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A conversation with artist Jam Dong

Isabel Williams
Written By
Isabel Williams
A conversation with artist Jam Dong
Artwork by Jam Dong

What is your relationship with the field of science and why do you feel drawn to bring it to life through art?

I like science, especially biology and medicine because life is so diverse and amazing. If not being an illustrator, I might try to be a zoologist or biologist. I have so much fun working with science. I think it is my way of connecting with people. Through illustration, I’m able to visualise what I feel about the world and if it sparks someone's interest in science, I would more than be happy.

In what ways do you think art enhances people's understanding and experience of science?

The visualisation of science simplified it and made it easier to understand by normal people, which will help the information and knowledge reach a larger audience.

Art may not be as accurate as diagrams in textbooks, but it’s much more fun. So it catches people’s attention and makes them more willing to learn about it.

Even in microscopic scenes, you add human-like characters into your work. What effect do you hope this has on viewers?

A microscopic scene is turning abstract and very different from our daily life as it has been zoomed in for many times. So, if I put a human-like figure in the environment, it would bring a drastic visual contrast. Also, a human-like character would make viewers more attached, as if they have entered the microscopic world to explore by themselves. I like placing a character in a strange environment because it opens up possibilities for narrative.

What are the most important questions you ask yourself when you approach a new piece of work?

First of all, is it fun? Am I enjoying doing it? I think an interesting piece of work tells stories. Viewers could read their understanding from it and interpret it in their own way instead of being told a well-finished story. They may think, what’s happening there? And that’s what I think makes a fun piece.

Secondly, is it original? Influenced by nostalgic posters, I started exploring and experimenting with this old diagram-like style. I use materials and textures to imitate traditional printing techniques, combined with digitally drawn graphics. Unlike traditional posters that usually illustrate a concrete scene, I will abstract the scene and make it more graphical. This combination of traditional and digital makes my work stand out and be recognisable by people.

In a world where science is becoming more polarising and political, what positive impact do you think art can have on these conversations?

More and more scientific institutions have begun to cooperate with artists to visualise scientific knowledge so that more ordinary people can easily obtain or understand it. Whether it's illustrations in handout pamphlets or animated medical videos on YouTube, art has played a vital role in popularising scientific knowledge. I think a lot of misunderstanding comes from unequal information. This is not to say that everyone has to be an expert to make good judgments about information, but more collaboration between art and science can spread knowledge more widely instead of in the hands of a few.

Your pieces are often a mix of real-world textures and paintings. In our increasingly digitised period of art-making, what is the value in continuing with analogue techniques when they often will end up being presented through digital channels?

As I mentioned earlier, my creative process is a combination of traditional and digital. I continue to get inspiration from analogue techniques and nostalgic posters. They also deeply influence my style. I always go back to paper and pencil whenever I feel out of inspiration. I think the traditional painting process is the source, and all the styles we see now, whether analogue or digital, can be traced back to it. So even though social media has become the main venue for art presentations, traditional techniques still play an important role.