Chinese calligraphy, brutal honesty and litres of booze. Find out what makes Sydney artist Jason Phu tick

What can we say about an artist that speaks so blunty of himself? You just have to experience it yourself. Jason Phu is known for his use of poetic expressions in Chinese calligraphy to tell shit how it is.

They are gestures of funny moments or suggestions of a mood, frequently depicting a male, drunken and disorderly behaviour, dealing with his fishy reality. Fishy not meaning shifty, but rather like a fish out of water, consuming gallons of booze to try feel at home.

Jason Phu snail

Jason Phu explores his experience of multicultural Australia and the effect of dislocation from his Chinese and Vietnamese Cultural heritage.

HAPPY: Your paintings and prints come across so real and uncensored. Are these true reflections of your inner dialog from life experiences?

JASON: Short answer yes, except I probably wouldn’t see it as that dramatic as being ‘real’ and ‘true reflections of inner dialogue’. I think it’s important for artists to be truthful in a really frank way. I don’t really know how else to put it, maybe to be honest in a really Steven way (laughs).

HAPPY: When approaching a new piece or series, do you plan a topic or is the subject developed through your making process?

JASON: Mostly the bodies of work just appear in my head when I’m on a bus or on the toilet or something so I just jot down the idea and store the images in my head. I’ve got more bodies of work than I can make in a lifetime at the moment so I don’t bother making the work, I just wait ‘til someone offers me (or I apply) for a show then I just pick one of the works from the list. Also I’ve never had a studio so I can’t really make any new work cause I got no more storage.

Jason Phu art month

HAPPY: As funny and crude as some of your works are, they also reveal intelligence in observation of particular moments. Do you use humour as a mask for deeper questions on life?

JASON: I don’t think my art has any intelligence or power or wisdom but I can sometimes be humorous, so if I can achieve that and make someone laugh then that’s good, people who laugh are generally happier and when people are happier they tend to fuck things up less, I think that’s good. But also if someone does draw something more from my work intended or unintended then good for them.

Crab Guy
Crab Guy

HAPPY: Do you drink when you’re making art?

JASON: I tried that once when I was younger and stupider and still got my idea of being an artist from that shallow cliché of a young, arrogant, alcoholic male artist, but no it doesn’t work for me. Maybe it works for other people, I just get sleepy if I do it and then fall asleep. Art is a chore, drinking is fun, I don’t like to mix the two.

HAPPY: You have done projects overseas in China, Thailand and Canada, as well as here in Australia; have you noticed many different responses to your work when shown in these locations?

JASON: Not really in other countries, China is the one I was most worried about when showing my work. The response there from other artists has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive, I was quite worried that my work was a sort of bastardised and orientalised version of ‘Contemporary Chinese art’ and would seem silly, but yeah mostly it’s just curiosity about my different viewpoint to Chinese culture which they don’t often encounter.

Jason Phu alaska

HAPPY: When doing the performance piece ‘lots of jasonphus‘ did anyone play you better than you play yourself?

JASON: Yes most people played me better than me, the idea was that they would be better versions of me and then go on to do my chores like answering my emails or my laundry and eventually just make my art for me.

HAPPY: What advice do you give to any other Jason Phu wannabes?

JASON: Do you mean to people who want to be an artist? The art community is small and only when your peers are successful you’re successful so celebrate their wins, be nice to your peers, don’t talk shit about them. Jealousy will destroy your drive, help out your peers without hoping for anything in return, no one under 35 has enough life experience to make any relevant art so take your time, find a job outside of art you can do ‘til you’re 40, if you find a nugget of success in a way you’re doing art by all means pursue it.

But make room to do something drastically different and don’t be afraid to just drop it and find a new direction, cause if all you want is success and money there’s way easier jobs to find that sort of thing. Find people who are critical of your work and offer constructive advice, think about who you’re making your art for and why, but also don’t think about it, always consider that maybe what you make is completely irrelevant, but also don’t think about that too much, don’t worry about Instagram likes, listen to people, don’t listen to people, go for a walk in a park, read a book, eat fruit.

HAPPY: Where to next for you and your practice?

JASON: I’m gonna take a break and work in a kitchen on a cruise ship for a few months, it will probably be shit but I’ve romanticised the idea of doing it for too long so I might as well do it.

I like bodysurfing I feel as free as a fish. Although the rash on my forhead stings.
I like bodysurfing I feel as free as a fish. Although the rash on my forehead stings.