Interview with HSIAO-RON CHENG

If you’re the type of outside diner to catch a quick bronze while waiting for your chicken parm, you’ll appreciate this new design by artist and illustrator, Hsiao-Ron Cheng. A specialist in combining hand drawn illustrations and digital finishes for portraits, Hsiao-Ron Cheng contributes to the Upper Playground archive with this first design. Here are few questions we asked Hsiao-Ron about her and her work:

Walnuts T-Shirt by Hsiao-Ron Cheng

UP: Tell us a  bit about your background as an artist.

HRC: Hi I’m a commercial artist based in Taipei, Taiwan. I studied Fine Art in Taiwan University of Art. I quit my day job in 2012 and then only concentrate on my own illustrations since then. I love walking, hiking, traveling, sleeping.

UP: There is a sense of serenity in your portraits. Can you explain the tone and mood of your subjects?

HRC: I’ve always love pastel colors. As for the mood, I think maybe is because I’m a calm person so it reflects on my works.

UP: What is the balance between digital and hand drawn aesthetic in your work?

HRC: I only do digital works, from drafts to final. But I do have experience of making oils, pencil drawing, water color etc. so I’m very aware and know how to make digital works with hand drawn texture.

UP: Where do you find inspiration?

HRC: Pinterest and life.

The Walnuts T-shirt in White is now available online at

Walnuts T-Shirt by Hsiao-Ron Cheng

Upper Playground Exclusive: Interview with Bicicleta Sem Freio

Brazilian duo, Bicicleta Sem Freio (BSF) landed in San Francisco this month to prepare for their first ever US solo show at Fifty24SF Gallery titled “This Is Not A Poster”.

Widely recognized for their colorful illustrations and murals around the world, the two master illustrators are taking “This Is Not A Poster” as an opportunity to meditate on the art of poster making to present a new body of original work.

In anticipation of the show opening this week, we ask BSF a few questions to better understand their practice and chemistry of how two talented artists work together as “Bicicleta Sem Freio”.

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Interview by Jy-Ah Min for Upper Playground

J: We are excited to present original works by BSF for the first time in the US. Tell us a bit about the origin of the name, Bicicleta Sem Freio which translates to “Bicycles Without Breaks”. When did the name emerge?

BSF: The name came about when we were in college, we went to a congress of students, we saw many lectures professionals and decided to come together and work. At first we wanted a very unpretentious and fun name. We had no idea what was going to happen after.

J: So Art, Design and Rock & Roll. How do you combine all these elements in your process?

BSF: We believe that there are no differences between these concepts. Music, art and design are for us completely mixed as they are all part of our day to day life. We have always been doing poster design first for our friends and we love this form of illustration.

J: We often view Art and Illustration as a very subjective and personal process for the artist. So it’s rare to see two individuals work so closely together under one banner. What is the work dynamic like for BSF?

BSF: In the beginning we were designing together, but over time each one developed more personal traits and style. But the process is always shared and jointly agreed. We consult each other a lot. We are our own critics.

J: The title of the show, “This Is Not A Poster” refers to new works that reflect on all the years you’ve spent illustrating posters for music bands and festivals. But these new works have no band and no music behind them right? Or do they?

BSF: People are used to look at posters with an information to read. One of our intention is to hold the viewer, making him look more purely on the visual and feel free to imagine and create his own interpretation of it.

J: It’s interesting to hear that your aim is to free the imaginations of the viewer instead of guiding them to a specific direction.  Could you tell us about how you determine what goes into each work? Is it an instinctive process or more layered and systematic in determining how the details come together?

BSF: Our work is pretty much instinctive and very experimental. We are always adding new elements and taking some off. We try new colors all the time, very weird sometimes and also new patterns too. We don’t have any idea of how it will end up and look like. We try to have fun during the process and to not repeat ourself. If not it will be like a formula and we will be quickly bored and probably our public too.

J: So your visual strategy to hold the viewer results in works that have a lot of random energy, movement and color with a lot of detail. When do you know when it’s done?

BSF: Well its never done to be honest, i could work on these pieces forever as we love details but at some point we need to give up and move mostly because of dead-line (lol) or space on the sheet or canvas!

J: If I am a fly on the wall in your studio, what would I hear?

BSF: We enjoy Hellbenders, its a band from our city.




3 paintings lo Hush Street Art newcastle interview Hush 941 geary

Hush is the moniker of UK-based artist known worldwide for his beautifully constructed abstract Geisha images that are a juxtaposition of both traditional graffiti and abstract expressionism. Heavily inspired by the aesthetic of street art and armed with an in-depth technique that includes painting, screen printing, spray-painting and collage, he has continued to create new works that instantly draw the eye in and holds the viewer’s focus. —James Pawlish / The Citrus Report

JP: Who is HUSH? Tells us a little bit about yourself. How long have you been making art, did you have any sort of formal training?

Hush: I’ve been making art all my life, from first experiences in graffiti to graphic design. I always made my own art and have been painting seriously for the last fifteen years. I studied illustration & graphic design at art school for five years.

