New Levels: Where The Internet Meets Pop Art

John Chae creates spectacular works that straddle art history and millennial meme, but even he has no idea what to call them.

I see Escher. Isometrics. Cubism. Anime. Pop art. I see the Internet and I see art history. I see videogames and I see why “videogames” makes such a vapid descriptor.


This is New Levels, a collection of work by John Chae. It’s inspired by all of the things I mentioned above, and yet it’s impossible for me to verbalize. It’s portraiture and landscape in one, totally New Aesthetic, yet so much more analog than that.

Different Levels

“I don’t think I’ve come to a point where my work can be defined or labeled in any way,” Chae tells me. “I don’t say that with arrogance, like my work is beyond category or anything like that. It’s just I’m still finding new ideas and methods with each new piece.”

Chae often starts with an obsession with another artist. Right now that includes Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer and contemporary illustrator Kilian Eng–a wide range to be sure. He considers the process with which others invent, and in doing so, he begins sketching ideas on his own.

“Then I’ll stumble upon an image that attracts me, like a photograph of an architectural space or a woman I find attractive, and then I’ll try to incorporate my toolset of techniques to create a new image,” he explains. “The final image always ends up much different from my initial inspiration because I’ll learn a new technique through my drawing and research. This evolution is what keeps my work exciting for me.”

Window Pane

The creative process itself becomes a ping-pong between analog and digital illustration. Chae actually does all his precision line work in ink, then he scans those lines into a computer. It’s in Photoshop that he’ll add colors and textures, but again, many of those textures might be handmade as well (brush strokes or charcoal). It’s largely because of this pigment-to-pixel back-and-forth that Chae’s work feels so visually paradoxical. And when this visual paradox is stacked with so many disparate sources of inspiration, well, you get Chae’s work.

So no, I don’t know exactly what I’m looking at. And Chae has no idea what he’s drawing. But in the end, my eyes are perfectly comfortable with that relationship.


About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.