Illustrator and digital creator Claudia Chanhoi challenges the taboo placed on women’s sexuality and their role in society, as she inspires conversations through her cheeky illustrations. Hive Life catches up with the artist behind @brainxeyes in a light and witty conversation exploring her passions, inspirations, recent NFT collectables, and more!
Claudia Chanhoi, a delightfully bold illustrator based in Hong Kong, and the creative mind behind provocative Instagram account @brainxeyes, unapologetically spotlights vibrant, cheeky (literally), and nonconforming illustrations on her platform. Her lighthearted aesthetics, however, contain greater depth than just some playful visuals, capturing the essence of a woman’s coming of age and her experiences in the modern-dating world.
Like a breath of fresh air, @brainxeyes offers a taste of the artist’s iconic pop art and accentuates freedom of expression through her work. The sensual montage celebrates human features and sexual experiences, with saucy imagery from breasts and buns, to eggplants and genitalia, and much more. As eye-catching as her graphics appear, Claudia’s captions are just as thoughtful and stimulating.
Being one of the few emerging artists to hold such an influence in pop culture, Claudia’s brilliance is well acknowledged and has earned her recognition both locally and internationally, normalising the celebration of women’s sexuality and encouraging conversations about the space. From having her artwork exhibited at Mihn Gallery in Hong Kong and the Womanish Exhibit in Downtown Chicago to launching her first NFT collection in the Metaspace with Bamboo Scenes, as well as painting her iconic Mural for LELO on Hollywood Road.
Claudia speaks with Hive Life on her journey entering into the creative world, the curated thoughts behind her saucy illustrations, and the future in store for her brainchild, @brainxeyes.
Can you tell us about how you started your artistic journey?
I started my career as an illustration artist back in 2016.
Around 2013, I was studying at the London College of Communication, and while working on my dissertation topic on the “Sexual Objectification of Women,” I came across a lot on the objectification and sexualisation of the female body in our society and media and felt like I needed to address that. That, in some way, transpired in my creative expression, as I went on to create some illustrations based on the research that I did.
Soon after graduation, I landed my first job as a graphic designer. However, it did not align with my vision, as I always had this lingering desire to work on something to feed my creativity. After contemplating it for some time, I decided to go for it and started my Instagram account, @brainxeyes. The platform acted as my virtual portfolio, an honest and genuine representation of my work.
That’s how I established myself, and ever since then, I have been doing what I love the most!
How did Instagram help facilitate your career as an illustrator?
I would say Instagram is the best thing that happened in my life. When I first got started, the platform was completely different from now. For many emerging artists, like myself, it was an ideal space to collect our thoughts and creative work, and at the time we were using it to build an online portfolio.
It was quite straightforward, there was no magic formula to find success over social media back then. Instead of investing in any strategic planning to gain exposure, I achieved my growth organically by simply creating and sharing my art selection online, and received genuine admiration and appreciation for my work.
In fact, my first solo exhibition and commission-based client projects happened during my first year of starting on Instagram. It certainly requires hard work, nevertheless, significantly helped me kickstart my career, which I’m forever grateful for.
What is your creative process like?
My words and thoughts play an important part in my creative process, as there is always a message or story behind my creations. I usually start off by writing down some concepts to explore through my posts, or normally would think of the caption first. Once the words are in place, I visualise the image and what the post might look like, and sometimes might even paint.
Since I prefer to write down my concepts before I sketch and visualise them, my sketchbook is quite dear to me, it’s the ultimate fix that keeps my many thoughts and creative [ideas] organised.
What does a day in your life look like?
I like to have an early start to my day, have breakfast by 10 am, and then go for a quick workout session, before I finally get into my zone.
As for my work, I begin quite late during the day, normally around 3 pm, and often organise my meetings for around that time. My thought process kicks in later in the evening, when I feel more energised and sometimes go over to my favourite cafe to get some sketches done.
I love visiting a cafe called The Coffee Academics on the HKU campus, [it’s] a quiet and relaxing spot where I normally go to finish up my sketches.
What is your biggest artistic influence?
As a kid who grew up watching Disney, and other animations, I was always fascinated with and enjoyed the portrayal of animated objects in cartoons. Most of the inspiration for my illustration designs and aesthetics hails from my childhood, be it anime, Warner Bros, Disney and more. I was observant of little details, such as the food colour, appearance, table setting, and alignments, and incorporated those elements into my visuals.
