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Shan Jiang: Shanghai at Magic Hour

Johanna Lou 2017-02-27 11:59

Drawing a straight line between random points is how the constellations in the night sky are formed, and then a tediously long life experience and fragmentary pieces will be connected with clues. Knowing about a city and finally falling in love with it is not all about a cup of warm liquor, hot pots, and conversations with friends on a winter night, but how the city responses to you and how the city puts forward something that urges you to respond to, and someday, these things may be particularly urgent. Illustrator Shan Jiang said he is most obsessed with the magic hour when the day turns into the night, the light fades away, souls escape the world and ghosts come to their spirits.

Magic Hour


The Magic Hour originates from the Japanese word oumagatoki, which means the darkness gradually setting in at dusk and the world of the spirits open the point where night and day swap places. This is the very brief moment when humans and “ghosts” coexist in the world. Jiang was particularly obsessed with this moment for much of his childhood. When he was little, each time he was about to get home after school, he was impressed by the mysterious colour of the sky when the magic world and the real world seem to collide with each other, and that’s exactly the magic hour - full of unknown dangers. In his Shanghai at Magic Hour, you can see the extremely bright lights flooding into the streets of the city, the distant Shanghai World Financial Centre centered around by flying dragons, architectures across time and space like the local shikumen, temples, European architecture, and modern designs converged to the same coordinate at this moment. The fascinating sense of perspective obscures the border between the real world and the world of fantasy. The crowded scene stnads still, marking all of the human and the spirits in a hurry. The old tricycle loaded with our childhood memories and the car carrying evil spirits are passing through the borders, and those street vendors with punk-style hair are howling to crab knives.

Sometimes it’s calm and sometimes it turns restless, the magical colours of Jiang’s illustrations are impressive. As for the various elements in the picture, Jiang said that it didn’t involve delicate thoughts and was out of life experience and visual experience in the creation process. This piece of work, which was originally commissioned by the Shanghai World Financial Centre, is a section of the series about the city. “I like drawing different scenes centred on fixed roles to make the feeling of traveling through different cities, and meanwhile push the story.”


From Shanghai to London

Shan Jiang may not be a household name in China, but chances are that you’ve seen his work somewhere. He and his company have completed many stunning visual works for the Shanghai World Financial Centre, K11, Adidas, Nike, Nordstrom, and other clients. Majoring in graphic design, Jiang is now the art director of a design company in London, as well as an illustrator and a designer of illustrations and animations, and he also founded the silk brand Pig, Chicken & Cow with his friends.

Jiang is an absolute art student who graduated from a fine arts high school and majored in Factory Fine Arts at Light Industry Department of Shanghai University. At a time when design didn’t have as much importance and status as today, college diploma was the highest degree he could reach. The educational environment and the faculty at that time didn’t meet his expectations and therefore after graduation, he went to the Edinburgh College of Art for his Master and worked at a design agency in London from internship to today, establishing his style as the trademark for the agency.


When asked about how to separate business from personal style, Jiang said personal creations permitted him to explore different styles on his own and these styles may attract cooperation. However, business cooperation is bound to some restrictions, including customers’ requirements and opinions, of course sometimes the customers also raises some interesting thoughts. But after all, they are always talking about what they want based on certain visual references. So sticking to personal creations helps set up one’s own style and guide the cooperation with customers.

In terms of his style, Jiang puts strong emphasis on themes in early days and became mature after 2010 by reducing colours and paying more attention to details and pencil descriptions. Bike is an interesting element in the creations of Jiang, and by accident it becomes an important component part. Before Mobike appeared in China, there was a bike craze abroad that bloomed ten years ago. In 2008 an American editor asked him to draw the cover for a new magazine on bikes, Ride Journal. The founder of the magazine, Andrew Diprose, who was previously the art director of the famous magazine Wired, turns the 80-page magazine subtitled as “do not want to simply define bike enthusiasts as roadies, freeriders, track racers, BMXers, XC riders or commuters” into a publication purely for cyclists through all the contributors’ endeavor. Jiang illustrated the covers of all the ten editions of the magazine, until the magazine shut down in 2015.


Jiang’s recent projects also include the cover and illustrations for The Man in the High Castle written by American science fiction writer, Philip K.Dick. Laurence King Publishing famous for Secret Garden also published a colouring book of Shan Jiang earlier for readers to freely colour the travel stories composed of fixed roles and different scenes, as his usual style. This book has been published in the United Kingdom, Italy, Taiwan(China) andother three versions and the simplified version will be available at a later date.

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