|1974 (age 49–50)
Fremantle, Western Australia, Australia
|Writer, Penciller, Artist
|The Red Tree
The Lost Thing
Shaun Tan (born 1974) is an Australian artist, writer and film maker. He won an Academy Award for The Lost Thing, a 2011 animated film adaptation of a 2000 picture book he wrote and illustrated. Other books he has written and illustrated include The Red Tree and The Arrival.
Tan was born in Fremantle, Western Australia, and grew up in the northern suburbs of Perth, Western Australia. In 2006, his wordless graphic novel The Arrival won the Book of the Year prize as part of the New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards. The same book won the Children's Book Council of Australia Picture Book of the Year award in 2007. and the Western Australian Premier's Book Awards Premier's Prize in 2006.
Tan's work has been described as an "Australian vernacular" that is "at once banal and uncanny, familiar and strange, local and universal, reassuring and scary, intimate and remote, guttersnipe and sprezzatura. No rhetoric, no straining for effect. Never other than itself."
For his career contribution to "children's and young adult literature in the broadest sense" Tan won the 2011 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award from the Swedish Arts Council, the biggest prize in children's literature.
As a boy, Tan spent time illustrating poems and stories and drawing dinosaurs, robots and spaceships. At school he was known as a talented artist. At the age of eleven, he became a fan of The Twilight Zone television series as well as books that bore similar themes. Tan cites Ray Bradbury as a favourite at this time. These stories led to Tan writing his own short stories. Of his effort at writing as a youth, Tan tells, "I have a small pile of rejection letters as testament to this ambition!" At the age of sixteen, Tan's first illustration appeared in the Australian magazine Aurealis in 1990.
Tan almost studied to become a geneticist, and enjoyed chemistry, physics, history and English while in high school as well as art and claimed that he did not really know what he wanted to do. During his university studies, Tan decided to move from academic studies to working as an artist.
Tan continued his education at the University of Western Australia where he studied Fine Arts, English Literature and History. While this was of interest to him, there was little practical work involved. In 1995, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts.
Initially, Tan worked in black and white because the final reproductions would be printed that way. Some black and white mediums he used include pens, inks, acrylics, charcoal, scraperboard, photocopies, and linocuts. Tan's current colour works include multiple different colours. He uses a graphite pencil to make sketches on ordinary copy paper. The sketches are then reproduced numerous times with different versions varying with parts added or removed. Sometimes scissors are used for this purpose. The cut and paste collage idea in these early stages is often extend to the finished production with many of his illustrations using such materials as "glass, metal, cuttings from other books and dead insects".
Tan describes himself as a slow worker who revises his work many times along the way. He is interested in loss and alienation, and believes that children in particular react well to issues of natural justice. He feels he is "like a translator" of ideas, and is happy and flattered to see his work adapted and interpreted in film and music (such as by the Australian Chamber Orchestra).
Tan draws from a large source of inspiration and cites many influences on his work. His comment on the subject is: "I'm pretty omnivorous when it comes to influences, and I like to admit this openly." Some influences are very direct. The Lost Thing is a strong example where Tan makes visual references to famous artworks. Many of his influences are a lot more subtle visually, some of the influences are ideological.
The Shaun Tan Award for Young Artists is sponsored by the City of Subiaco and open to all Perth school children between 5 and 17 years. The award is aimed at encouraging creativity in two-dimensional works. It is held annually with award winners announced in May and finalists' works exhibited at the Subiaco Library throughout June.
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