As I grew older, my influences shifted more towards my conversations with people, personal experiences, and my surroundings.
What inspired the handle of your Instagram account, @brainxeyes?
Since my full name was already in use for my personal account, I thought hard and came up with “brainxeyes,” as a representation of my platform and what I envision it to be. The word “brain” signifies the thought and process that goes behind each piece, while “eyes” [comes] from the beholders’ point of view, indicating the visuals and representation of my work.
What inspires the style and aesthetics behind your illustrations?
I feel like a lot of it came naturally to me.
Although, I would say pop art has been a major inspiration behind my illustrations, and I thoroughly enjoy referencing pop culture in those creations. Aesthetically speaking, I have quite a flamboyant yet minimalistic design approach and love that extra bit of colour and dazzle, which makes my artwork vibrant and zesty.
What’s your favourite artwork that you’ve created so far, and what’s the story behind it?
My favourite artwork has to be the Misguided Idea, it depicts a mushroom plant covering female genitalia as a symbol of suppressed female femininity. It was one of my pieces from a personal project called Rethink Femininity in 2021.
The story, in fact, has very less to do with sexuality, as some might visually presume. It embarks on modern-day feminism and challenges the general misguided concept, that women need to present themselves as masculine entities to attain true gender equality, be it at workplaces, in society, or even in their homes.
It speaks to women, as many have faced similar experiences on how we strip ourselves away from our femininity to fit into society and be treated seriously. However, this just further plays into conforming gender roles; the illustration internalises the message to break free of those preset notions and reconnect with our womanhood.
Have you faced any stigma in the traditional art space due to the nature of your work?
The work that I do is still not widely accepted or viewed as normal, hence I still do experience stigma in that regard.
In previous times, I have been approached by many traditional galleries who were genuinely pleased with my illustrations and initiated a collaboration which, unfortunately [we] were not able to see through, as it required a whole process of approval from company partners and senior management, who might be more traditional in that sense or are often concerned with censorship issues.
It really depends on different galleries and company policies on the content of works displayed, and I understand my art is not viewed as conventional. That is why I have continued to take upon this challenge to normalise human body parts and conversations on sexuality through my cheeky illustrations.
Having recently ventured into creating your own NFTs, what has the process been like for you?
Personally, the whole experience has been great, it was definitely a well-presented opportunity to gain exposure and familiarity in the market.
Around the time [NFTs] gained popularity, a lot of people asked me about my NFT collection or if I was planning to start one. The concept was relatively new to me, and I struck up a conversation with a friend in the tech industry about the buzz.
She then connected me to the Founder of the Digital Art Fair, from where I launched my very first NFT collectable, “Close the Pit.” Since then, I have been getting numerous NFT projects as well, although I am still quite selective about it.
Do you think NFTs are making an impact in the art world?
They have certainly made an impact. I feel a lot of people have either already tapped into the market or are currently considering creating and selling their own NFTs. I would definitely encourage people to experience and venture into a different art market, as you may not know what opportunities it may bring you.
Where can your NFTs be purchased?
What advice would you give to artists looking to create their own NFTs?
Just go for it! But do keep in mind not to set unrealistic expectations on profitability and returns. Instead, I would advise approaching it as a fresh pathway to gain more exposure and stay relevant in the digital space, while eventually turning it into an extra source of income, along the way.
What is your advice for new artists starting out on Instagram?
My advice to emerging artists on the platform would be to simply remain true to your passion, and remind yourself you are not in it for others’ approval, but rather to share your ideas and art!
Nowadays, the platform is rather competitive for creatives. It has become more difficult to stand out and tap into niches, since social media has evolved to ease the access and availability of content, and the duplication of similar products has risen.
One thing that would greatly benefit you is to know why you started, and continue to do what you love, driven by your passion!
Is there any new collection of artwork that you’re currently working on?
I am excited about this summer, as the restrictions are easing, hopefully, we will have more interesting projects coming up.
Do you have any exhibitions coming up?
I have been in discussion to feature at a traditional art space, and after finalising all the details I can share more!
How can people find your work or get involved with your community?