Episode 71: Asian Food in Art

Episode 71: Asian Food in Art

We did something out of the ordinary and recorded an episode with artists instead of our usual chef and restauranteur guests. James Yang from New York and Jonathan Jay Lee from Hong Kong are a couple Asian-American illustrators with distinct styles inspired by city life, travel, and of course - Asian food.

Fun fact: Jonathan and I went to high school together in Hong Kong. I’ve been following his work over the years and noticed that recently he’s been illustrating these vivid street food scenes which capture everything I miss about Asia in a sensory, and nostalgic way. We called Jonathan while he was on a project in Singapore to talk about the immersive and dedicated process behind his work.

We invited James Yang to join us in the studio as well. James is a local New Yorker, he’s won over 250 awards for design and illustration, and claims to have an “Asian stomach” (by which he means his food preferences). If you live in New York, you may have come across James’s whimsical illustrations wrapped inside the subway cars and frequently accompanying the digital articles in the New York Times.

We started the conversation by discussing what they ate growing up, and where they like to go to curb their Asian food cravings now.

My mom used to try to sell me that we were part of the royal family somehow. But I don’t buy it because I like all the peasant foods. Like budae jjigae.
— James Yang

We discussed how they decided on their creative line of work. Although, it sounds more like it chose them. In reference to his passion for drawing at an early age, Jonathan said, “It’s something I had to do, I didn’t have a choice”.

Apologies in advance to Jonathan, as he doesn’t like to use the word ‘style’. From an outsider’s view, both James and Jonathan have distinctly recognizable styles. If you passed their work on the street, you would immediately know it’s theirs. We asked how they got to their aesthetic. James referenced something Henrik Drescher, the Danish artist, said, “Everybody kind of has an architect in their head. And that’s how they see the world and build things. There’s a natural way for you to see the world and organize it.” James adds, “It’s the only way we can draw, or know how to draw”. Jonathan agrees, “There’s only one answer for each project for you. It’s just a matter of getting there.”

Jonathan and James walked us through their approach, each unique, in creating a piece of work.

My work needs to emulate the senses. Not just what you see, but the sounds, the smells, the taste.
— Jonathan Jay Lee

Tune in to find out about the lifestyle of an illustrator (including the stark differences between James and Jonathan’s schedules), how travel plays a role, and their advice to those that want to make it in this profession.

Every illustrator that you see. They may seem carefree on the outside. But we are all very serious about what we do.
— James Yang
Episode 70: Nikkei, The Culinary Romance of Japan and Peru

Episode 70: Nikkei, The Culinary Romance of Japan and Peru