBTQ+ story to share? We might feature U! Email us at *This podcast is not affiliated with Pride Media.

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Straw media this person. When I was drawing it, my intention was for him to be Asian. They're also covered in tattoos, because I am as well, and these two individuals are really just soaring upwards. They're sending they're happy, they're joyful to be together, they feel safe. Marcos Chin is an artist whose work includes intersectional representation of Queer Stories and Asian stories. Being a commercial artist, Marcos has had to work in spaces where his artwork may be considered bad for business. We talked about how he navigates his career as a professional artist while also being able to stay authentic and true to who he is as a queer creator. I'm the by chambers and this is pride. Marcos is story begins in Mozambique, where he was born. I am an immigrant. I don't want to say like a typical immigrant story, because I feel like a lot of immigrant stories are, you know, veried, but you know there was a thread that runs through, I think, a lot of our stories in the senset. We didn't choose to leave, we had to leave. So I was born in Mozambi, Africa, second generation. Originally, my grandparents moved from southern China to Mozambique because of the war, and then when we lived in Mozambique, we stayed there until the mid s because and then we had to leave because again there's a war, there's a revolution, and we moved from there to Portugal, stayed for a bit and then with sponsored to move to Canada, to Toronto. I'm giving you a very sertace, spetup version, but we moved to Toronto and I lived there until two thousand and five. So I studied there, I went to school there, studied art there and in two thousand and five I moved from Toronto to New York City and I live in Brooklyn now. So that's really kind of the speed up version of like my immigration story. From there, Marcos was able to find his way into receiving an education in art and pursuing a career as an artist. I originally pursued art because it was, when I was young, what I felt like the only thing that I was good at. I didn't feel like, coming out of high school going into college, that I could do anything else. I went to university to study fine art. Sort of it wasn't working out and so what I ended up doing was actually moving, transferring to an art college where everything was art related, and so that's really where for me my training began in and it wasn't just about learning how to draw and paint formally. What the school did in the program was an illustration program within design. I went to the Ontario, Ontario College of art and design, Okad, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. But what that program taught me to do was really how to tell stories and to communicate messages and concepts through pictures. And so when I went through that program, coming out I didn't work right away. You know, you hear these real, you know, amazing stories of these young artists who sort of like come out of the gate running and just doing these incredible things as young artist. But it wasn't like that for me. I come from a working class family. I worked all through school and so when I graduated I was still working. I was working in retail for a couple of years and doing, I guess, art on nights and weekends, and so it was a lot of persistence, I think, you know, making work when there was no... and just literally, you know, pounding the pavement and showing anyone who is willing to look at and listen to me my work and I signed on with my first agent a couple of years after I graduated from art school, and I really think it was a luck thing, because she initially had said no to me when I showed her my portfolio, and it was all paintings at that time, and I was doing these kind of like random drawings that were informed by my love of comic books and cartoons and they were really sort of through the lens of fashion and queerness too, because I just come out and I was really excited about, you know, gay life and I was drawing all of those things and she really responded to that and she started to shop it around and people really liked it too, and that's kind of how, you know, my career began just through that kind of work, which was really, I think, a description of who I was at the time, a twenty something year old who really love fashion, loved going out, love music, love socializing. I put all of those things into my work and I ended up working in these kind of fashion lifestyle spaces and coincidentally, before grinder, before scruff, before our mashcom, before all of those kind of like online dating companies, there was Lav a life. Oh, weight matchcom was actually it existed back then, but I ended up doing one of campaign for this online dating company called Lava Life, and they wanted to use illustration as opposed to photos, and that really set the, I guess, the trajectory of my career, because a lot of people saw the ads and they started to want to work with me. Working as a commercial artist sometimes means that you don't get to include your entire self in your work. It has to be modeled to fit a specific business message and pieces of yourself as the artist have to be edited out. Yet A lot of Marcos is commissioned work has an unapologetically queer to own. I've been working steadily since two thousand and one, almost twenty years I've been working steadily freelancing, and a lot of the work that I was doing up until then wasn't queer. It didn't, you know, the kind of lifestyle that it showed was very sort of binary, men, women socializing in these like Bar Lounge spaces, shopping, that type of thing. But it really wasn't, until I would say, Gosh, I think it wasn't one thing, but I think it was layered. It was many things. And I think social media had a lot to do with it in terms of being a catalyst. I think that the me to movement had a lot to do with it. I think that the black lives matter movement had a lot to do with it, the rallies in the protest, I think the pandemic had a lot to do with it. Just sitting with yourself for a year and a half, just going you know, feeling unstable at times and having all these conversations with oneself and you know, it was the sort of disruption in the tumult, I think, that was happening, and how the world was changing around me in a new way where, I guess, more space was being create, created for people who maybe at that time, you know and I, you know, were on the margins. I connected with that community and so it was those reasons that made me want to start to share parts of myself online through social media, through birds, through you know, instagram diaries, personal projects where I would just draw maybe content or subject matter that leaned towards more queer and I think, because social media is just as amazing and frustrating space, one of the good things that came out of it was people started to respond positively to it. More companies and clients and they wanted to. They asked me to create that...

