Taiwanese-born, NYC-based artist John Yuyi is an artistic breakout star with a visual language to die for. On her Instagram she recently posted a clip of a long line winding down the sidewalk outside an already crowded gallery, showcasing her very first solo exhibition. You’ve probably come across her work on Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr or wherever you find your daily dose of aesthetic inspiration. Finding herself at the intersection between art and fashion, Yuyi has collaborated with brands such as Gucci, The New York Times and Vogue. She has clearly already established herself as one of the most exciting creatives to keep on your watch list.
Born and raised in Taipei, Taiwan, the 25-year-old artist started out in the fashion industry, thinking she’d end up working at a magazine or as a stylist. Majoring in fashion design at Shih Chien University, she then spent a few months in New York, interning at Jason Wu. That’s when she decided that NYC would be her future home. Yuyi went back to Taiwan and worked as a freelance stylist assistant for VOGUE Taiwan while working on her own projects on the side. Her career as an independent artist began when she moulded clay installations and used them as inspiration to design her own line of swimsuits. Shortly thereafter she got a working artist visa for the states, and went back to NYC where she felt she could express her artistic side more freely.
In 2015, Yuyi started posting pictures of her temporary tattoo project Face Post on Instagram. She took the pictures together with a friend “for fun”, and it all spiralled from there. John Yuyi went viral. The images portray young faces covered in temporary tattoos of mundane social media logos and symbols. Young girls with their Instagram handles tattooed on their forehead, or their Tinder profile spread out across their face and neck. It really digs deep into the problematic relationship I think we all have to the blurred lines between our online and IRL personas. It makes one wonder: do we use social media as a means of personal expression or as a means of conformity?
Yuyi’s visual aesthetic is so relevant and speaks straight to the minds and souls of tech-savvy millennials. “I’m very addicted to the internet,” she says in an interview with BBC. First of all, that’s you and me both, John. Second, aren’t we all? Who would we be in today’s technologically driven society if we lost our digital alter egos? Yuyi photographs herself or models, then prints and tattoos those images onto the skin, photographs the models again, and posts it back on the internet. It’s a never-ending cycle of people’s relationship to social media.
Yuyi is careful to point out in interviews that she started working on her own creative projects as a way to cope with anxiety. Mental health is a consistent theme in much of Yuyi’s daily struggles. And Yuyi is a restless creative in the literal sense of the word. Her portfolio consists of much more than the human body patched with internet symbols. Give the girl a packet of instant ramen noodles – she’ll give you noodle jewellery. Give her a slab of pork belly – she’ll give you tattooed pig flesh. Give her a bouquet of flowers – the next day she’ll probably post a picture of herself having glued those flower petals onto her body. Do yourself a favour and follow her on Instagram already. It seems the creativity never ends for this resourceful, young lady.
Indeed, Yuyi’s work really poses so many questions about the pros and cons of being intertwined with apps and gadgets. In an interview with VFiles, she reflects on the potential obstacles that come with being an artist with such a viral and contemporary niche, stating that “I feel like I have to ask myself: am I doing art to show it on Instagram or am I doing Instagram art? When Tumblr was popular, there’s was a type of ‘Tumblr art.’ If one day social media changed, will my work just remain an Instagram moment?” It’s an interesting complex of problems that I guess only time can reveal. But as of now, looking at Yuyi’s creations, it’s some of the most relevant and pin-pointing art out there. Which is most certainly much more than just an “Instagram moment”.