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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Artist Hong Yi Creates Conventional Portraits Using Unconventional Methods

Samantha Katzman |
April 19, 2012 | 6:25 p.m. PDT



The art of portraiture has been around for thousands of years. But modern artists are getting more and more creative with their execution of this age-old art form through use of different materials, technology and ideas. 


The earliest surviving portraits survived the deserts of Egypt, and depicted not royalty, but the faces of the dead. Oil paintings, drawing and sculpture was been the primary medium for portraiture until the introduction of photography. 

Throughout history, these methods dominated the art world and the world of portraiture. Now, thinking more outside the box, artists are putting down the camera, pencil and paintbrush and picking up different objects: coffee cups, sunflowers, socks and basketballs.  

Artist Hong Yi is taking creativity to a new level, and gaining attention from people around the world. 

An artist and architect based out of Shanghai, she recently created a portrait of Chinese director Zhang YimouHon (Memoirs of a Geisha, House of Flying Daggers) using black grey and white socks. Yi gathered a following after she made a portrait of Taiwanese singer/songwriter Jay Chou using Nescafe coffee ring stains and one of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei out of 100,000 sunflower seeds. 

When asked her inspiration, Yi said,  “When I first moved to Shanghai, I stumbled upon an old residential alleyway and saw bamboo sticks poking out of windows with laundry hanging onto them, waving in the air. To me, that was incredibly beautiful. And the amazing thing is seeing something so traditional in a modern, pumping city like Shanghai.“

Her YouTube channel sprung her to fame, making appearances on CNN, ABC, and other media around the world. Many in the US loved her portrait of Justin Beiber made out of gochujang, Korean chili paste. 

Yi’s exploration of unconventional materials and methods is opening up the minds of artists around the globe such as Irina Werning, Christina Otero, Juan Francisco Casas and Natalie Irish. 


Reach reporter Samantha Katzman here. 



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