Meet June’s Featured Artist, Nomi Chi!

This month, we're launching an exciting new initiative on SAD Web—we're kicking off our monthly Featured Artist program! This month, we're excited to be bringing you the work of Vancouver-based artist and tattoo-artist extraordinaire, Nomi Chi. 

Nomi Chi is a multidisciplinary visual artist currently residing in Vancouver, Canada. Chi’s primary practice engages with the visual lexicon of illustration and tattoo. Images produced within their painting and drawing practices display a heightened sense of emotive drama, often composing animal and human figures, in varying degrees of fictitious construction, as stand-ins for personal experiences and observations on human nature. Their current focus takes interest in power relations and ontological distinctions between individuals, and between the individual/environment. Multi-breasted, multi-limbed, femme-bodied creatures and figures populate the worlds they create, with the intention of—among other things—calling to question notions of femininity, and by proxy gender as a whole. Interactions between these figures signify Chi’s interests in depicting sexuality, ritual, and the search for identity.  

With seven years of professional tattoo experience, Nomi Chi has achieved a well-established international tattoo career. Chi graduated from Emily Carr University of Art and Design in 2015 with a BFA in illustration, and has participated in gallery exhibitions throughout Canada, the U.S.A and parts of Europe.

SAD Mag's Sarah Thompson interviewed Nomi about her practice. Get into it! 

Nomi Chi, Maybe She'll Live So Long That She Will Forget About Me, 2017, GOUACHE AND INK on paper

Nomi Chi, Maybe She'll Live So Long That She Will Forget About Me, 2017, GOUACHE AND INK on paper

Sarah Thompson: How did Maybe She'll Live So Long come to be? Who are these two figures?

Nomi Chi: I was missing someone, which made me think about all of the other people I was missing. The figures are no one in particular, just meditations on longing and missed connections.

Nomi Chi, Be Kind, Be Fierce, 2017, ink on paper

Nomi Chi, Be Kind, Be Fierce, 2017, ink on paper

 ST: I feel a sense of resonance with Be Kind, Be Fierce. Who is this piece for, and what would you like to impart?

NC: Usually, I don’t think of my gallery work as having a specific audience or message, I like to provide a loose sense of narrative or mood and have my viewers come to their own conclusions, bring their own meanings to the pieces. While I try to avoid specifics, I am often thinking of, or making references to, mental illness when my work involves figures in a space of contention—in Be Kind, Be Fierce, I was considering one’s identity as being inextricably tied to mental illness. It is not uncommon to ask oneself, “is this me or is this my depression/anxiety/etc?”. There is also a sense of triumph or overcoming odds—I don’t want to paint particular mental states as being inherently negative—it’s a neutral thing that many of us live with. Questioning the definition of self/other is also a common motif in my work, particularly the body of work in which Be Kind, Be Fierce is part of.

Nomi Chi, Nature, Nurture, 2017, gouache and ink on paper

Nomi Chi, Nature, Nurture, 2017, gouache and ink on paper

ST: What is your relationship with your work and the process it entails?

NC: I think a lot of working artists have layered relationships with their work, especially if producing art was once something done for pleasure/escapism and then later became a source of income. A lot of my energy goes into ‘protecting’ my work from being forced or contrived, and I try very hard to preserve a sense of fluidity.  This is probably why a lot of my newer work is more drawing-based because it feels so immediate, and there’s less time to get distracted or over-work ideas between the impulse to draw and the end result. I’m also learning that making art requires a routine, discipline, and a lot of other elements that seem to contrary to the common narrative of what facilitates creativity—it’s a practice that needs to be cultivated, it doesn’t just happen naturally, at least not for me.

Anyway, I need to produce work regularly or else I become despondent and irritable—I don’t always share this work, as I think it’s important to have a practice that is distinctly separate from image-production/consumption as is understood in contemporary capitalism! Ultimately, making work helps me process my thoughts and reinforces my sense of self.

Nomi Chi, In This Time of Need, 2017, ink on paper 

Nomi Chi, In This Time of Need, 2017, ink on paper 

ST: In this world of endless stimuli, what is it that moves you?

NC: I’m pretty sensitive and porous, so… most things? Haha. Most of my work is spurred by a moment, a feeling, an observation, even encountering a particular line of text. Actually, a lot of text-based material has been motivating and inspiring me lately: I was gifted a copy of Lillith’s Brood by Octavia E. Butler and it has re-ignited my interest in sci-fi literature! I am also always revisiting the works of text-based artists like Jenny Holzer and Robert Montgomery as their work is evocative, and very emotive without being didactic as text is often wont to be. These examples aside, I am interested in dynamics of power as well as other social/emotional dynamics. Broad themes, I know, but I have a short attention span and am easily interested in things, so my work kind of skips around a lot thematically.

Nomi Chi, Women's Work, 2017, ink and tea on paper

Nomi Chi, Women's Work, 2017, ink and tea on paper

ST: What was the inspiration for your piece Women's Work?

NC: I wanted to communicate a sense of some kind of ritual, something important happening between a group of witches or magical femme-like creatures. At the time, I was listening to a podcast (or maybe a lecture?) about the shifting of gender roles between hunter-gatherer and agrarian societies, the presenter was also positing that the idea of ownership (of land, of objects, of people) was inextricably tied into this huge cultural shift. I was wondering what things would be like if we had developed differently, and ways we can move forward as magical beings.  

Nomi Chi, Warm River Sleep, 2017, gouache and ink on paper

Nomi Chi, Warm River Sleep, 2017, gouache and ink on paper

ST: What are your thoughts on having a large number of people see and admire your work, let alone want it tattooed on their bodies?

NC: This is a complicated one. A social media following is a coveted thing, and on the one hand it means nothing—on the other hand, as an artist in this day and age, it is a necessary tool to garner financial (and to a lesser extent, emotional) support. There is definitely a lot of discomfort for me, as I do not like being in the spotlight, and the nature of social media—which pivots on accruing attention—is at odds with my overall desire to be left alone. It is humbling, and nice, I guess, to have a kind of safety net and to really be able to see the inertia of my career gaining velocity as I continue to work. However, I can’t help but also feel very strange about my work, and really, aspects of my personhood, being ‘consumed’ to a degree that I never intended it to.

Find more of Nomi's work here