During an unhappy childhood, Riniifish penned a better life through drawing imaginary characters. Her practice has since developed into a vivid world, titled M7 Planet, home to a society of surreal and psychedelic bugs. She tells Jyni Ong about how her bugs are evolving, and the way they reflect her own moods and emotions.
Riniifish creates bugs. But not your bog standard caterpillars and ladybirds. No, these outlandish bugs are fantastical digital creations whipped up with pure self-expression courtesy of a self-described introvert. The self-taught artist has amassed a huge following for this family of surreal creatures. Not only are they friendly fellows for both artist and viewer, they’re also collectible NFTs, with the crypto scape having recently welcomed Rinii’s ingenuity with arms wide open.
“I used to hate people and society,” Rinii explains, but through her creatures, she’s found a way to care for herself and, in turn, others. Born in a small village in rural China, the artist describes her upbringing as “very traditional, in a slightly odd family.” This played a crucial part in her creative story, and she found a much-needed sense of freedom through drawing.
Rinii’s bugs exist across a wide spectrum of the weird and wonderful. Housed on a planet called M7, some bugs grow from eggs while others have plants growing out of their eyes. Some like to smoke and others vomit rainbows. In the early stages of bug creation, Rinii incorporated mammalian characteristics into her psychedelic creatures. As they’ve evolved and taken on a life of their own, she looked for wider sources of inspiration, incorporating plants and reptilian features.
She’ll exhibit the breadth of her bugs in M7’s very first bug marathon. She came up with the idea after creating her first bug with human legs, which allowed it to run fast. A highly anticipated event in the M7 universe, this latest facet will also become a soon-to-be-released NFT series narrating the highly anticipated sporting occasion. It shows Rinii take character development one step further, providing individual stories to the entrees (expect rolled ankles, heartache, tomato-quenching and more.)
As a child, Rinii had many frustrations. “My parents educated me and my brother in a very different way. Girls were far less valuable than boys”, she says. To make matters worse, after a difficult move to Hangzhou, the young artist retreated further inwards. Her family struggled financially, “We didn’t have a real address to write on school books,” Rinii remembers, and she was gripped with terror at the thought of her classmates looking down on her. “Maybe I was too weak to love people around me at that time,” she says. “I was just so unconfident.”
Drawing provided comfort and a means of escape, a soothing relief in the form of a coping mechanism. The young Rinii took to it naturally, discovering a much-needed sense of rebellion in the precarity of a potential career in art as well as its non-verbal expression. She began to live out fantasies through art, speculatively envisioning how things could be better in an alternate universe. “Children are never short of fantasies,” she says.
As a youngster, she drew family portraits as well as “girls with pretty faces.” Affected by mainstream prejudices of colorism, she depicted a myriad of “fair-skinned, beautiful girls”; a contrast to her own darker looks which attracted ridicule and bullying. “I wanted to be different,” she explains. “I hoped I could escape from an intolerable environment by creating.”
Rinii’s first forays into digital art started with the recurring depictions of a “depressed-looking fish man” and a “sleepy-looking girl.” The girl signified fleeting feelings of happiness, while the man symbolized sadness and hopelessness. The two characters always appeared at the same time and eventually Rinii decided to create a world where they could live, M7 Planet. Nowadays, M7 is primarily occupied by the bugs. Their designs are mostly improvised, body parts and personality traits first chopped and changed in a sketchbook. Once Rinii is happy with the character, she brings them further to life through Procreate, then adds a dash of psychedelia through Adobe Premier and Final Cut Pro.
The Planet is rapidly expanding, and the bugs’ numbers are increasing alongside Rinii’s own emotional and psychological changes – “I think they might be the dark parts of my personality” – each character imbued with a distinct visual language to capture said expression. For instance, the axolotl-esque bugs with thick dewy tears clearly nod to feelings of pain while the more human-like Heart Throb has an open chest to reveal a pulsing, deep passion. Rinii explains that they have therapeutic qualities for her: “The characters heal me and stop me from entering an endless black hole.”
Taking a leaf out of her idol, Japanese graphic designer Tadanori Yokoo’s book, Rinii’s found a way to work through her problems. After reading his books, Rinii told herself: “I will not continue to be hated”, but instead, “I must be seen by my art.” Though no mean feat, she learnt how to talk easily with people and most importantly, gain the courage to create art she thinks is “beautiful, even if others think it’s annoying or noisy.”
If Rinii’s childhood wish was “to be different,” she’s unquestionably achieved it through her characters. Once she broke away from familial expectations and forgave her parents for thinking her inferior, she found self-acceptance through M7 Planet. It’s also allowed her to connect with other creatives who admire her work and what she’s bringing to the NFT space. “I don’t think of myself as ‘weak’ or ‘poor’ anymore,” says Rinii happily. “I don’t wait ‘til someone cares about me, I show that I care. I use art as a way to let myself care about other people more. I do believe it can bring people something.”