ALIEN/ATION: Interview with Featured Artist Joseph To

July 6, 2010

Together with Paper Hat Productions, Hyphen will be hosting its first-ever illustration show, ALIEN/ATION, on July 10th. In the days leading up to the show, I'll be conducting short interviews with some of our awesome featured artists. Today's artist is Joe To.

KL: Tell me about your background.

JT: I went to school at California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. I actually went to school with Rob Sato. We were roommates for a couple of years. I started out as a painting major, but I wasn't really into it. At the time, it seemed like it was really conceptual. I'm fine with that, but I wanted to learn technique first, and the only place I could find it was in the illustration department.

It's funny -- I don't actually do a lot of editorial illustration anymore, even though illustration was my major. But the stuff I do is usually pretty figurative. In most cases it still looks like some type of illustration.

What sorts of things do you draw or paint? What topics do you cover? What are your influences?

It changes a lot. Lately I've been really into circus stuff, circus freaks, carnies. Weird looking folks. I just find the whole thing really intriguing.

I grew up really into comic books and cartoons. It got me into drawing, and opened up a lot more influences after that.

Lately I've been drawing a lot of siamese twins but I'm trying to cut that off. I dunno -- it's come back to just simple figures. 

There's not much to it, actually. Most of the stuff I do speaks for itself. It's not super dense or super complex. It's really just like a one-two punch. It's usually pretty clear.

How did you get involved with Hyphen?

I know Erica [Hyphen's creative director]. Every now and then, she sends something my way. And usually it's a lot of fun. I don't really do editorial illustration anymore, and it's nice to get back into that frame of mind, to keep it from getting too rusty.

How many illustrations have you done for Hyphen?

I'm not sure, maybe six or seven. Usually they're small.

One of them is about, what's his name, the hotdog eating champion?


Yeah. There's that one. There's a small character, and there are hotdogs raining on him. It was fun.

There's one about electric fans in Southeast Asia. I guess people there are really superstitious. There's this urban legend that says that if you don't turn off the fan before you fall asleep, you'll die in your sleep. I think the electric fans in Southeast Asia have an auto-shutoff mechanism because of that. My illustration has a giant fan looming over someone sleeping. It's casting a big shadow over her.

It's nice to be able to do stuff for Hyphen. I'm a little more relaxed with Hyphen. Doing things for Erica has been really fun. I've been able to throw out some wacky ideas, and she'd be cool with it, and you know, off we go!

ALIEN/ATION will be held on July 10th at Space Gallery in San Francisco. For more information about the event and more interviews with the featured artists, follow this link.