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An Interview with Lin Hsinyen

I feel like a kid in a slightly demented candy store whenever I look at Lin Hsinyen's work. Drawing inspiration from outsider art and pop surrealism, Lin Hsinyen creates candy apple visuals that are as sweet as they are unnerving. Half island of misfit toys and half Švankmajer's Alice, it's no surprise that Lin (also known by the name Only Two) has done numerous collaborative exhibits with toymakers and doll artists.

Lin's work is a far cry from typical haunted Victorian dolls stuff, though. Instead, she uses explosive color end excessive ornamentation to convey her creepy-cute sentiments. Her art feels joyful despite its sometimes dark subject matter. At first glance, her piece "Daisy Party" looks celebratory, a picture-perfect gathering of flower friends, straight out of a children's book. Look again and you'll find that the guests at this tea party are actually in distress, gazing worriedly at the doll head that they're being served. Some of her work, like her Shy Little Farm series, is more lighthearted, displaying her versatility as an illustrator, but it's pieces like "Daisy Party" that really represent the heart and soul of Only Two.

Combining Rococo ornamentalism with midcentury kitsch and a healthy dose of sugar-coated spookiness, Only Two is an apt name because Lin's art is all about contrasts and duality-- the contrast between childlike imagery and adult themes, the duality of such a vibrant color palette and a heavy, morbid undercurrent. Her logo is the perfect example of this: a pigtail-clad girl whose hair is littered with clips, wearing a pink puff-sleeved dress, holds an apple-cheeked doll whose face is a little too joyful to be comforting. The girl stares blankly, just past the viewer as though she's still shell-shocked that she's on display. It calls to mind figures at a wax museum or overly-posed, vintage photos of small children-- things that toe the line between lifelike and lifeless. It is in this beautiful purgatory that Lin truly thrives.

Who are your inspirations?

My favorite artists, Mark Ryden and Henry Darger. My unique friends.

How did you develop your artistic style?

I've always loved dolls and fairy tales, ever since I was a little girl. So those became the main themes of my paintings. I feel very excited when I find a vintage doll or a toy that inspired me. And I make up stories for them. Also, I like to add a little black humor into my works. I think that’s my personality-- colorful, cute, but with some darkly funny details. These are the concepts I want to maintain.

What’s been the most transformative experience of your life?

My study experience in Japan. I studied illustration and graduated from the Tokyo Design Academy. My school was very close to Harajuku. So I had many chances explore their street fashion and subcultures. I liked going to bookstores or cute little shops after school. There was no smart phone at that time. So the environment was more important. I think the memories of that time became the basis for my later creations.

I notice that you’ve done several collaborations with other artists to make dolls and figurines, etc. I was wondering if you could talk a bit about what that process was like?

The good thing about Internet is that I can finish all my work from home. Through social media platforms like Instagram, I can connect with people who like my style from all around the world, and collaborate with people. I am lucky to have some long-term creative partners, even though we live in different places and probably will never meet in person. But we communicate online and through mail and pictures. I can complete projects that I couldn’t do by myself. Also, recently I decided that I want to concentrate on painting more, so I prefer to do more collaborations than making products by myself now.

What work are you most proud of?

I feel like I'm always in love with the project I’m currently working on. Now, I’m doing a series called “ little shops." It's already taken me more then two years (I draw this series while I have free time). Now I have about 15 featured shops. I want to publish a zine about them in the near future.

How do you think your work will change in the future?

In terms of future plans, I would like to continue working as an independent artist.

My style changes in different stages of life. I’m looking forward to find out what’s next too!

How does your identity as a woman inform your work?

I am a woman who has a little girl inside her heart that never grew up. I stay curious and have sense of humor.

Your work seems very nostalgic to me. What’s your favorite memory from your childhood?

My mom reading me bedtime stories. She bought me a lot of picture books when I was little and encourages me to draw. I love her!


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