See Shanghai through the eyes of 60 illustrators at this exhibition

From juicy xiaolongbao to Waibaidu Bridge, these mock magazine covers showcase what makes Shanghai special

Photograph: Yu Zhiming
Independent creative producer Benoit Petrus has been busy since early this year when he toyed with the idea of having an art project that showcases the creativity of Chinese illustrators while representing one of China’s biggest cities to the world in the style of magazine covers à la The New Yorker.

He started checking out illustrators on Behance, an Adobe-owned creative tank, and a few months later about a hundred illustrators from China and abroad joined the project. The result, The Shanghairen exhibition, opened on the second floor of The Mix Place earlier this month. We talked to Petruc about why he chose to show his love of Shanghai through illustration.

Photograph: Yu Zhiming

What do you do in Shanghai?

I have been living in Shanghai for five years. I’m working as an independent creative producer with brands and agencies to produce digital and traditional content.

Where did the inspiration for The Shanghairen come from?

Last year, while I was doing some visual research about editorial design, I discovered The Tokyoiter project. Later I found it took its inspiration from The Parisianer which itself was inspired by The New Yorker magazine. I was starting to imagine what The Shanghairen would look like.

What are the criteria in choosing illustrations for The Shanghairen?

Illustrators must produce an original work that is not too conceptual, easy for the audience to appreciate, and relates to Shanghai and not to another city. That’s it!

What was the process like? What was your involvement in the project?

I sent out a list of topics I found interesting for artists who needed some inspiration. Once an artist sent me their artwork, we might've had a round of feedback if necessary. Then I’d place the [mock magazine header] with the date of submission. In addition to each artwork, we asked the artist to tell the story behind their cover and to present themselves. The stories are available in the exhibition catalogue as well as on [our new website].

Every illustration is a labour of love, but if you were to choose a few of your favourites, what are they?

I like to see the project in its entirety and I prefer the final results rather than individual covers. I am sincerely impressed by a lot of them and it’s hard to make a selection! I think the most touching cover for each viewer is the one that they can relate to in their personal lives.


Images: Peter Zhang, Peter Zhao, Allen Zhuo and Micco Chiu

Upper left: Newly arrived in the city, hasn’t experienced the juice explosion of a xiaolongbao before.

Upper right: Still about food. I’m a bit nostalgic about the time when you could find street food on every corner.

Bottom left: I’ve passed Waibaidu Bridge every day for three years. It’s where I learned to say left and right [in Chinese] to the driver. I also love this cover because the artist used traditional pencil to draw the cover, which gives it a unique colour.

Bottom right: The West Bund is one my favourite areas. As for the cover, I took a very similar picture with my camera during the Mid-Autumn Festival while I was running on the waterfront. Micco Chiu’s drawing style perfectly reflects the sweetness and the colour of the moment.

What is the general illustration scene like in Shanghai? Do illustrators in Shanghai have enough work? Are they well compensated for their talent?

I haven’t done enough commercial work to have a clear idea of the complete scene. From the artists I met through The Shanghairen, there are lots of different profiles. A small number of them are working as full-time illustrators with plenty of work and I guess good compensation. For the rest, most of them are full-time visual designers, art directors or creatives working with brands and agencies, so they practise illustration for their own personal projects or occasionally for their daily work.

If you were to make an illustration yourself for The Shanghairen, what would it be?

I really love Yongfoo Elite. We had our first gathering with the illustrators there earlier this year. It would be quite challenging to capture the beauty of the place.

What reaction do you expect from Shanghai audiences?

Since our opening, I have spent quite a lot of time in the gallery watching how people react [to The Shanghairen]. It’s really enjoyable to see them spending time, laughing, liking or disliking the art. It would have been quite fun to record people’s reactions.

Any future art projects? Will they be about Shanghai?

For The Shanghairen, we would like to develop the project in various artistic ways rather than growing the number of covers. We will have a charity exhibition next spring and we are still looking for a large art gallery in Shanghai to expose the totality of the covers. The next exhibitions will feature unique and original formats, such as workshops, collaborative drawings, wall paintings and moving images.

Is the audience able to purchase prints?

Some of the prints are available on our website and on our WeChat (ID: TheShanghairen), as well at The Mix Place. An exhibition catalogue with three different covers can also be purchased.

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