...content for them. So it was a real sort of gradual thing. Again, nuance, layered, interconnected all of those things. Eventually, Marcos was able to make his work more intersectional. Not only did he include depictions of the Queer experience in his artwork, but he also included Asian representation. I think that when I was first beginning my career, it wasn't something that I was interested in. You know, in a lot of interviews and when I speak to students, even on social media, I'm really adamant about sharing where I came from in terms of, you know, finances, economy, familial history, and that's why I said when we, you know, meeting you tonight, that I do come from a working class family, because when I began my career I didn't care about all those things that you're asking about. I didn't care about representation, I didn't care about making sure that there is an Asian person of my drawing. The reason why my drawings, you know, through the span of my portfolio over the years, did include a multicultural cast. It's because living in Toronto it was very multicultural. So I literally was just drawing what was around me, but I wasn't doing it for any other reasons. My main focus and purpose coming up was to make money, you know, like I wanted not to live in or have the same kind of life. And this isn't to diminish my childhood. Are My my parents, you know, they moved here for us, my brother and sister and I, to have a better life, and so my focus was to make money. And so it started to shift where I did feel like it had become more of a responsibility, more of a social platform, that we could create transformative change. When during the rallies and protests from a year and a half ago, that didn't just happen, you know, outside of my home. I live in Brooklyn and they're the marches were like literally just outside of my building, but it also happened on social media where former students of mine, and I teach also at an art college as well, and former students of mine, you know, said to me, Marcus, you talk about inclusivity and connectedness and things being fair. You know you're at this school, you have power, you know you you're a gatekeeper. You know they didn't use those words, but I'm just kind of aligning it with some of the words that were being sort of, you know, thrown, throwing about that time, like what are you going to do about it? And so that's why, or that's how, it had become, you know, to me important to include queerness, asianness in my artwork because of that. So does that experience influence the I guess you'd say, like the illustration of the design elements behind the characters, are the people who end up in your work or whether it's commissioned for an advertiser or your own work, to those experiences affect that? They do my personal I try. I mean as a commercial artist, it's always hard to include your entire self in, you know, into the into the work, because there's a lot of collaboration that you need to do with the client. But I try my best to, when designing characters, for example, to refer to myself, my friends, the people around me. There are certain things that I enjoy doing, you know, for certain fashion styles that, you know, I incorporate, you know, into the work. If I can sort of sneak in these kind of Easter eggs, these surprise moments, the way in which people are interacting, which,...

...for example, on a very sort of like, you know, basic way, let's just say two men holding hands to women holding hands, something like that, or being intimate in that physically intimate in that way. Then I'll try my best to do it, because before I go to a final, you know, our piece, there's still the collaboration stage, the sketching stage, where if it doesn't make if it makes the client feeling comfortable, then we have to resolve that. As you gained more, I guess you'd say, like more financial success with your artwork, do you feel like that in any way affected the representation that you put into your art, whether that was around queerness or your own identity? Do you feel like there was any sort of pressure from knowing like I'm commercially successful, to direct your personal works that you just talked about like that you consider work in any certain direction? Yeah, totally, one hundred percent, and I is and I don't, you know, find myself alone in this way of behaving or thinking, because a lot of what I do, a lot of what my close friends working, you know, in this industry do who aren't independently wealthy, we don't necessarily go from job to job, but sometimes we get these projects that maybe pay a lot more than other ones, and so that financial freedom allows us to create a body of work that maybe express has things that we can express through our commercial through Commercial Lens. There is always a balance as a professional artist between being commercially appealing and being completely true to yourself. It's a dilemma every young creator will face. Do you make money using your talents as an artist while sacrificing some creative integrity, or do you keep the art just for yourself, never to be compromised by commercial appeal? I took care of things that I felt like needed to matter most, sort of like meeting my basic person basic needs. So I had to obviously have enough money to pay for rent, E. Take Care of those type of types of things, and if it wasn't coming from or through my art, then I needed to figure out a way two for that to happen, while figuring out a way to make work along the side, you know, yeah, alongside of it. And it wasn't until the art work that I was making, which I was, as I said, like really pushing it, I was really pounding the pavement and sharing my work with a lot of people. Until that started to I guess, I was doing more art, which was sort of getting in the way of me doing retail, for example. I decided, that's when I decided to sort of quit my job and focus on art full time. But in order, I think, I guess advice is to make sure that this thing, this thing that you're doing, this discipline that you're working on, needs to be viewed as not