Wednesday, September 21, 2005
A conversation with . . .
Vanessa Chan talks about her art and her books
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Vanissa Chan, self
Back in April, with three years of living in Vegas under her slightly Gothic belt, the formerly local graphic artist Vanissa Chan decided to move back to Blacksburg for six months on her way to New York City. Since then, she has developed a bit of a reputation around town, as the girl who is always sitting in a coffee shop drawing. With a degree in psychology from Virginia Tech, and a seemingly endless energy for her art, Chan has recently turned out and self-published two illustrated works: "Romance 101" — which details the abuses of love — and "One Million Drawings," a collection of drawings (not actually one million) done in a 24-hour period. This Friday, the Easy Chair Bookstore in Blacksburg will be throwing the artist a going-away party before she takes her work to the Big Apple, in exchange for which Chan has agreed to sign a lot of copies of "Romance 101." Here the artist shares her thoughts on the strange places from which art emerges.
What can you tell me about how your two self-published works came into being?
Vanissa Chan: I started off illustrating a graphic novel, which I have yet to even get close to completing. It’s about two kids growing up, and I’ve written their entire childhood. … While I was drawing a lot, drawing this childhood, I was having a lot of relationship issues, and so my way of getting it out was to draw my characters — James and Ophelia — abusing each other. So I got a lot out of it because it started to get really funny. And I was in the middle of a conversation with Dr. Germana, a psychology professor who I’ve known since my sophomore year in college … He’s actually the one who got me back into art. And we were talking about these silly drawings that I was doing, and he said, "Hey, you could make a book, it would be called "Romance 101." Brilliant! So by the next week I had a whole book to show him.
So you finished the book in a week? That’s how I first met you — you were sitting in Bollo’s, drawing with the energy of a feverish ant. That seems to be something people take note of with you — your productivity and the sheer number of drawings that you’ve put out. A good example is your other work, "One Million Drawings."
How many drawings does it include?
VC: It’s actually a hundred, a little over a hundred.
Then why is it called "One Million Drawings"?
VC: Because I like to exaggerate. It’s funny. But it’s a box filled with loose drawings which don’t make sense together. Well, a couple tie together, like the Anti-Ranch Campaign. I had this thing about serving families Ranch as a waitress. It got to the point where it was just disgusting to me, like "Extra Ranch please" all the time. If I cut them they’d probably bleed Ranch.
The fact that you would put that in there is a great example to me of an artist’s willingness to just totally go with something because they feel it. Because something like that could very easily not make any sense to anybody but you. Not the kind of thing that you can really count on a general audience identifying with.
VC: Shameless. Shame-free.
It’s interesting that the "One Million Drawings" are out of context and not arranged in a pre-determined order. But with "Romance 101" they are in order because the book is bound. Where does the order come from with that book?
VC: They were in order before, by the order that I drew them. That’s just the only way that I felt comfortable with it. But after re-sizing them I actually lost track of some of the page numbers, so in the new version I’ve actually just dropped some of those first drawings in the middle. … I don’t know if it makes it any worse or any better. I don’t think it should matter.
Neither of these projects were meant to be in order, not in context with each other?
VC: They’re connected by theme. The theme with "One Million Drawings" was that I drew all the cartoons within a 24-hour period. Basically you take a day in Vanissa’s life, and this day she’s gone crazy and just wants to draw cartoons all day long.
It’s like a visual journal, of wherever you’ve been at mentally all day?
VC: Like a snail saying he has to move into a new home ‘cause his shell’s too small.
There’s an easy metaphor to make there.
VC: Yeah. That’s part of what I do.
Vanissa Chan will sign copies of "Romance 101" Friday at 7 p.m., at The Easy Chair Bookstore, 101 South Main St., Blacksburg.