Paul Kang’s story is not one of your typical “starving artist”. Despite the stigmas associated with growing up in an Asian household, he lived a comfortable life with overwhelming support for his artwork from his friends and family. Kang’s parents put him in the best art schools in the area to help hone his craft. However, the abundant praise he received for most of his life caused Kang to grow complacent and dissipated his hunger for his craft. Upon attending Virginia Commonwealth University, VCU, for its arts program, Kang realized that although his work was good, it didn’t fare well against his peers. Additionally, he also didn’t have the same drive to match. However, in recent years, Kang has adopted the tenacity of a “starving artist”—no longer wanting to succumb to the comforts of his upbringing.
When did it all start for you?
I started drawing when I was two or three. My dad has collected my drawings from since I was a kid—he has six or seven huge cardboard boxes full of it. He would even fish out drawings I had thrown in the garbage and keep them. In Asian culture, the eldest son is always praised—you’re almost elevated to a level of “god-hood.” Plus, my dad had huge expectations for me. He was a missionary and he told me one time that he asked God, “If I’m going to be a missionary, I want to be as impactful as Paul the Apostle.” For me, he wanted me to be the next Picasso. I have enough trouble finding a new job!
How important was the support you had?
I was praised my whole life and this made me lazy at times. If you’re fed three meals a day literally and figuratively, you don’t go after it as hard. When I came to VCU, I saw the work of my classmates and their work was incredible. These same people were told their whole lives that their work was garbage and that caused them to be hungry—you could see it in their eyes.
Who are your inspirations? How have they influenced your work?
I would say Genndy Tartakovsky—the creator of Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack. He didn’t use a lot of color but I liked his bold variations. He also tells great stories—you could turn off the mute button on the TV and still understand the story. N.C. Wyth, Winslow Homer, J.M.W Turner, Mike Mignola and David Mazzucchelli are also great inspirations. You may ask why I like all these different artists. I don’t only like their art but also their ideas. I feel like this is the reason why it seems like I have multiple personalities in my work. I learned traditional art at first and then I delved into illustration. That’s almost like going from Beethoven to RUN DMC. But, all my art is who I am.
What is your favorite piece? What is your most popular piece?
I would say my ?uestlove piece is my favorite. However, I originally didn’t want to do it. I am scared of the human face—it is the most beautiful thing in the world. If you mess up on it, it’s like messing with a person’s identity. But, I did and I surprised myself by doing it too. My friend even printed it on a tee and wore it and that meant a lot to me. My most popular piece would have to be “Sue.” On Tumblr, it received almost 1,500 notes and I think the reason people liked it so much was because it showed the process despite it being concept art.
Where do you see yourself in five years time?
I’ll be 25 in June, so in five years I will be 30. By then, I want to be an in-house illustrator for a major magazine publishing company such as Rolling Stone, NPR or The New York Times. I want to be given challenging projects such as illustrating civil rights, abortion, addiction and drawing attention to dinosaurs. Also, I want to release my own comic series—but I am terrified of this. I am an illustrator, not a writer. I’m also scared to draw faces—essentially I don’t have a horse in the race. I’m also apart of a podcast called “The Whatnauts,” which I do with a friend of mine, Kyle Springer. We basically talk about comic books and pop culture. We started recording last year and just started publishing three weeks ago on iTunes. On our first podcast, we tweeted at The Black Tapes, who we love, and they tweeted us back. It was awesome! I realize I grew up with a good start, I just wish I took greater stock in it. But, I’m hungry now.