Tango: The Artist Who’s Introducing the West to Therapeutic Comics

By David Grasso

Already a star with a significant social following in China, the cartoonist known by the moniker Tango is now showcasing his talents all over the world. His simplistic, but thought provoking drawings are often humorous, and capture the oddities of modern life. A self-described visual storyteller, his work is intended to make stress-out salaried folk see the primitive beauty of our existence.

Tango, or Gao Youjun (高幼軍 ) if you’re referring to the artist by his birth name, comes from the world of advertising, where he’s a larger-than-life figure known for his raw creative energy. Originally, he ventured into the world of drawing as a hobby. Today, he’s a major contributor to an entire genre of art in China, what has come to be known as Therapeutic Comics (治愈系漫). 

“I am always more sensitive to visuals rather than words, Tango told No.3 magazine on heels of his month long exhibition at Chelsea Market. “I appreciate values of words which can form visual concepts”

Back home, he’s solidified a following that’s always eager to see his next masterpiece. The popular social networking sites that Westerners use daily are unavailable in China, so users turn to home-grown sites that fill the same niche. Weibo, a Chinese site that is best described as a mix of Twitter and Facebook, served as the platform for Tango to disseminate his work and develop a loyal fan base. He’s now drawing a different international audience on Instagram. “I’ve created 1700 to 1800 drawings so far, and can easily select a few targeting interests of Westerners,” Tango says. 

Implicit in much of the art is thinly veiled social commentary. Often, his content is deemed too racy for mainland Chinese audiences and is quietly censored. His work outside of the country gives him the opportunity to push the envelop in ways that he cannot do back home in Shanghai. 

One of the most interesting elements of his work is that he often brings inanimate objects to life, personifying the most mundane items and giving them anthropomorphic attributes. 

“Everything has a personality,” Tango says. “Art is about concepts, and concepts are often invisible. In my work, I project concepts on to every plot and every environment.”

You can follow Tango’s work on Instagram @tangosleepless