Styromaniac

Artist and animator Cheeming Boey turns the scorned and ubiquitous Styrofoam cup into art

Since 1941, extruded polystyrene has been the material of choice for everything from life rafts to insulation to the humble coffee cup. Demonized in recent years for an unsustainable process of manufacture and generally non-green aspects, Styrofoam (its brand name) has fallen out of favor with the more eco-minded among us; and because only 10% of it is recycled in the U.S. every year, Styrofoam is quickly becoming a major problem…unless you’re Cheeming Boey.
 
Boey moved to the US from Malaysia to become an animator, attended school in San Francisco, and eventually ended up in Orange County, where he found his new medium quite by accident. While sitting outside a coffee shop one day, feeling the urge to draw but lacking paper, Boey plucked a Styrofoam cup out of a nearby garbage can and started to sketch. What was originally an activity rooted in boredom became a steady habit, and soon, Boey’s workspace was full of cups. It wasn’t until a co-worker inquired about his growing collection, that Boey decided to make a business out of selling them, and while most of his friends were fans of Boey’s work, they couldn’t quite see how drawings on Styrofoam cups constituted a business plan. “One of my co-workers told me: “No one’s gonna buy that crap” says Boey.
 
And then things took off. 
 
On a whim, Boey packed up several cups in a bag and drove them to Marion Meyer Contemporary Art in Laguna Beach, a gallery that features mostly well-known artists. Meyer liked the drawings immediately and suggested that Boey display them during the town’s monthly art walk. Because the medium was so unique and the stories were so vivid, they began to sell. Now the asking price for one of Boey’s pieces is between $120 and $220.
To Boey, the Styrofoam cup is the perfect blank canvas. With nothing more than a Sharpie marker in his hand, Boey tells intricate, circular stories on the body of each cup, sometimes taking up to a month to finish one of his compositions. Taking inspiration from Greek and Chinese myths, Malaysian Shadow puppets and Japanese wood block prints, his work is part meditation and part improvisation. Once he has a concept, Boey only ever takes a single pass at a cup, “sketching” his idea in his head as he goes along. “Sometimes I sketch things out on paper to see if two patterns would work,” says Boey, “but I never just sketch them out on the cups.”
While Boey’s work is visually stunning, combining bold lines with bursts of pointillism, it’s his story telling that resonates as you look at one of his compositions. His subject matter ranges from humor, to romance, to longing, to myth…each cup like a small graphic novel in and of itself. Some cups telling universal tales and others telling of Boey’s more personal journey.
In the beginning, Boey simply wanted to prove his detractor wrong and sell a single cup, but now he can’t draw fast enough. Most of his early work has been sold and he routinely gets requests for commissions and offers to design everything from tattoos to laptop covers. If you ask Boey about the success of his work, he seems as bewildered as anyone else. “Who knew it would turn into this?” he says.
 
For more information about Cheeming Boey’s cup drawings, see iamboey.com. Author Paul Overton is the force behind dudecraft.com; read more of his blogs and articles there.
 
 
 

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