Felicia Chiao‘s work is some of the most satisfying art on the internet. An Industrial Designer based in San Francisco (I had assumed her background would be architecture/landscape design), she clearly has an amazing grasp of the mathematical principles that create an aesthetically-pleasing piece. Her work is so beautiful and rigid, at once; she has achieved that somewhat legendary restraint of typically untamed but wonderful things: blossoming flowers, wild plants, light, water, and creatures of all shapes and sizes. If I tried to depict any of these subjects it would be only chaos, but Chiao manages to hint at the possibility of an imminent burst without ever quite letting it happen, so it remains fixed in this deeply-enjoyable orderly tension.
I think, in part, beyond the use of precise geometry and implemented principles of design (e.g. symmetry), this is achieved by a great control and balance in her use of space. The scenes in Chiao’s work are how I would like to imagine my bedroom could ever look if I would part with any of my clutter… She seems to have that natural aptitude so many people have for learning how to minimally furnish an otherwise bare interior, so it isn’t overwhelming and feels spacious, light, and airy.
I think the resulting mood of these scenes is lovely: they always feel so tranquil but the use of supernatural elements and a few more Surrealist tendencies add a sense of enchantment, dreaming, and wonder . She tends to imply a sense of passivity and waiting without suggesting boredom, and the overall images tend, instead, to just feel very pleasantly still. I love the black worm-like creatures that resurface in multiple pieces (elsewhere interpreted as a soul) – for me, these come across as surreal-but-harmless companions or pets, that add a darkness to the scenes which somehow just hangs back from being threatening, and instead just feels a little strange in a curious way. The overall tone never strays far from pensiveness, which can be read as a sort of peaceful resistance to any forces feeling more seriously concerning.
This emotionlessness has often been drawn upon to interpret Chiao’s ‘anonymous protagonist’ as robotic or ‘humanoid’, which I think is interesting. I personally feel that what’s happening here is Chiao is really effectively getting across a personal sense of of detachment, in an often vaguely humorous and very poetic way. I absolutely love her profile picture on most social platforms (the picture above) not just because I’ve been in that position many a time (coffee cup included) but because I feel like it’s great at conveying emotional exhaustion: flicking through all these possible introspective questions about how you’re really feeling and getting to a point where you just lay on the floor with no idea and no clarity (the uncomfortable soul is even in conflict with the happy heart). I wonder if this particular picture hints at social media – the whole scene feels very similar, for me, to a too-long scrolling sesh seeing face after face citing feelings and events and opinions but which never achieve connection or communication and only really result in me being depleted, empty, and very confused.
Some of her work seems to address her mental states a bit more directly. I particularly love the pieces that make me wonder if her presentation of non-distinct rooms indicate compartments of self, of mind, or of personality. The piece above, for example, really reminds me of one of my favourite pieces of Outsider Art – ‘The Maze’, by William Kurelek, that shows the compartments of the artist’s mind inside his cracked-open skull (so a little more obviously heavy).
I’m also very into the rude, but beloved, pigeon that appears as a consistent motif and the bewildered-looking cat. Equally, of course – the uninterrupted inclusion of caffeine.