Thu, Mar 18, 2010 - Page 13 News List

Eye wide open

Multi-genre artist Mr Eyeball aims to help people answer their everyday existential dilemmas

By Catherine Shu  /  STAFF REPORTER

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Mr Eyeball casts a steady, unwavering gaze on the human condition — and not just because he has no eyelids.

In the past eight years the prolific artist has worked in multiple arenas — including directing, choreography, writing, singing, acting, illustration and fine art — and performed in England, Japan, the US and China. Mr Eyeball’s resume includes a one-man (or one-eye) exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei (台北當代藝術館), crossover projects with Converse and Swatch and a line of T-shirts, tote bags and toys that are available at Red House Theater (紅樓劇場). His published work ranges from art books to an illustrated series called Xiang Tai Duo (想太多, or “think too much”), which is regularly excerpted in Apple Daily. In his spare time, Mr Eyeball serves as stylist to the stars; pop singers Big S (大S), otherwise known as Barbie Hsu (徐熙媛), and Little S (小S), otherwise known as Dee Hsu (徐熙娣), and Ricky Hsiao (蕭煌奇) have worn his outrageous creations in performances or on the red carpet.

The anthropomorphized organ is the brainchild of Chen Po-wei (陳柏維), a former theater set and costume designer who launched the Mr Eyeball brand in 2002.

Mr Eyeball’s art has shifted along with Chen’s interests and target audience. In the beginning, Chen says, his approach was much darker and Mr Eyeball worked primarily in performance art, drawing on Chen’s theatrical background. His first book, Eyeball Loves the Globe, was filled with photographs of dark scenarios that looked like Hieronymus Bosch-Salvador Dali-Cindy Sherman mash-ups.

But Mr Eyeball has since lightened up. The Xiang Tai Duo series has brightly colored illustrations of children romping in animal costumes; Mr Eyeball now gears much of his work toward a younger audience, appearing at comic conventions and doing outreach work at elementary schools impacted by Typhoon Morakot.

Mr Eyeball’s artistic output, however, continues to explore the same themes. The kids in the Xiang Tai Duo series pose questions like “what is the meaning of existence?” to readers. On Mr Eyeball’s latest album, This World (這個世界), he sings about the transcendence of happiness. In the end, Mr Eyeball just wants people to turn their gaze inwards, says Chen, and contemplate life’s little existentialist questions.

Taipei Times: Mr Eyeball can come across as a little scary and a lot of your past work has mixed cuteness with dark elements, but ultimately it seems like he has a very idealistic, upbeat approach to life.

Chen Po-wei: When I first started out, my style was a lot more direct, but the message was the same, that life can be happy and colorful, but at the same time is often difficult and filled with sorrow. On my first album cover there was a drawing of Mr Eyeball looking cheerful and happy, but in the back illustration he’s chopped his arms off. The songs on that record were like that: half were happy and half were darker. The message was that sadness doesn’t mean that good times won’t come again and happiness doesn’t mean everything will always work out.

The new album, This World, is different in tone but it covers the same themes. There is a photo of Mr Eyeball on the front and of me without the mask on the back, but most people don’t know it’s me, because I don’t go out in public often as myself. But this picture of me looks a little blue, both literally in the color and in the feeling it portrays. I think that’s more like how I am in private, because I’m more introverted. The front cover, however, is when I wear the Mr Eyeball mask and become this character. I’m livelier and more energetic. This World is subtler than my earlier work, but the message is always that no matter how you feel at the moment, happiness and sadness are both part of the same universe and you have to face it.

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