We had the lovely opportunity to pick the brains of Shanghai artist Nini Sum. Picking was quite interesting: Nini is the creator of IdleBeats, an accessible (and affordable…) screen-printing business and community in Shanghai. They just launched their website this month, so you can visit and subscribe to the IdleBeats Blog and mailing list to hear about their latest events and projects here.
Nini’s work includes oil paintings, sculpture, sketches, graphic design, web design, and screen-prints. She won Shanghai’s Cut&Paste competition back in May, and she participated in the global championship of Cut&Paste just last month in New York. A peek into Nini’s brain…
How did you start out as an artist?
A studied visual communications at a school somewhere between Nanjing and Shanghai. I cannot say I appreciated that school much, I won’t say the name (laughing). The teachers there were very old fashioned. I remember I woke up one morning a year before graduation, and a voice just told me, you should do some oil paintings.
So I hopped on a train and I went home to Nanjing, and bought all of this oil painting equipment. I convinced my teacher to let me do an exhibition of those paintings for my graduation project.
Well one cool thing, they did have screen-printing classes. There was a very professional studio. Our teacher was very strict. You can’t put that there, you have to do it like this, blah blah. That’s when I fell in love with screen-printing.
Many of your pieces are very surreal… the painting with the sliced head with a bunny-ears headband comes to mind. Where does your inspiration come from?
I like doing portraits, and drawing trees and animals. Sometimes I just see weird stuff. Mostly my inspiration comes from images in my head. I’ll just be walking down the street and I’ll see weird stuff. I feel like I have a third eye or something. If I don’t draw I’ll explode!
Let’s see… I also really like this Swedish band called The Knife. And the director David Lynch. If I ever make films, I think they would be like David Lynch’s.
Where did you get the idea for creating a screen-printing business in Shanghai?
A friend of mine came and asked me where I can find screen-prints. You know, I couldn’t find any. People buy prints from IKEA, I tell them those are made in factories. So I thought I should start something here. IdleBeats is about building a Shanghai-based screen-printing community where everyone can enjoy the art. I have friends who are designers here, but they can’t find screen-printing facilities.
IdleBeats is just a screen-printing studio, but we also want to collaborate with bands. I designed Chris Kasper’s album booklet and cover, and loved it… there are a lot of cool local bands that aren’t wealthy enough to pay for graphic designers for their albums.
Now that the site has launched, what’s up next for IdleBeats?
We’re trying to organize a live screen-printing event with NeochaEDGE. We want to do small screens with simple line drawings, and people can print on post cards and stuff, small things. It’ll be for everyone, even for people who don’t know what screen-printing is!
They’ll see the whole process; maybe they’ll be interested in it. In the future we’d like to organize club and give people classes on how to screen print. It will be pretty cool…moms can come and print with their kids, or master designers can screen their prints.
What advice would you give artists in Shanghai who are trying to get their work out there?
I don’t think Chinese artists are communicating enough. I try and participate in events, meet a lot of people. I’m a bit nervous about that. That’s why I did the Cut&Paste competition in New York last month. When you’re sitting alone, you can come up with stuff… but when you’re sitting around chatting, you can really spark ideas.
We need more events where we can just drink beer and listen to good music. You go to a gallery opening… and there are suits, dresses… ah! I don’t feel comfortable there. Maybe it’s an Eastern thing, people are shier. That’s why I think NeochaEDGE is doing a great thing by creating these events for artists to meet each other.
Do you have any new projects stirring up for after IdleBeats?
After IdleBeats kicks off and is doing very well, I’m interested in doing something with toys in China. I make sculptures too, little viynl toys.They’re not very popular with kids though… But I’d want to work with other materials, something more eco-friendly. Just a thought.