In China, Yi Stropky saw art get censored. Now, his tattoo designs have Vancouverites waiting weeks

Yi Stropky opens up about art in China, having a tattoo studio in Vancouver's Chinatown and why he so values freedom of expression.

Yi Stropky opens up about art in China, Vancouver's Chinatown and why he values freedom of expression

If you're not part of tattoo culture, then you might not be aware that getting one from the artist you really admire can be a bit of a waiting game. That's the case for clients of Yi Stropky, the Vancouver tattoo artist known for his simple, playful designs that he often encloses in a black ink "box" on the skin. It can take a month to grab a spot with the artist, who has almost 100,000 followers on Instagram. 

Watch our profile of Yi Stropky:

Popular Vancouver tattoo artist Yi Stropky opens up about his journey from art classes in China to expressing himself in Vancouver's Chinatown. 3:41

In this video made by filmmaker Daniel Lins da Silva, you get to spent a chilled-out day with Stropky in his studio and the Chinatown neighbourhood he loves. Stropky was raised in China, where he saw the work of some artists censored for its political message. He says of that experience, "That's actually the first time I experienced censorship so closely. That definitely had an influence on how I value freedom of speech, freedom of expression." 

I consider myself a more introverted person. Art is a way for me to communicate with people. I don't want to give away too much, just enough to let the audience accept or love characters or things they don't fully understand.- Yi Stropky

Stropky's designs are often cheeky, and designed specifically with skin in mind. He works on them with pens, pencils and his tablet, turning his graphic ideas into art that will work specifically on your leg, arm or whatever body part you had in mind. Here, he takes you through his process:

Watch Yi Stropky show you how he designs his tattoos:

Tattoo artist Stropky breaks down the steps to creating one of his "flash" tattoo designs. Filmmaker: Daniel Lins da Silva 1:53

Now, Stropky's been based in Vancouver for about six years after going to university in the U.K. and studying animation at Emily Carr University of Art + Design in B.C. Vancouver's Chinatown has become a welcome reminder of the artist's childhood - he says, "It's not home but I see familiar things there. That's a very special feeling to me."

Yi Stropky is traveling through Europe until the fall, but you can follow him here. And pro tip: if you want to get a tattoo from him, book early. When we say he's popular, we're really not kidding. Check out more of his work below:

I was born and raised in China. I always took the more traditional realistic drawing classes. That was a common thing. When I was in high school me and a few friends got books about contemporary art. Those books opened up a whole new world to us.

One of my friends had a gallery space, doing exhibitions with artists who had some political opinions that were not allowed. He had to close that gallery space. That was the first time I experienced censorship so closely.

Chinatown is more like the old China. It's not home, but I see familiar things there. That's a very special feeling to me.
I often get asked what's the meaning behind those tattoos. I think we don't really need to ask. People don't visually like things randomly. If it's aesthetically pleasing to you it probably has a meaning already.

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About the Author

Lise Hosein

Lise Hosein is a producer at CBC Arts. Before that, she was an arts reporter at JazzFM 91, an interview producer at George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight and a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto. When she's not at her CBC Arts desk she's sometimes an instructor at OCADU and is always quite terrified of bees.


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