Frenzied Emotions Swirl Through Changyu Zou’s Poetry-Inspired Illustrations

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“Starry Bird 7.” All images © Changyu Zou, shared with permission

Tinged with magic and metaphor, the energetic illustrations by Savannah-based Chinese artist Changyu Zou are emotionally candid and reflect her reactions to verse. “I think poetry uses the most beautiful words to express what’s most real in the poet’s heart. Although these words sometimes are very abstract and not easy to understand, they can give me unlimited imagination,” she says, sharing that she tends to pull a few terms or phrases from a poem and then use those as the basis for her drawings.

Zou strives for an interplay between the original text and her visual language, which often relies on a feverish mishmash of figures and symbols. The mixed-media illustrations—she works with both digital and analog materials, including gouache, acrylics, crayons, colored pencils, and sometimes collaged details—draw directly from the Misty Poets, a tradition that emerged in defiance of the restrictive Cultural Revolution of 20th-century China and is characterized by its obscure haziness. This mysterious and indeterminate quality arises in Zou’s works as birds, human hands, cars, houses, and other objects appear to whirl in chaotic motion.

In addition to the Misty Poets, the illustrator mentions Kahlil Gibran, Haizi, and Rabindranath Tagore as influences. One line of Tagore’s “Starry Bird” reads “light in my heart the evening star of rest and then let the night whisper to me of love” and inspired Zou’s series by the same name. ” Because Tagore’s poetry expresses the harmony of life and nature, I chose elements for these to represent humans, such as cars and houses, and also elements that symbolize nature, such as birds,” she shares. “They are together on a planetary ring, expressing a state of harmony and love.”

Zou is preparing for a solo exhibition this fall, so keep an eye on her Instagram for news about that show and other projects. (via Creative Boom)


“Starry Bird 1”

“Plan Adviser 1”

“The World Remade”

“Starry Bird 6”

“Starry Bird 4”

“Plan Adviser 2”

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