Some people are born with natural artistic abilities, and Brooklyn-based painter Yu Chun “Pony” Ma is no exception. Born and raised in Taipei City, Taiwan, Pony began drawing at age 5 and had created his own comic books by the second grade. After graduating college, Pony moved to New York City and, through a series of events, rediscovered his love of art. He found himself studying Illustration at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Since FIT he’s developed incredible skills in acrylics and found his own influence and style in pop surrealism. He has been mentored by artists Greg “CRAOLA” Simkins and Bob Dob. See Pony’s work below and find out more about his inspiration and process.
Tell us about your background and when you started creating art.
I was born in Taipei City, Taiwan. I started doing art since I had memories. I remember art class and gym class were the only two classes I was interested in at the school. I was always the person when teachers needed help with decorating the classrooms; I loved doing that because I could have a right reason to skip the noon nap time after lunch. At home, I’d draw my own manga after I finished the homework until my mom yelled at me and dragged me to bed….pretty much every night.
When I was in my junior high school year, I spent a lot of time drawing, playing basketball (thanks to MJ) and playing video games instead of studying. Therefore, I failed the exam to get in any “good” high schools (the exam determined what school you were eligible to go to. Good schools required higher score to get in). I could only go to a vocational school. So I told my parents that I wanted to study art because that was the only major I was interested in. However, this thought got shut down by my parents because they thought I needed to learn a skill that could help me get a job in the future. Art for them wasn’t a job, it was more like a hobby (it’s a really common thought in traditional Chinese culture). So…I ended up studying Electronic Engineering for 8 years until I received my bachelor degree even though I had no interest and had no idea what I was studying for. During those 8 years, I’d started gaining interest in playing music. So I’d spent a lot of time practicing my guitar skills, playing with bands and dreaming about touring the word. The only thing I didn’t think about and didn’t do was art. It was something that wasn’t familiar to me anymore.
In 2007, I moved to New York and had been studying English at a language school for 2 years. I then decided to go back to college in order to get a longer period for my I-20 (a document for international students). While I was wondering what major I should study (again, I didn’t think about art at all ), one of my friends/ band mates, Jack, saw my poorly/childish doodles I did in my language class. He then suggested me I should pursue an art degree. I thought, “Oh yeah I used to draw when I was a kid, so why not? At least this is something that doesn’t sound new to me.” So I went to the Fashion Institute of Technology to study Illustration and my door for art has been re-opened ever since.
Did you have any major sources of inspiration when you were young and green behind the ears?
Japanese manga! We didn’t have any American comic books in Taiwan back when I was a kid (as far as I know). I was a huge fan of Dragon Ball; I would create my own characters and stories based on the manga. My dad would take me to the manga supply store and bought me the pen, G-nib, ink and the specific papers those Japanese manga artists used. The other artist who influenced me a lot is Ah Tui (you can watch his video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hmEcLrfBuwU Remember to turn on the English subtitles). He is a Taiwanese sci-fi comic book artist. His has this dark, funny, weird, kind of like Moebius style in his comics, but crazier and busier in each panel. Reading his comic books is like solving a puzzle and I could always find something new every time I read it.
What inspires your work now?
After I moved to New York, I started learning all the big names in the art world. I started to try different styles and mediums in order to find my own direction/style. At the end of day, I was so into surrealism/pop surrealism. I love how those artists think outside the box. So I’ve spent some time studying it and trying to find my own inspiration in order to be on the right path. For me, everything could be an inspiration, the weather, the smell, the conversation with friends etc. Sometimes my inspiration comes from my dreams (I even have a notebook filled with the dreams I had). As for now, I’m interested in mixing traditional Chinese culture (or mythology) with western pop culture.
Does living in NYC influence your work? In what ways?
Yes! whenever there is an exhibit tour, New York is always one of the stops. I also get to see a lot of my heroes’ work in person at many galleries in New York. Also, the diversity in New York is huge; different cultures, races, religions etc.. It seems I can never stop learning new things in New York. There is so much to explore and new things also keep coming in…so get busy!
Can you tell us about your process?
Well, I normally have a basic concept/ blueprint in my mind first, then I sketch it out on my sketchbook. I spent quite amount of time looking for reference photos at this stage as well. After I finish the sketch, I scan the drawing and bring it into Photoshop. I’d then retrace the drawing in Photoshop to clean out the messy pencil lines. At this stage, sometime I add/ delete elements, work on the composition (enlarge, rotate, move around objects etc.). Once I’m satisfied on the final, I project the drawing on a primed surface (linen or wood panel) and trace it. Then I’ll start putting colors on the top of the drawing. Once I finish the painting, I varnish it in order to give it a perfect protection.
Are you creating/working on anything now?
Yes! I’m currently working on my Bazhen series. It’s a series paintings based on the meals served at Manchu Han Imperial Feast during the Qing dynasty (1644-1912) in Chinese history. I’ve finished one and still have three more to go!! Each painting represents different delicacies. I’ve also created my own little story in this series which I’m not going to reveal yet (for example, why is there a Santa Claus hat?). I’m also working on a commission painting for a friend of mine.
Where can we find your work?
Well, most of my work can be seen on my website: www.ponymaart.com
You can also find me on Instagram: @ponyhorsema
If you would like to have a studio visit, you can either contact me or my studio www.chashama.org My studio is located at Brooklyn Army Terminal. I normally participate in the open studio every year (usually in Oct.).