How do you feel about this piece of art? Does it creep you out, or do you think it’s cute? Or perhaps both?
It’s the latest series of work – titled A Little Heart (一点心) – from 27-year old Singaporean artist Lim Qi Xuan (aka Qimmyshimmy). For her, art is beyond something that’s just visually pleasing; it can also evoke strong emotions. Inspired by pop-surrealist artists like Mark Ryden and Nicoletta Ceccoli, her art is both dark and beautiful, straddling the realm between “creepy” and “cute”.
“I always find smaller works more intimate, almost like they contain universes of their own. I have always loved surrealistic and figurative art, but have never thought that I will become a sculptor,” says Qi Xuan, who recently completed her Master’s degree in the Netherlands.
Known for her thought-provoking artwork featuring miniature sculptures of babies (faces, hands, and hearts) worked into familiar foods like dim sum, canned sardines, popsicles or macarons, the works are admittedly not for the faint-hearted. In fact, she’s had some unsavoury comments over the years, painting her works as “cursed” or “diabolical”; some even called her a “daughter of Satan”.
“Daughter of Satan”
Every artist appreciates comments, and Qi Xuan certainly takes it in stride. Fresh after her recent solo show in Melbourne, she already has confirmed shows in Los Angeles, Portland, Tokyo and possibly New York, placing her firmly on the list of up-and-coming global artists to look out for. Her works are now fetching between SGD$2,000 and SGD$4,000, and as a testament – or perhaps detriment? – to her popularity, they are already on resale markets.
So far, Qi Xuan has three completed series of works, all revolving around food (and body parts). The first was her Sweet Tooth series (2016), followed by Preserved (2018), and then A Little Heart (2019). “The reason why I have been so fascinated with food as a subject is because I like toying with the duality of desire and repulsion. Food is the one thing that evokes so much desire, and has been for centuries made to appeal to all our senses,” she says.
When pressed for her favourite piece from every series, her top 3 are Bubblegum (2016), Ma Cherie (2017), and Char Siew Bao (2019).
She’s still exploring the food theme, suggesting that her next few pieces will be along those lines. But despite how edible they look, however, they’re made of polymer clay.
On being an artist
Her rise to stardom could be attributed to her accidental ‘branding’. “I was trained in design, hence I know the fundamentals of branding and infused it naturally into my own practice,” she says, but she has never thought of her art practice as a brand.
Despite her artistic success, she isn’t sculpting full-time as she’s currently working as a UX designer with an experience design agency. However, she says that “being a full-time artist in Singapore is not as difficult if you know where your audience is. I think the Internet really helps artists of our generation to reach out to an audience that is not restricted or limited to where we are based”. For Qi Xuan, her fanbase of over 151,000 followers on Instagram attests to her online success.
For anyone thinking of a full-time job as an artist, she advises on leveraging on commercially-viable work to expand on new ideas on the side. “I understand through the experiences of my artist friends that being a full-time artist in Singapore means you need to know the practical stuff. Our cost of living is quite high, so to maintain a studio space or to have enough materials to work with, you need some basic finances worked out.”
On collaborations with other artists
Brands have been known to collaborate with artists – think Uniqlo and KAWS – but Qi Xuan is quite cautious about working with them. Instead, she welcomes collaborations with fellow artists. “I do not think I can pinpoint what exact type of collaboration it will be, but it will be fun to work with filmmakers, animators and set designers–people who can bring my works into another dimension.” We can imagine a movie with the vibes of Pan’s Labyrinth, or even Dark Crystal!
When asked about what she would like to do apart from sculpting, she mentions that she would like to spend more time drawing and illustrating (and felting cute little animals). We can’t wait to see more from this artist, that’s for sure.