Chinese folklore is visionary, lively, and mostly highly visual: with its moralistic codes and sense of surrealism, it draws on the fantastic, opening up new worlds that listeners can fall into. It’s no wonder then that New York-based illustrator Sewing Feng decided to harness the power of Chinese stories as inspiration for her artwork.
Growing up in China, she was surrounded by fantastical tales and radiant reimaginings that captured her imagination. And now, since she graduated from New York’s Institute of Fashion Technology, Sewing is weaving her understanding of architectural design, something she learned in her undergraduate program, to bring her images to life.
“My work is often said to look very Asian,” she says. “I like to paint traditional ghost stories and weird tales, and I like to use a lot of lines and low saturation colors.”
This technique is evident through all of her work which evokes the meticulous nature of bringing a piece to life, and her intentional use of color only adds to the heightened sense of reality and mystery present.
Each painting contains a story of its own, and the Feng Shui series, in particular, reveals just how linked Chinese omens are to the elements. Some backgrounds include palaces, villages, and cemeteries, reflecting China’s cultural superstitious nature, which Sewing taps into, giving each image an ingrained sense of place.
His presentation of these stories reflects the charm and magic present in traditional oral history and reveals his determination to present a snapshot of these little-known fables. Some of these stories, such as that of the immortal being LiaoBing, explain the traditions that continue to exist in Chinese villages today. LiaoBing’s influence led villagers in southern China to continue building crescent-shaped pools for luck.
In addition to these spooky tales that provide a clue into the thinking behind Chinese customs, Sewing has also explored personal experiences in her artwork to explore female identity. In the Secret series, she uses period shame as inspiration to create a triptych of images that share what shame feels like.
“Many women around the world did not mention the arrival of their periods or suffered unfair treatment because of their periods,” says Sewing. “I created this series to give women a voice.”