The Magical Worlds of Sean Chao

Sean Chao. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Sean Chao. Photo courtesy of the artist.


Originally from Taipei, Taiwan, artist Sean Chao graduated from Art Center College of Design in 2007 and now makes his home in Los Angeles. In 2012, Chao was featured in JANM’s Giant Robot Biennale 3 exhibition. He is known for creating intricate miniature dioramas using polymer clay, basswood, and paper, with nature as a recurring theme; he often depicts dense forests or vast oceans filled with plants and wildlife.

This Saturday, January 16, Chao will be leading a workshop at JANM titled Water Memory. Participants will learn to create their own sculptural underwater scenes using polymer clay, acrylic paint, and paper. In advance of this workshop, Chao graciously agreed to answer a few questions via email regarding his process and his influences.

JANM: How did you become interested in making dioramas?

Sean Chao: Growing up, I was very intrigued and fascinated by the dioramas at various natural history museums I visited, both in Taiwan and here in the States. It amazed me, the many details that were put into the dioramas to recreate natural scenes. It’s a different dimension—frozen in time and locked in a clear display case. One day I just decided to create my own dioramas, filled with worlds that I create.

Sean Chao, Big Cat, 2015, bass wood, polymer clay, acrylic, and gouache paint on wood panel. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Sean Chao, Big Cat, 2015, basswood, polymer clay, acrylic, and gouache
paint on wood panel. Photo courtesy of the artist.


JANM: Tell us about some of the inspirations that drive your work. Monkeys and country peasants seem to make frequent appearances.

SC: I grew up in Taiwan and my culture influenced my work tremendously. I grew up in the city, but I was always fascinated by the simplicity of peasant life in the country—so much closer to nature and so far away from the crowd.

My dioramas are fantasy worlds that I create. Anthropomorphic characters are very charming. They have their own personalities in my world, inspired by the people and animals around me. My brother was born in the Year of the Monkey and he is one of my best friends. My monkey character is based on his personality: smart and adventurous.

Sean Chao, Persimmon Picnic, 2015, bass wood, polymer clay, acrylic, and gouache paint on wood panel. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Sean Chao, Persimmon Picnic, 2015, basswood, polymer clay, acrylic,
and gouache paint on wood panel. Photo courtesy of the artist.


JANM: You also have an interesting “creatures within creatures” theme going on, where robots are controlled from the inside by animals. Could you tell us more about this theme?

SC: Human beings create computers, robots, and artificial intelligence based on the likeness of ourselves. It’s in our nature to create. I simply created my own version of the robot. It’s based on an ideal human personality and controlled by characters that were inspired by my family and friends.

JANM: Who are some of your own favorite artists?

SC: Beatrix Potter—she was an illustrator, natural scientist, and conservationist, and one of my favorite children’s book illustrators. Hayao Miyazaki—I grew up watching his animations. The stories are very touching for both children and adults, and the way he captures the personality of each character is just fascinating. There is definitely more to learn from him for my own work.

Learn to make a piece like this in this weekend's Water Memory workshop. Sean Chao, Skull Koi 2, 2015, bass wood, polymer clay, acrylic, and gouache paint on wood panel. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Learn to make a piece like this in this weekend’s Water Memory workshop.
Sean Chao, Skull Koi 2, 2015, basswood, polymer clay, acrylic, and gouache paint
on wood panel. Photo courtesy of the artist.


JANM: What are you most excited about for your upcoming Water Memory workshop?

SC: Meeting people who share the same interest in sculpture and diorama, and of course I’m very excited to show them my techniques. It will be a real fun event.

Space is still available for Chao’s workshop. To register, click here.

Giant Robot Artists’ Entourage

Giant Robot Biennale 3 closed this past Sunday but not without some cool happenings.  As part of what we called Giant Robot Artists’ Entourage, some of the GRB3 artists came to teach their techniques and share a bit about their art making process.

Eric Nakamura, Albert Reyes, Saelee Oh, and Rob Sato, were super-generous with their creativity and led several great art making workshops and discussions.  On Saturday we concluded the GR Entourage program with a watercolor workshop by Rob Sato.

Rob Sato demonstrating a watercolor masking technique


In addition to the public workshops, a major part of Giant Robot Artists’ Entourage was a series of workshops for high school students.  The result was a display of work that was produced during the workshops AND as an added bonus, last Friday a group of students from our neighbors at Mendez Learning Center came by for a visit!  This great group of people included two of the Entourage participants who helped lead their teachers and fellow students through the GRB3 exhibition and the display of their work.  It was the perfect way to continue the learning and conversation.

