Creature: Paintings, Drawings and Reflections

Shaun Tan     Recommended by    

“The first thing I remember drawing was a creature… and not much has changed since. I’m still drawing creatures in all their myriad forms, something that feels perpetually childish in the best possible way: primary, elemental, instinctive – all the artistic qualities I’ve learned to trust through the trials and errors of so many ground-down pencil stubs. I draw many other things, but for some reason, when my mind and sketchbook are cleared of all else, I often revert to a creature, either known or unknown.”

CREATURE is a 224-page collection of previously unpublished and rarely-seen paintings and drawings, accompanied by notes detailing Shaun Tan’s fascination with non-human beings. From ‘lost things’ to nameless companions, friends and enemies, odd house-guests and bewildering strangers, Tan’s sketchbooks are filled with variations on an apparently endless theme. How might we relate to beings that are so far removed from our ‘normal’ human selves? And how is it that, in spite of weird appearances, they can also feel so familiar?

This survey of work draws from notebooks, folios and canvases across 25 years of work as an illustrator, artist, writer and film-maker. Some relate to stories where strange creatures are prominent, such as The Rabbits, The Lost Thing, The Arrival and Tales from Outer Suburbia. Others are singular gallery paintings, concept artwork for obscure or unrealised book, film and theatre projects, as well as experimental works.

All artists and writers have a body of material that, for whatever reason, rarely sees the light of day, and is often all the more compelling because of this. Stories remain unwritten, images are left brimming with possibility, and the glimpse into artistic process is a little deeper than usual. Certain themes can be seen recurring in various forms, consciously or otherwise. In my case, I noticed in reviewing past work that animals and strange creatures turn up an awful lot. In fact, they are probably the most common element I’ve used in visual narrative, ever since early childhood – a time when many of us are busy drawing creatures – even though the style, subjects and reasons vary greatly. I’m certainly not alone here. Art, literature, film and mythology are nothing if not a menagerie of other-worldly beings. Why do we find them so fascinating? CREATURE is my own attempt to answer this question, as well as enjoy the simple pleasure of drawing and painting things I’ve never seen before, granting them that fleeting illusion of life, and leaving them open to each reader’s unique imagination.

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