With only a blue ballpoint pen, Dadu Shin creates illustrations dripping with weirdness

The most impressive and intriguing element of illustrator Dadu Shin’s recent work is how he creates such a palpable sense of strangeness with such understated imagery. A single rain-stained window, a pair of eyes peering over a bowl of noodles and a head back, a smoking cigarette clutched between their fingers. Dadu explains that this creation of an atmosphere of unease is very useful. “The simple answer is that I just like work that has an eerie, melancholic aesthetic…it matches my view of myself.” And the longer answer, shares the illustrator, “It’s both an aesthetic choice and a representation of how I’ve been thinking about things lately. The world may be pretty and beautiful and wholesome, but the world is also most certainly disturbing and strange.

After attending the Rhode Island School of Design and majoring in illustration, Dadu first thought that illustration was a field with a lot of scope and accessibility. However, after graduating, Dadu felt that editorial illustration was the only “viable” path open to him. After working in editorial for more than ten years – and feeling like I had “illustrated someone else’s idea, someone else’s feelings and someone else’s point of view” another” – the illustrator was inspired by “doing work that comes from me and me alone”. Now focusing on themes much closer to himself and his identity, Dadu’s work has recently explored such diverse and complicated things as his culture, upbringing, age, social life and, significantly, his Asian-American heritage.

These questions of identity and heritage are brilliantly explored in his piece Mother land. The close-up depiction of a sweat-covered face possesses an eerie energy, subtly conveying feelings of unease and discomfort through its composition and imagery. Intended to encapsulate Dadu’s personal feelings of uncertainty, the piece is representative of “Dadu’s anxiety over my inability to speak Korean fluently”. “When I was younger, I remember going to Korea and feeling the confusion of feeling like an outsider in a place full of ‘my people,'” Dadu shares. “Like many other children of immigrants, I feel a little embarrassed to be one of the first in my family tree not to be fluent in the language of the ‘mother country’.”

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