Jin Yong was already in the café when nitelife.ie entered, ten minutes before the interview was due to start. It’s a freezing-cold January day in Galway City and the café is refreshingly warm. Jin is seated by himself in the centre of the room, a coffee and a slice of cake on the polished table in front of him. He’s slight of build and a blonde streak cuts a swathe through his long, jet-black hair. He gives his time graciously, is very intelligent to speak to and provides valuable insight into his life and career. Full of world-experience, he’s a fascinating interviewee . . .

N.L: “First of all, why the big move to Ireland, and more specifically, Galway?”

J.Y: “I moved to Ireland about 13 years ago, I had a four year education in art and design and I wanted a fuller education, so that’s why I came to Galway. I wanted to come to an English speaking country, and I didn’t like England at that time! So, I decided on Ireland. Actually, I was living in Dublin for like 12-13 years, only last March I moved to Galway.”

N.L: “How and why did you become interested in art?”

J.Y: “I started very early, my mom put me in an art class because I always liked drawing, that was when I was 5-years-old, 30 years ago! Since then, I’ve always had a private teacher and it’s only since 2007 that I started my first solo exhibition and it went really well. So I organised another one . . . and it went really well too!”

N.L: “How did your four years studying Art and Design in Changchun City affect you and your work?”

JY: “Well, I learned a lot before going to college because I always had a private teacher and I always went to art class. But I learned about so many different areas, I had to learn about 30 different subjects. I had to learn about Chinese art, modern art, oil painting, photography and that was great; especially design, using photoshop and all that really helped me to advertise my paintings, so I can do my own brochures, business cards . . .

N.L: “You worked with The Korean International Red Cross as a Korean-Chinese translator. How did that experience shape who you are today?”

J.Y: Well, I’m a christian, I think that’s shaped my life hugely. The Red Cross was like a mission from the church. We were very fortunate to be able to go to one of the poorest places in China and see how they live and how little they have. But, they still try to live a happy life and believe in God and that was very, very touching. Here I was complaining about this and that, but when I saw that the children didn’t have a table, they just sat on the ground to study . . . when you see all those, it changes your life. So you’re more normal and down to earth.”

N.L: “You’ve stated that, ‘God is the best designer and artist.’ What role does your faith play in your life and work?”

J.Y: “It’s a huge one. Like I believe in God, even since I was a kid. Being an artist is very . . . I can’t say it’s a stressful job, but it’s a very, very deep job. You can either go very well or you can go very crazy. So I think God helps me to stay positive and to try to paint something more positive than dark. Of course, if I want to make shocking art I can paint blood and all that darkness. But, religion keeps me to a brighter side. So when people see my art they don’t get disturbed, they get more positive vibes.”

N.L: “Your work often portrays wildlife―people included―why do you so often touch on this theme?”

J.Y: “I’ve always liked wildlife. David Attenborough . . . I’ve watched all of his programmes! But yeah, I just love it. I love how they behave. Still, my dream is that one day I can go somewhere and be close to wildlife.”

N.L: “Rather than portray wildlife “faithfully”, you use plenty of additional colours, which I feel gives your work a more modern slant. Was this the intention?”

J.Y: “Yeah it is. Also the thing is, I know there are probably millions of artists that paint wildlife really, really well, so I don’t want to just paint a tiger that looks like a tiger. I don’t want to paint a lion that looks like a lion, because many artists do a much better job than me (at painting wildlife). I want to express my feelings and express the colour through the lion and the tiger. The animal is the one subject where I can express my feelings and colours.”

N.L: “Is there a reason why you paint tigers so much?”

J.Y: “Oh I love them! Also, I like its character as well. Tigers are a very individual, independent animal. Every day he has to fight for food, not like a lion or a polar bear; they don’t have to hunt for six or eight months. I just feel like I can connect myself (to a tiger). I came to Ireland with no English, and still constantly, I’m battling with many things.”

N.L: “I’m Particularly fond of your depiction of the lion wearing the Ziggy Stardust make-up. Why did you choose this as a tribute?”

J.Y: “I’m not a huge fan of David Bowie, because I grew up in a different culture. But that doesn’t mean I like him less. Because, especially after he passed, I started to read more about him and I was just so fascinated by, not just his music, but the way he dressed, the way he lived. It’s like wow! Now, it’s 2016 and if I wear something slightly different people stare at me. But he was so brave and so bold at that time, like 40 years ago. I feel like he was a true artist. So I wanted to paint him, but, I saw many artists already jumped on the train and started to paint him, and many had already painted him a long time ago. So I didn’t want to just paint another portrait but something different and something I’m comfortable with. I was painting a huge lion at that time and I thought, ‘wow this can be him!’ The lion is very powerful and beautiful. I feel like I can relate him to a lion.”

N.L: “Your work also features many people from pop-culture and pop-cultural symbols, such as the peace sign. Why have you included these figures and symbols in your work?”

J.Y: “The thing is, it’s great if I sell my paintings, but I don’t want to just paint to sell. I want to have my voice in the paintings. If you look closer there are so many hidden messages. It reflects how I felt at the time about the current situation. If you look at the lion painting with the David Bowie make-up, there is actually some of his quotes I drew into the painting. DB, means David Bowie, 1 4 3, means I love you, because, I is 1, love is l-o-v-e, 4 letters, and you is y-o-u, three letters.

N.L: “What sort of performance art do you do? I couldn’t find any videos on the internet…”

J.Y: “I have some videos, but I haven’t uploaded them because of the bad quality. It all started in one of my exhibitions in the Westpark Fitness Centre [Dublin]. I had a few very successful exhibitions and then I was thinking: ‘ok, 100-150 people come into my exhibitions and they’re just looking at the paintings and having a glass of wine, have a good night and that’s fine’. But, I wanted something very different from other artists, and I can’t sing and I can’t dance, so I was thinking: ‘maybe it’s a good idea if I just do live painting. So people have an idea of how I paint’. So I played some music; slow music and dance music. And when the music changed, my brush-stroke changed. It was like, you paint something, but it’s performance art as well. So that was how it started. And then, Dublin City Council asked me ‘would you like to perform in Temple Bar during Chinese New Year? In the gallery of photography?’ So I said, ‘that’s great!’ And I was thinking about what I could offer to the audience besides just live painting. So I put all sorts of different objects into a bag, like a pen, a business card, a chopstick, and whatever the audience picked, I painted with. So if someone picked a chopstick, I used the chopstick to paint, if someone picked the business card, I used the business card. I just wanted to offer a different experience than just an exhibition.”

N.L: “You have also done lots of teaching and mentoring. How have these experiences affected you?”

J.Y: “I was very fortunate to meet very nice mentors. Actually, now I have one secret mentor! A very famous Irish artist. I have never met him but he is mentoring me on Facebook. I just feel like I have received so much, it would be nice if I could offer something. And then, I had many opportunities where people asked me ‘are you able to do it’, and I said ‘ok’. I didn’t want to refuse if somebody asks. For example, during Chinese New Year, I did a workshop for kids in Temple Bar organised by Dublin City Council. OK, I got paid for it. But still, I really wanted the kids to learn rather than just spend time with them. And if there is work with some kids and I can give them long-term advice, I offer that as well.”

N.L: “Any up-coming exhibitions in the near future?”

J.Y: “I don’t have the exact date yet. But yeah, there will be.”