All the “thieves” were summoned to the security official’s office. Fearful and embarrassed, the 10-year-old boys awaited to be questioned about the theft.“A cheap camera, it has been taken out of the (school’s) equipment room, and my friends gave it to me,” recalls Shxpir Huang, describing childhood mischief in his southern China hometown (Yuxi) that led to his first photographic exploit.“After hiding the camera under my bed, my mother discovered it, and I did the wrong thing, I lied to her. That was very bad…she found out and hit me hard. But she did see I was serious about art.”
The rule-breaking enfant terrible, Huang now spins imaginative stories for such star-lit marquees as Dior, Michael Kors, and Moschino. Irreverently questioning the value of his own “fantastical” photography, and even more critical of the “garbage” that parades as art, he inveighs, “American artists say many fake things. They are great at bullshitting.”Huang is for real. Unmoved by his verbal blasts at the Fashion Establishment’s puffery and extravagant indulgences, Elle, Nylon, and Harper’s Bazaar China reward him with multi-page photographic spreads. These erotic-tinged fascinations hint at his playfulness and unorthodoxy. Yet when unshackled from the restraints of “disappearing” ad production budgets, and demanding clients, he navigates wondrous galaxies (such as in Maye Musk Arrives on a Tesla in 2080 and Pew pew pew), astonishing us with androgynous glamor and fantasy realms.
In Tell Me What You Are Driving?, A Robotic Olympic Game Story, a Grazia space woman vanquishes adversaries, and exudes sexual power in her skin-tight black victory pants. Inverting Mad Max the road warrior in The Reporters, another dominating Olympian overwhelms a dune chopper to assert her world-beating prowess in a “fantasy world.”Then there’s the galactic Accident X. Shafts of cosmic light, a UFO plunging to Earth, coupled with beings floating freely among the stars, and one alien dangling from spacecraft. All portend a momentous “visitation”–a meeting with a heavenly body piloting a police cruiser. Dismissing his own otherworldly flights in images and animations, Huang, 36, insists “I am not a ground breaker. Nothing special.”
Michael Jackson and Missy Elliott might disagree. They have been influences in his artistic evolution, along with comic books, Japanese anime cartoons, rap music (“Michael drove me into Western culture”) Barcelona architecture, and Art Nouveau. An inveterate researcher, “filing away”ideas from paintings and books, he dismisses any connection to the likes of Helmut Newton and Richard Avedon. He instead wants to make fashion photography more “democratic, approachable to common people,” and certainly more appreciative of Asians.“The Chinese, other Asians, are rarely shown, or typically pictured as sexually-submissive females,” decries Huang, vehemently. “Trump brought it to the surface…the attacks. There’s systemic racism. Asian voices are important, but they are rarely heard.”
After detailing a “personal” photographic project that’s meant to celebrate Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Huang is again the subversive, blithely insisting his work has no lasting significance. That it’s as finite as a Lego construction.“After 20 years of sketching, painting and sculpting, I have a very spontaneous, trial and error approach,” says Huang. “There’s just no certain way I get inspiration. I’m always drawing, I’m a little creative. I have ideas. Many are useless, but I always want to expand my limits. I finish a work and there are many times I don’t like it. Creativity still isn’t hard. It’s like putting Lego pieces together, and making them work.”Ordinary photographic “moments in time” are meaningless. That transitory Vogue or Grazia cover photo typically has no long-term impact. It’s just a pretty face, a little eye candy, and yesterday’s news.
“A kid gets hot for six months, does some covers, then a new kid gets hot,” notes Huang, bittersweetly, quickly adding, “Nothing I do is precious” (Alessandra Ambrosio In a Bottle is uniquely fascinating).“That kid who was hot, like (Andy) Warhol said, ‘for 15 minutes,’ is gone. Stars get burnt. They were sensations, famous on Instagram, then they are abandoned.”Never dazzled by celebritydom, and its air kisses, Huang has instead expanded his portfolio, employing more mixed media in his film directing and 3D animation. Now a fixture at a leading software company, “an ambassador” for a still-to-be-released “voice and image campaign,” he enjoys creating images, but “hates seeing them on a wall. I have no interest in exhibitions, or having my work in someone’s house.”A Big Wedding is art, a retro throwback to elegant portraiture. Inspired by Belgian Renaissance painter Jan van Ecyk’s Arnolfini Portrait, this theatrical parody of The Adams Family marries flowery broacaded sports jackets and nuptials by an altar with a grim-faced, white-gowned bride in sneakers and a baby happily enjoying the frivolous proceedings. It is campy fun.
The machine gun-toting “killer” is equally enchanting in New Classic-Harper’s Bazaar. Sans weaponry, she is a Renoir Beauty, young, innocent, while the picture of intrigue, a mysterious femme Sitting Alone in Paris is enticing, an intriguing Asian woman radiating disquiet and baring her soul.“I like to use modern elements, guns, IPads, instead of the bows and arrows you see in classic paintings,” says Huang. I hope to mock tradition, invert the classics.”Whipsawing between divertenti amusement and sardonic observer, Huang delights us with his Little Fish Fairy, a coquettish, petite Asian heartthrob cavorts on a bed amid silks and laces. Pure 1950s pinup, she out-Marilyns Marilyn Monroe. Admitting the photo series was “taken down” in China, Huang says, “An older woman told me she (the fairy) looked like a whore. I didn’t sexualize her. I combined a 50s pinup with classic Chinese paintings. She’s sexy but still refined.”
The Clown School with its pink-haired, tiara-crowned princesses is pathos mixed with hijink. Huang aspires to “be humorous,” yet these portraits for Gucci picture a New Age circus transcending gender–and have an aura that questions “big top” traditions. Insisting “I don’t care about tradition,” Huang points to his poolside, David Hockney-inspired series, A Big Splash, and says, “I wanted to do a gay story. I had to do a (retro) sexual story (to bend to the client’s wishes). I would’ve loved a gay couple.“What resulted was an acerbic jab at American suburbia–with a faux yellow-haired “housewife” (of questionable gender) gazing into a large ornate mirror. Huang may be at the mercy of Fashion’s imperial powers (and aren’t we?) Yet as Splash emphasizes, he remains the mischief maker, irreverently saying, “Hockney doesn’t care about tradition, it’s the same with me. He draws on IPad. I can do photos with……”
Written By Edward Kiersh