a hobby, it needs to be viewed as work, you know. So even if you're not making money from it, you need to behave in a way where you assign purposefully time to make your artwork and be really, really, you know, adamant about continuing to do so. And you know, no one can predict if, you know, that will result in getting more work or, you know, a career that's going to sort of last, you know, forever, you know in quotes. But that, I think, is really the starting point, because I think a lot of people have this idea that and these huge goals where they go from here, where they are, into this huge goal. But it's not about that. It's about incremental steps and taking care of that thing that... need to do in the moment and once you do that, then moving on to the next thing, but realizing that there's a path towards that ultimate goal. So that's, you know, it sounds like a sort of funny advice and maybe not so pragmatic, but that's sort of how I did it. I had this end goal and I would focus on what was in front of me and then I do the next right thing and then the next right thing. Just continue doing it in that capacity. When we come back some of the specific pieces that stand out in Marcos is body of work, art is meant to make a statement, it's meant to change people. Even in the commercial space, it's hard to get away from how deeply art impacts people. Among Marcos's body of work is a campaign for Prep, a medication that helps prevent the transmission of HIV. With the PREP campaign, it wasn't just me being asked to create an image for and the the organizations called APTA in New York City, and it was also someone following up with questions asking me about, you know, if I use prep, asking me about sexual health. I think there was a question about, you know, the intersection of my queerness with my being Chinese, but it definitely affected me in the sense that I, you know, it gave me the opportunity to see that my work could be something more than just a pretty picture. Again, in quotes, you know, because I you know what what happened from that particular campaign. You know, I think it was called like take one a day, or I can't remember the actual like Tagline, but I think they were blocked on some type of social media a platform, and that made me feel really angry because what we were doing was educating, what we were doing was help, you know, young and you know, prep is not only for gay men, you know, but we are helping to, you know, educate people on how to become more, you know, thoughtful about their sexual health and how to take care of care of themselves. You know, we're essentially it was just an outreach campaign, you know, something that I've done in the past two and so that's how, you know, one of the ways that I think it really changed me because it allowed me to see, I think, in a more visceral way and feel that might work, could have an impact, even though it was just a drawing. So at what point in that process did you have that realization? was that when you fit, because I think you know, with our work. For a lot of people, and I don't know because I'm not a very artistic person when it comes to that sort of thing, like creating something. But when you experience heart, it's supposed to change you or affect you in some way. That changes you. Right. So was there a moment creating that and also knowing everything about prep and kind of what it's for, what it's supposed to do, what the goal of prep is long term in terms of health of the public? But at what point in that where you like, Oh, this is affecting me, you know what I mean? At what point in the process did you make that realization? After I was finished, the way that we're received, the discussions that seem sort of came out of it, was really when I felt a kind of shift. But while I was doing it, my intention was very much like how I had been trained, or how it was trained to be as a commercial artist. You have a problem, you have a limited amount of time to do it and a space to work in do your job, and so that's what I did. You know, one of the only things that, and it wasn't a shift, it was again more intentional, is that I wanted to make sure that the people who I included sitting on that large prep pill I want one of them definitely lead to... Brown, and I didn't want them necessarily to have these, you know, like these like these bodies that were super snatched, you know, like it was really important that, you know, I represented them that way, but changed in have them till after I was finished the project. I also want to talk about your most recent it's not most recent piece you've done, I'm sure, but it's your pride wall piece for frame bridge. If you could talk through that that. It's such a massive piece and I feel like it's so diverse and it has so many colors and it's right and I just wanted to know what was that. Well, that piece is called just wonderful and that piece is a really great example of how a project that actually doesn't, you know, go to production turns into something else. So it's actually originally done for an ad agency for particular product that one to launch, launch during pride, and it just never, you know, happened, and so I liked it enough. Initially it was a vertical piece, you know, like a standard eight and a half by eleven inch, and I liked what I had done for them and just felt like building the world, building the world horizontally and outward and turning it into this big queer space, including things that I loved, synchronized swimming, jump roping. I don't roll or skate, but I bought a pair of roller skates during the pandemic. It's Teal Swede, love fashion and jewelry. I go to fire island every year and so, you know, hence the waves and the swimmers, and so that piece just was an explosion of these things that I thought were just wonderful, you know, about being gay, being queer, being comfortable, being safe, joy, celebration and frame bridge from nowhere just called me out of the blue and wanted to you know, they had this blog and they wanted to include this artwork in their blog and we did an