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Yao Xiao is a China-born illustrator based in New York City. She creates artwork depicting a decadent visual world where internalized, unspoken sentiments take physical form in surreal situations.

She has been invited to work on the 20 Year Anniversary timeline for SXSW Interactive Festival, as well as impressing tens of thousands of fans with the cover artwork for pop diva Katy Perry’s 2014 hit single “Dark Horse.” She has created beautiful graphics for editorial print publications, pop music record covers, concert posters, and book covers.

What drives you to make art?

I’m driven by the effect that art has on people as emotional beings. Images help us connect and express values to one another. I’m happy being the medium and bridge between communicators.

How does your obsession with “absurd science fiction” influence you?

I have always been fascinated with magical realism (Murakami, Mo Yan, Calvino) and satirist dystopian science fiction, such as 1984 or Brave New World, and recent satires by George Saunders. I think these fictional pieces depict the absurd reality of our lives and materialize these realities in a way they can be physically seen or felt. These pieces influence me in a way that I too push the perception of reality, and also create new ways to see our surroundings.

You describe your fashion diary Daily Misfits as “showcasing unique, versatile, non-conforming queer fashion.” What inspired this project?

In the summer of 2014, I realized I was always sketching people in New York City who I never see featured on style blogs anywhere. “Style” or “fashion” as we know it has always presented a few types for us to identify with. But what if we never fit into any of these options? What if someone wanted to be boi and femme at the same time, but also did not want to conform to what we traditionally thought “tomboys” look like? What if they were alternative but did not fit into the mostly Caucasian “indie” punk rock scene? These were some questions that prompted me to start Daily Misfits. The more options and freedom we have, the better.

What is the relationship between your art and your activism?

My activism is the underlying core value for my art, but I do not always use my art as a tool to express my activism. I love integrating my ability to both verbalize and visualize concepts, while still having my art be a product that provides emotional value and communicates the rest of the things I find easier to express in visual art.

How do you push yourself through creative dry spells?

First thing I will do is actually let myself step away from my creative work, and let it “dry” for a bit. As a professional, “dry spells” are sometimes a signifier for the fact that you are burning out. While I’m away from my studio (if there are no pressing deadlines), I do all the things that I always wanted to do but have no time to do, or usually shy away from doing—travel, visit lots of museums, read books out loud in a park, drink a lot of coffee then see a lot of movies, walk around the city, have conversations with strangers, and go to sleep early and wake up naturally. Eventually, I wake up with new things in my head that weren’t there before. In short, to be creative, it’s very important for me to be able to have fun.

Tell us something that most people don’t know about you.

Perhaps this is common for artists—I wish people knew that I am constantly learning and evolving with the work I make. I am constantly looking at my work as both successful fabrication of what I currently know and ongoing work in progress. I am at no time content with or disappointed by what I’m making.

What are you working on now?

Right now I am working on putting out a new issue of my comic, Baopu. I am also making a collection of poetry comics, as well as collaborating with other creative friends on new ways to branch out into new fields from illustration: writing, animation, murals—who knows?

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