Portrait of Michael C. Hsiung

Michael C. Hsiung

Born in China Town, Los Angeles. Michael works with a large number of collaborations including brands such as Vans, enjoi skateboards and Dr. Martens. His work is inspired by mythological creatures, mainly creating bearded men, mermen and centaurs. While bearded men have become somewhat a trend, years of development have set him far apart from the rest. He’d describe himself as, “An Asian bum with a mustache who draws pictures”.

Desert Harpies Illustration by Michael C. Hsiung

– Your illustrations often have interesting stories to them, where do they come from? Do any of them represent events or real life characters that you’ve encountered?

The narratives in my work I think originate subconsciously – a lot of times it isn’t till I’m finished that I start seeing a story or interaction that may or may not have been there. Drawings involving mermen don’t always represent or come from real life characters, but often time come out of something I may have read, seen in a movie or at a museum.

For instance, a few years back when they had a Magritte exhibition here in LA, I remember going to that and seeing in a display case of his personal possessions, a journal opened to a page of a . . what seemed to be a sketch of a merman (not his fish top and person body) but your more typically formed merman, being hung from a noose. You bet I went home and drew a version of that. . . I felt like I was randomly having a conversation with him on that.

Other characters, like of men skateboarding or partying, usually just come out from experiences, imagined stories or inspired by randomness.

Notorious Leaders Merman Republic Illustration by Michael C Hsiung
Snake Cultist Illustration by Michael C. Hsiung

– When did you start taking an interest in mythological creatures?

I’ve been interested in mythological creatures since I can remember. Chinese mythology and religion have lots of weird creatures, and then after learning about the Greek and Roman goddess . . I was hooked. I was super into Dungeons & Dragons as a kid as well as movies like Jason and the Argonauts, Sinbad and his Seven Voyages, and Clashes of the Titans.

When I was studying for an English degree in college, my favorite works were really those involving ancient beasts and battles – Iliad, BeoWulf . . My middle name Chia Ling actually is a type of Chinese mythological beast. . . dragon type of guardian creature. My mom told me its the Chinese Unicorn. I will not confirm nor deny that truth.

You’re on your way to creating your own illustrative world, was this your intention? How far do you see this going?

When I was drawing and “making art,” I never really had an intention of it going anywhere I guess. I found stuff I was into drawing like mermen and centaurs . . . which eventually just lead to me drawing my cast of characters and worlds. It was fun. I just found something I enjoy doing that people were interested in, and allowed for me to be creative.

I still can’t believe where its taken me . . I started out drawing to make some of my buddies laugh, after a hard evening of drinking… and then it slowly evolved.

– If you were to be friends with any of your illustrated characters, which illustration would it be? And why?

Probably the centaurs! You might have thought mermen, but the way I see mermen . . . they’ve got it rough. Always drunk, heart broken, and lost . . . the Centaur are like my mythological hippies. They explore, eat strange plants, and urinate where they please. I’d enjoy living with their wildness, freedom, and nonchalance.

– You and your sister are both very talented, is this a result of a creative upbringing?

Pearl is the most talented person I’ve ever known! When we were kids, we played a lot of stuff that I guess makes you use your imagination.

For instance, if we played Newspaper, we would draw and copy out of books and basically create our own fake publication. When we played cook, Pearl drew up food we didn’t have at the time so we could play with them. I guess it was just the part of the way we played. In those ways we were creative as kids, but we weren’t really brought up to be creative, until perhaps my folks realized Pearl had a serious artistic talent.

Man Bear Mushrooms Illustration by Michael C. Hsiung
Raining Men Illustration by Michael C. Hsiung

–  Do you have any interesting stories about artists you have met?

Gosh, that’s a tough one. I’m BLANKING on this one . . . raincheck, raincheck!!

– Would you rather be a merman fighting pirates, or the pirates fighting the merman? Who would win?

Unfortunately, I’d be a merman fighting pirates, but that being said . .. I believe the pirates would win. I mean. . .the mermen are extinct, and pirates are sort of still around. I know its a disappointing outlook.

– Do you have a particular question for any of the other featured artists?

Michael: For Bene Rohlmann – Centaurs vs. Mermen? Who wins?

Bene Rohlmann: Definitely Mermen!

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