Sirens light lo Hush Street Art newcastle interview Hush 941 geary

I read an interview where you used the phrases “action painting” and “pure expressionism” to describe your practice. Do you find abstract expressionism and graffiti to have similarities in terms of approach and hand style?

I think now that graffiti has had time to be reflected on as an art form, there would be a serious argument for the action of tagging, dubs etc to be taken seriously as a form of abstract expressionism or action painting and can be seen as a contemporary art form. Of course this is down to the viewers discretion, but that is true in how all art is viewed I suppose.

Tell us a bit about your creative process and the method of distressing your canvases.

I play with lots of ideas in the paintings that I make and like to reference a lot of movements, past and present. I have always loved that old graf rule about how a throw can go over a tag, a dub over a throw, a piece over a dub and so on.

I love the transient way in which work on the street evolves and usually looks more at home the longer it settles, gets tagged over, degrades and fades. I try to create all these actions and mistakes in the studio. I always create two of each painting and work on them simultaneously, partly for the fact that I will take more risks on one, so my work progresses; there does come a point where I will only finish one as it becomes obvious which one is working.

I also do this so that when i make a new painting i can go over the discarded painting and leave remains of it visible to the viewer. I kind of take pleasure in knowing that there was a good piece and lots of work underneath a painting. It always feels uncomfortable working on a clean canvas, I like the feel and textures of a worked-on canvas. It gives it some life straight away and the complexity of a piece matters to me, I like the viewer to discover this.

sirens dark large lo Hush Street Art newcastle interview Hush 941 geary

I understand you worked in Japan for quite some time…What was that like, and how did it shape your style?

I worked and lived in South East Asia for a few years; it was an extremely important influence on my life both philosophically and visually. The way the East, especially the youth, adopt western styles and cultural influences but struggle with holding onto traditional values is of interest to me and my work. The place is a melting pot and very inspirational. It has influenced my work greatly and has me thinking about a combination of factors; when you add my interpretation of this, we end up with a very eclectic mix. I try to capture and contradict these cross cultural differences and influences in my work.

Your work seems to be a juxtaposition of everything from pop art and abstraction to anime and comics. Are you tying to break the bridge between “high” and “low” art?

Not so much the anime these days but it is still an influence. However, when I see graffiti, especially tagging, as a form of expressionism or a political action, and when lots of it is seen in one place on the street, it creates a visual image like nothing else I can compare it to. It’s beautiful.

Taking it from the street and applying it to the work you make in the gallery setting is difficult. That’s why I approach it as action painting; it could easily be determined as abstract expressionism also. You need to capture that instantaneous decision to make the mark. That’s why I have canvases continuously around the studio. I throw everything at them, tag them, throws, the lot. It feels like it carries a bit of that excitement. It also places this movement into a category that is continuing to build on past art movements, which every new movement does.

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A large portion of your work is centered on the female form. Is there any specific reason why?

I like to keep the eyes dark so the viewer can’t connect with the personality, the figures then become somewhat serene or mysterious. The figures are important in finishing the composition of the piece as before they are formed it’s purely abstraction.

When I make my art I try to translate my interest in tagging, graff, decay and street art aesthetics into my work and juxtapose it with images of beauty, sensuality and the female form; allowing the later to be seen in a more positive way. The act of a tag is no doubt beautiful in its own right but fusing the two together in an expressionist action creates something in its own right and puts questions out there.

What artists have been a big influence on you?

There’s a lot of talent out there but my real influences are Eduardo Paolozzi, Mimmo Rotella, Matthew Ritche, Takashi Murakami, Designers Republic, Inka Essenhigh, Simon Bisley, Roy Lichenstien, Banksy, Peter Blake, Vaughan Oliver, Ian Swift and Robert Rauschenberg, to name a few. James Jean, David Choe, Connor Harrington, and Brad Downey have all been creating fantastic work lately.

I’m influenced by every person in the scene. Probably every artist, past and future! Definitely music has an influence on my work, coming from that whole dance music, electro, hip hop scene, it just makes the work more relevant and seems to make sense in the way that it compliments the work – even in the way that it doesn’t take itself too seriously as well.

large siren lo Hush Street Art newcastle interview Hush 941 geary

You’re not a stranger to San Francisco, having had a sold out show in 2010 at Shooting Gallery. What is it you love about the city? Do you find yourself getting inspiration from the local arts scene?

I’ve shown a few times here now with Fifty24SF Gallery, Shooting Gallery, White Walls & 941 Geary. I love the place, the people, the liberal attitudes, everybody seems to have a creative awareness here, it’s a very inspiring place. I have had the pleasure of meeting and hooking up with a lot of artists living and working in SF from Apex, Neon & Vulcan to Eine, Blek le Rat & Roa to Aaron Nagel, Casey Gray & Brett Armory…. from that list you can imagine how inspiring it can be.

BNE on 12ozProphet

Great interview with BNE on 12ozPropeht about his new project, the BNE Water Foundation. When you get your name this big on your own terms, turn it into some positive and greater than yourself. That is what BNE is doing to get clean water to villages, towns, and cities that need it around the world. Big name, big cause. Read up.