Cultivating Art through Destruction and Reconstruction—Cross-Media Artist Cowper Wang
Having won the 32nd Golden Melody Awards BEST MV Award and participated in various crossover design collaborations, Cowper Wang (王宗欣) is without doubt the epitome of what has become known as a “slashie” (a person pursuing multiple careers). Founder of dosomething studio, new media artist, brand consultant, curator, creative director, and much more, Cowper Wang’s explosive creative energy is deeply rooted in art, anime and manga, and the streets.
Behind all the various titles, the origins of Wang’s multiple careers lie in his confused teenage years.
“At school, you were extremely popular if you had Formosa Youth (寶島少年). Comic book series were the key currency of exchange.”
Thinking back to his school years, Wang says his emotional outlets included Dragon Ball, Slam Dunk, and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, as well as works by Taiwanese comic pioneers Ah-Tui (阿推), Yu-Hsiang Ao (敖幼祥), and Chih-Chung Tsai (蔡志忠). But back then he was only a reader, and it wasn’t until junior year of high school that Wang realized he wanted to step onto the path of actual creation. When he went to university, he entered the world of art, which set him off on his colorful creative journey.
The many signs of contemporary fashion in Cowper Wang’s works can be traced back to his college years, when he was inspired by Japanese magazines. Realizing that his favorite images and elements used fashion to be creative. Wang was blown away by how influential brands could be if used correctly, thinking: “Wow! How cool is that!”
Then in 2007, Japanese artist Takashi Murakami (村上隆) spoke at Taipei Arena about “Superflat” (超扁平), a postmodern approach to art centered on “the two-dimensionality of Japanese graphic art and animation” and “the shallow emptiness of its consumer culture”. Murakami also brought elements of Japanese anime and manga into the art arena. Every aspect of the event made Wang see clearly that anime and manga, the streets, trends, and other sub-cultures could take pride of place in the art world if they were properly contextualized.
From “God Creation” to social design
Wang explained the meaning behind his “God Creation Series,” his work Guan Yu (關公) for BAPE, Buddha for OFF-WHITE, and Mazu (媽祖) for Supreme:
“It’s the conclusion of an atheist’s self-reflection on creationism. My dad goes to temples, my mom’s Christian, and I studied at a Buddhist school. I’ve been through a string of confusing religious influences, but I’ve never been fond of religion.”
Interestingly, while he has no religious belief, Wang does believe in brands. He has worked on countless brand projects, and he too will line up to buy limited-edition sneakers. To some extent, what Wang does is also about “making gods.”
The world’s top 100 IPs all fall in the anime, comics and games (ACG) industry. But Taiwan’s relatively weak ACG industry means it has few opportunities to compete internationally.
“If young people can be shown the power of IP when they’re growing up,” says Wang, “it’ll have much more lasting impact when they’re older.”
So over the past few years, Cowper Wang and his brand “dosomething” have devoted more time to social design, including the “1420hz Child and Youth Advocacy Platform” (1420hz兒少倡議平台), a collaboration with the Child Welfare League Foundation (兒童福利聯盟); the natural disaster educational board games launched with Taiwan Design Research Institute (台灣設計研究院); an art education project undertaken in conjunction with the Ministry of Education.
Wang suggests this change may be related to his becoming a father: “The company began to embrace certain social responsibilities. We want to use our designs to do something ‘good’. And this is going to be our primary mission in the next stage.”
New sources of artistic language
The advent of the Sunflower Student Movement made Wang realize that today’s young people no longer think of Taiwan as a “Ghost Island” (a self-disparaging term used to denote Taiwan’s international invisibility, low wages, and brain drain to China)—in fact they think Taiwan is “really cool”.
And the once-despised Taiwanese languages and signifiers have gradually been transformed through the culture of music and design and have become the language of communication for the younger generations. “In ten years’ time, when they grow up they’ll make the market start to change,” says Wang.
In the 2019 “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” (查無此人─小花計畫) exhibition, Wang’s interactive multimedia installation XiaoDingDang in My Dreams (我夢見了小叮噹) used an “anywhere door” covered with memory symbols that was locked for 24 hours to force visitors to use peepholes to catch glimpses of lost times from long ago.
Similarly, his work Super Bad (超級壞 Super Bad) at the Eslite Gallery (誠品畫廊) ANIMAMIX FLUX (動漫未來) exhibition takes all the classic comic book bad guys and combines them into a single Big Boss to represent problems we have to deal with as we grow up.
Meanwhile, Beautiful Losers (美麗的失敗者 Beautiful losers), displayed at an NFT exhibition, deconstructs the sneaker culture Wang loves and presents it with surrealistic visuals.
Each of Cowper Wang’s works can be traced back to things he has loved in a continual process of artistic self-destruction and reconstruction.
“I really wish I had a Hyberbolic Time Chamber,” says Wang, overwhelmed by his hectic schedule. A place where only Saiyans can train, and perhaps Cowper Wang is the only one who could enter.