Surf’s up, summer babies, and we’re riding into warm weather on our favorite wave: new art! Give it up for Gung Ho Go, the debut edition from the latest recruit to our artist roster, Sally Deng. One of Forbes 30 Under 30 for the 2020 Art & Style list, Deng has created work for a number of prominent publications—you might have spotted her art in The New Yorker or The Atlantic, for instance. The LA-based artist was named a Young Guns 16 winner by The One Club of Creativity, and has been recognized by American Illustration, the Society of Illustrators, and other esteemed organizations. Parents and kid’s lit fans also oughta take note of the two children’s books she’s illustrated: Skyward (which she also authored!) about three girls who become World War II pilots, and last year’s Yusra Swims, about a Syrian refugee who becomes an olympic athlete. But what first caught our eye was the expressive linework, evocative use of color, and absorbing movement emanating from Deng’s pieces. Gung Ho Go packs serious beach day vibes to boot, and we’re pretty sure we’re not the only ones itching for some salt air.
As is the case in many of Deng’s arworks, Gung Ho Go taps into body language to tell a story, punctuated by exaggerated hues. Originally drawn in colored pencil, the print’s chunky swaths of blues, greens and grays inflected by peachy pink and pastel yellow portray the fluctuating palette and undulating surface of the ocean with a wash of playfulness and go-with-the-flow placidity. The airborne surfer spotlighted over the crest of a wave is positioned in such a way that they appear both alertly present in the moment, and totally free. Facing the foaming edge, their hand and feet are flexed, but their posture seems loose and pliant. A zip of yellow emphasizes the energy of the moment. Riding a wave means accepting what you can’t control, taking a spill in stride, the falling figure seems to suggest. Deng says her surfing art draws from her own experience learning the sport, feeling small and insignificant in a way that’s really liberating. That certainly comes across here, meanwhile the two onlookers at lower-right with their heads turned toward the surfer at center convey the unspoken sense of community you might feel floating in a pack. And if you’ve ever tried to surf yourself, you know wiping out comes with the territory. All of which is to say: going beyond the strictly representative, Gung Ho Go dials up the emotion and ambiance for a super relatable surfing scene.
That the figure is suspended in midair extends the fall—something real life wouldn’t offer, calcifying a complex moment that’s rich in both human interaction and the compelling interplay between those humans and their surrounding environment. This elicits an emotional response in the viewer, an impulse to linger over the artwork. And that lingering will be well rewarded. There’s so much to see in Gung Ho Go, so many tiny details that pop out upon a second or third look—the way the surfers in the background and the hovering seagulls share a resemblance; the butter yellow horizon that hints at late afternoon; the waiting rider staking out their next swell from a streak of white where the light must be hitting. Everything Deng’s included adds a little more to the mood and invites us into the ocean (no wetsuit necessary). Read more about her process and the progression of her style in this recent interview with It’s Nice That, and dive into her debut edition here.
With art for everyone,