Born in Lille and after graduating in Fine Arts with a specialization in Space Design in Valenciennes, Sophie Ung moved to Brussels where she enrolled to study Illustration at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. With her pencils and markers, she creates vivid images that merge impressions of almost everything around her – conversations, travels, everyday life, childhood and last but not least, her Cambodian heritage through her father's line. Sophie's illustrations and her knowledge of space design master this colourful cultural mix. In Bulgaria, she has already graced the covers of two books from the catalog of the СОНМ publishing house - "The Material Life" by Marguerite Duras and "The Mindless" by Andre Bayon. And although she was born in France, she describes herself as "a 90's Asian artist who eats biscuits and is in love with patterns and cute colorful objects". We find her in Brussels - "not far from Boris (Pramatarov)", with whom they are partners in art and in life. They are currently putting the finishing touches on their new place, which will soon open as a tattoo studio and illustration gallery. "Crazy but amazing adventure!", as Sophie herself tells us.
Where were the signs in your childhood that told you that creativity would be the path you would take?
I loved watching my brother draw. He could reproduce on a piece of paper any image I demanded. I think he was really the one who made me want to pick up my pencils and start drawing, creating and telling stories through illustrations.
Which one is the creative area in which you encounter the greatest challenge and which you find the easiest for you? And what gives you the greatest pleasure?
Right now, the biggest challenge is to find the golden mean between my illustrations and the tattoo world. My works are full of colors and patterns. With tattoos, I need to be able to create a strong image without a lot of detail and make it meaningful to the viewer. Music gives me great pleasure. I love classical music. I studied violin for 20 years. It evokes many emotions.
What materials and techniques you do prefer for work?
I love to draw on paper with my markers and colorful pencils.
The theme of our current issue is dedicated to contemporary cultural influences from the Far East. You have a connection to Cambodia on your father's side. How does that shape you as a creator?
My father and I have a very strong bond. He educated me… the Asian way. He told me stories. He told me stories, sang me songs. All these memories (good or bad) from my childhood today allow me to create my illustrations.
Your works bear shades of your mixed background. Why is it important for you to insert the theme of identity and what does that give you?
There are many rtists touch on the theme of identity. There is one story that makes me smile. When I was little, my dad told me: "I named you Sophie, because being a person of mixed race, you start life with a handicap". Identity is questionable... Is it wrong to be different? Who am I? How do others see me? Identity is a source of questioning. What my dad told me didn't translate well into my daily life, but I turned it into my phrase of strength.
What is most characteristic of Cambodia's visual language?
Religion is very present in Cambodian art and it is especially reflected in many temples and sculptures.
What are the most common misconceptions about the country that you have come across?
I know many "clichés" about my own country or my own "origin" than others.
And which of this culture impresses and respects you the most?
I respect all cultures. They have their own history and identity.
Do you know an interesting local ritual or custom that is worth learning about?
One ritual that I respect and do every year with my dad is the Chinese New Year offering. When I was little, I loved watching him to cook for the spirits living in our house. The smell of the dishes take over the house. My dad is a wonderful chef. It was very difficult to resist and not eat the food of the spirits
The bright mix of colors and patterns is very characteristic of your works. What can this tell us about you?
Drawing patterns and repeating elements has become a real obsession. There's something therapeutic about repeating shapes by hand so they look almost mechanical.
Tell us about some of the most exciting topics or projects you've worked on?
Two years ago, the Flemish Royal Theater contacted me to do a mural that would illustrate interviews with people from the neighborhood (a former homeless, a social worker, a transgender prostitute, a musician…). They all had moving and touching stories. They were all in search of their identity. The theme I would like to explore in my work now is "collecting" or the accumulation of objects. It's part of my daily life.
What are your work rituals? Describe a creative day or period for us.
I don’t really have rituals, but many things inspire me and give me a strong desire to paint. I feed on everything available. I'm inspired by my family, friends, my cat Kobokoo my cat, characters from pop culture, the wallpapers on the wall, colors of a blooming garden, the pattern of a summer dress, tattoos, from my dad's kitchen, the carelessness of my nephews, a book or newspaper article, from a Chinese tale, a smile from my little sister, a call from my mother.
Where can a person most often find you and what are your "islands" for recharging? When I don’t draw, I’m in my studio to tattoo. Or to promenade around the city.
When I'm not painting, I'm in the studio tattooing. Or I wander around the city. I love spending time with my nephews in the city since my childhood. They give me the strength to go on when I'm lost.
Are there artists from the Far East whose work you follow with interest and who, in your opinion, create interesting new trends in visual art?