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Artist Spotlight: Sinjin Li

Sinjin Li is an Essex based artist whose work focuses on science fiction, fantasy and folklore.

Sinjin Li, is a pseudonym used by illustrator, designer and illustration agent Sing Yun Lee, who is based in Essex.They are drawn to ideas found in science fiction, fantasy and folklore, and have created illustrations and designs for subject matter including cultural heritage and belief, food, and poetry among others.

How has your lived experience shaped your practice?
In a very practical sense, my creative practice lives alongside my professional career as an illustration agent, which is my full-time job. They’re connected, but devoting time and energy to each shapes my life in a very significant way.

My parents emigrated to Britain from Hong Kong, I was born in North Wales and am now in Essex. I like to think I live proudly in of all parts of my cultural background – inherited and adopted – though I am always learning more about all of them, all the time, all at once. The most influential thread that flows through all of them and into me, I think, is a tradition of storytelling and myth.

What are some of your biggest influences and motivations in your work? What issues are you passionate about working on?

I love art that is about art. Illustration and the work of other illustrators is my primary inspiration. The deep satisfaction from seeing incredible examples of this art form and learning about it will never wane. There are too many to mention, but James Jean, Katsuhiro Otomo, Moebius and Eyvind Earle are artists whose work I frequently look up to.

 At the moment I mostly work traditionally, using drawing, painting and collage techniques, and whether the work is going well or badly, the tactile experience of making a physical piece – with its highs and lows – is a constant driver.

How does a focus on folklore feed into your work?
There are certain themes that interest me creatively – shape-shifting, time slip, estrangement, gateways between worlds – that keep drawing me back to folklore, fairytale and science fiction because they are most thought about there. I like finding symbolic visual cues that contain these ideas, and the idea of the text, or art, as a surface.

Aesthetically, I am easily seduced by the ideological and romantic beauty of figures such as knights and warriors. The exhibition ‘The Legend of King Arthur: A Pre-Raphaelite Love Story’ at the William Morris Gallery was a highlight last year.

Where are you based and what excites you about the creative community around you?
I’m based in Essex. The creative community, or communities, I feel connected to are not rooted in this location. That being said, I did move here in order to live closer to my friend Katie, whose influence plays a vital role in my learning and thinking, and also to be nearer to Suffolk, which is a very inspirational place for me. 

Outside of this, I am very fortunate that most of my friendships involve sharing of our creative practices, influences and ideas across different disciplines. I also come from a family where the desire to strive for our creative ambitions, sometimes against the practicalities of life, has gripped each of us. My parents are professional cooks, and my mum is a food writer and photographer. My brother is a film director and my sister-in-law founded and runs a creative agency. All our respective creative practices are at the centre of all our lives, and our work motivates us, drives us and shapes us. It can be quite intense, but it’s a journey and experience that we share.

I think what is exciting about this proximity to other artists and creative personalities is that it offers both a sympathetic energy and a dynamic one. It pushes you to forge your own artistic identity, to continue to refine, improve and question it.

See more of Sinjin’s work on their website

TopSoil: gardening as radical queer resistance Stammering in the intersections Beyond the pole: cultivating community and destigmatising sex work What is Abolition? What is Settler Colonialism? The Revolution is in 808 What is Green Colonialism? The Black women in my life who bring me joy Exploring mixed musical heritage in collective healing and solidarity What occupying a University building taught me about life