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On Simplicity, Adaptability and Animal Interactions, with Annie “Lemonni” Chen

Photo via Annie “Lemonni” Chen

The art work of Annie “Lemonni” Chen is almost impossibly optimistic, timeless and positively inspiring – which is probably why we want to cover our selves and spaces with it. A total possibility, since the local multidisciplinary artist has so far worked on everything from textiles and tableware to socks, sweatshirts and snowboards!

For her upcoming show at Slice of Life Gallery, Wild Tales (June 6-9th) though, Chen will be showing a series of new paintings inviting viewers to “Delve into a world where creatures and landscape converge in a symphony of colours & emotions.” Do yourself a favour by guaranteeing your journey into Chen’s vibrant universe by RSVP-ing in advance here, and then dip your toe in by reading our interview below…

Your art often features patterns made from animal shapes or depicting playful interactions between humans and animals. How do you go about translating these intricate relationships into abstract forms and shapes in your work? Please walk us through your creative process.

Just like any other creative processes, there’s a lot of brainstorming in the early stage. This usually involves writing down keywords, searching for real-life photos of the subjects, and sketching out ideas. I then try to simplify the forms and shapes while maintaining the main characteristics of the subjects. I always tell people that simplicity is not necessarily easier to achieve. It can be challenging to use the bare minimum to create something that connects with viewers and tells a story.

Once I’m happy with my sketches, I either digitize them and work on my computer, or start refining my paintings/drawings in another sketchbook, depending on the specific piece I’m creating and what medium it is.

Do you have pets? If so, what kind of animals are they and what are their names?

Yes, I have two rescued dogs: Sammy, a nine-year-old boy from southern California; and Emma, a seven-year-old girl from Taiwan. I don’t have kids so they’re basically my babies.

If you could realistically share a home / make a pet of any creature in the animal kingdom, which creature would you bring into your family?

It’s so hard to pick just one! But if I have to, I’d probably choose sea otters. They’re so cute and intelligent, and so therapeutic to look at.

You describe your style as whimsical and reminiscent of the 60s, often with a retro palette. How do you think this aesthetic connects with contemporary audiences, and what do you believe it communicates about nature and animals?

I love everything from fashion and industrial design to graphic design from that era, even though I was born in the 80s. I believe the 60s style is timeless. Look at the furniture industry; you can easily find mid-century-inspired pieces everywhere, so it’s still something people appreciate nowadays.

I think the retro palette brings a sense of nostalgia and charm that resonates with contemporary audiences. It symbolizes a return to simpler times and a celebration of the beauty and innocence of the natural world.

‘Lemonni’ (the name of your art studio, but also a sort of ‘alter ego’) is a fusion of Eastern and Western influences, reflecting your Taiwanese roots and Canadian upbringing. What does the name mean?

The name “Lemonni” is actually made-up, so it doesn’t have a special meaning other than being close to what my mom used to call me when I was little (she called me “ni ni”). I started using the name as my online identity when I was at UBC, so it became natural to me to adopt it as my studio name. I didn’t want to use “Annie Chen” because Chen is a very common last name. It would’ve been difficult to find my business on a search engine with that name. So, while it’s not a romantic reason, it is a practical one for using the name “Lemonni.”

How do these diverse cultural backgrounds manifest in your art, and how do they influence your artistic vision and approach?

I think the journey of how I pursue my creative career itself is a manifestation of the fusion of two cultures. Growing up, I was encouraged to excel academically with the goal of becoming a doctor one day, which is probably the number one wish of most Taiwanese parents. This path required a lot of discipline and control. However, my perspective changed when I spent some time working in London after university. I fell in love with the art and design scene there, and decided that I wanted to pursue a creative career. Although I never went through formal art training, I believe my experiences and upbringing have allowed me to approach art in a non-traditional sense. They not only shape my aesthetics and philosophy behind every piece of work, but also taught me to be persistent in my creative journey.

Your journey to establishing Lemonni involved a significant career shift and exploration of your passion for design. Can you share how this transformative period influenced your art style and the development of your studio?

I studied science and psychology in my undergrad, and then I pursued a master’s degree in publishing. I believe my skill sets from mathematics and graphic design have made me meticulous about some of my works, particularly those that involve perfect lines and shapes. My knowledge from these various fields has definitely helped me develop my studio in a more holistic way.

Making the decision to shift careers helped me realize that I am adaptable and resilient enough to navigate the challenges of running a freelance business. Even now, 10 years after I established my studio, I still feel the need to adapt to the new landscape brought upon by AI technology. This is why I might be going through another transformative period at the moment with my exploration of paintings.

Your first solo show is coming up at Slice of Life next month (June 6-9th). Why Slice? What is it about this gallery that spoke to you and felt like the right fit for your art?

Someone suggested Slice to me since I’m a newbie in the fine art world, so I went ahead with the application last year and I got in. Slice is a great organization that supports emerging artists and artists with diverse backgrounds, so it just makes sense to me to have my first show there. The gallery is filled with good vibes and is very down to earth, which is super helpful because having your first solo show could be very intimidating!

The opening night reception for Wild Tales is happening at Slice of Life Gallery on Thursday, June 6th, from 7-11pm. The show continues over the weekend, until Sunday, June 9th.

Slice of Life Gallery & Studios
Neighbourhood: East Vancouver
1636 Venables St.

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