interview similar to what you and I are doing, and then they came back again and asked me if I could do decals for their store. And so what I did is I basically deconstructed parts of that drawing and turned it into decals. And also, what you didn't see, there were also in store characters that were about five feet tall that I also constructed as well had constructed. I didn't make them, but yeah, so they were printed again so that the drawing could feel more immersive, I guess. So. You know, when I made it it just felt like I was wanted to create a space where you could walk into, and so when framebridge called me and offered me this opportunity, I was ecstatic. I'd never seen my work. That's not true. I have seen my work blown up that large, but I'd never done decals and sort of had the opportunity to, you know, inhabit the space with my artwork in that capacity. Representation is absolutely crucial for the queer community. It means something to see depictions of Queer people living unapologetically joyfully as themselves. Seeing images of young LGBTQ plus people and Advertisement Street art and gallery shows helps other young people know that there are others like them out there living in the world and thriving. You know, when I was drawing these characters, in my mind I imagine that some of them were trans you know. I imagine that some of them, you know, had a backstory. Imagine that some of them were multi racial, imagine that some of them were people who are in my life and the way that they were posed, things that they were doing, represent it the spaces that I occupy socially that have never you know that oftentimes,... know, I've been made fun of being in those spaces and to see it so publicly like that work that I've done was really emotional, you know. So do you feel like the I think I would call it just the negative stereotypes that really plague Queer specifically Queer Asian men? I mean, you you hear like that that I guess it's like a, I don't know, a bigoted slogan, but the like no fats, no fems, no Asians, that sort of thing. Do you feel like that with, you know, Grinder's kinder efforts and there, you know, social media's ever to stop people from being just so pigoted and racist and horrible, but you feel like that's changing? And is it things like this, like what you create, artwork, that changes that, especially in this time that we're in right now with the pandemic, where, on top of all of those things for the Queer men specifically and Queer, you know core people specifically, you have a lot of racism coming from the pandemic. HMM, yeah, I mean I do. I do agree with you. I do agree in the sense that what you spoke about in terms of the racism and bigotry, not only towards Asians, but, you know, body types, a ableism, that type of thing. You know, all of these is m's are being brought into the foreground and I do believe that it's in an intersection of people who want to challenge that through, you know, whatever efforts that they're doing, because I'm talking about my art, that's when I'm focusing towards and so, yeah, I do think that what I'm doing represents only a small, like a fraction of a fraction, a fractal amount of you know, change that can happen through my pictures and I'm really intentional about including more so characters and situations that represent spaces that used to exist on the margins but I feel should be more in the foreground. You know, I want to bring, you know, I guess, like parts of myself that used to feel uncomfortable into the foreground. You know, I want, I and and it's all in an effort to challenge that, because I have been in these sort of social media spaces, these dating sites, were people have said to me. You know, I don't like Asians. Blah, blah, blah, Blah Blah, you know, like you know, it's not, you know, untrue, but I think for a long time I felt like they were untrue in the sense that I was being too sensitive and overly sensitive, and so with so much not so much with more attention and being shawn onto these particular issues, it's making me feel less like I'm delusional and makes me encouraged to want to continue to feed into the space making work that really sort of, you know, showcases and tells people that you know, we exist and we're as good as you you know, I want people to talk about when they talk about my art, is how I am helping make more space for people who want to make art, creating more spaces for them to find joy in making art and bringing and making visible things that used to be maybe overlooked unpopular,...

...just bringing that into a space where it can be celebrated and that people can find joy in looking at and participating in the way that I move through life and and I believe that, you know, life is my life is connected to my art and the decisions that I make now through my art, which affects my life oftentimes is for the younger version of me, you know, and so that's why I kind of speak the way that I do, because I don't want to forget who I used to be and it's really important that the decisions that I make now and in the future affects that younger version of me that felt really slighted and sort of like, you know, sort of like unequal to or believe that he felt unequal in his environment. So pride is a production of Straw head media. If you like the show, leave us a rating and review on Apple podcasts, spotify or wherever you listen to podcast. Then follow us on Instagram, twitter and facebook, APP pride and tune in weekly for new episodes. Be Sure to share this episode with your friends and subscribe for more stories from Amazing Queer people. If you'd like to connect with me, you can follow me everywhere. At Lea by chambers. Pride is produced by me LEA by chambers, Maggie Bowls, Ryan Tillod said, Caitlin mcdaniel and Brandon Marlowe, edited by Sailvana all Calla and Daniel Ferreira. Sound mixing by Sylvana all Calla. I loved the DUELIPA illustration. Love that. Thanks. It's no thanks. I never got to meet her. I mean you kind of did. You created the cartoon version.

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