Big thanks to all the artists who shared with us and to the students and teachers from Mendez Learning Center and The Los Angeles School of Global Studies.  We had a great time with you all!

Support for the Giant Robot Entourage program is provided by the National Endowment of the Arts.

Eric Nakamura and students viewing the custom figures in the Project Remix show
After going through the galleries with Eric, students had a chance to customize their own Big Boss Robot.


Looking at Saelee Oh's work in the galleries with Saelee
Saelee Oh demonstrating her cutout process


Albert Reyes teaching an image transfer technique


Students in the galleries discuss Ako Castuera's work.


Display of student artwork created during workshops with Eric Nakamura, Saelee Oh, and Albert Reyes.

Many thanks to Richard Murakami and Gary Ono for taking photographs to document the workshops!



Giant Robot Biennale 3 Closing Party!

There are just 10 days left to come see (or see again!) the Giant Robot Biennale 3 exhibition before it closes on Sunday, January 20!

Giant Robot Biennale 3Come celebrate another successful Biennale at the GRB3 Closing Party on Thursday, January 17 from 6pm – 10pm (THAT’S NEXT WEEK!) with Giant Robot, JANM’s Young Professionals Network, and many of the artists from the exhibition.

It’s FREE!

Just go here to RSVP:

For information about the exhibition, artist bios, images, videos, and more, visit


JANM Young Professionals Network
The Young Professionals Network (YPN) furthers the mission of the Museum through philanthropic and social activities by connecting people in their 20s, 30s and 40s with a diverse and professional network that supports the growth of the Japanese American community. It provides young professionals with opportunities for community building, volunteering, fundraising, outreach and engagement. The YPN is governed by the New Leadership Advisory Council (NLAC) of the Japanese American National Museum.

Stan Sakai, JA Santa, & GRB3 artists workshop this Saturday!

This Saturday will be another busy day at JANM! We’ll have 3 great reasons to visit us with your friends & family.

  • 11am – 2pm: Take a Picture with Japanese American Santa
    Japanese American Santa is coming to town! Take home a special holiday photo.
Usagi Yojimbo books available at the Museum Store!
  • 12pm – 2pm: Stan Sakai Book Signing
    Stan Sakai returns to JANM! Signed Usagi Yojimbo books make great holiday gifts. The Museum Store will have copies of his two latest books for sale—Usagi Yojimbo #26: Traitors of the Earth & 47 Ronin (signing books only)
  • 2pm – 4pm: Giant Robot Artists’ Entourage Workshop with Albert Reyes & Saelee Oh
    Come make art with Albert Reyes and Saelee Oh from Giant Robot Biennale 3 in this hands-on workshop. Immerse yourself in a variety of techniques and styles.

Here’s a description of what Saelee Oh has planned:

Open Love Letter to the Universe: We will be creating lots of artwork together! You can make portraits of your spirit animals, make artwork as an amulet for healing and protection for yourself and to give out to others and to illustrate our wishes for our world to be a better place.

Saelee Oh installation in "Giant Robot Biennale 3"


All three events are free with Museum admission (if you’re a member, that means it’s all free!). While you’re here, be sure to check out the Giant Robot Biennale 3 exhibition (closes January 20, 2013).

If you haven’t finished your holiday shopping, find meaningful & fun cultural gifts at our award-winning Museum Store. We have many more items—including one-of-a-kind ceramics, jewelry, and art pieces—than what is available online at

Giant Robot Biennale 3 exhibition site is online!

The opening of Giant Robot Biennale 3 is coming up next weekend!

And we just launched the special exhibition site with information about the upcoming Giant Robot Biennale 3!

Check it out for info about the exhibition, video, artist bios, related public programs, audio tour, and more:

We’ll be adding more artist images and other goodies in the next few weeks.

We also have an interview with GRB3 curator Eric Nakamura on our Discover Nikkei website: Giant Robot Biennale 3: Behind the Scenes with GR’s Eric Nakamura


If you’re in the Los Angeles area (or will be next weekend), be sure to join us next Saturday night for the GRB3 Opening Party!

GRB3 Opening Party
Saturday, September 22
6PM – 10PM

Celebrate the exhibition opening with curator Eric Nakamura, GRB3 artists, and a performance by Money Mark!



We also recently just added a few new Giant Robot items to our online store!

Check out the new Giant Robot /JANM logo t-shirt and the Giant Robot Big Boss Figures set on

Giant Robot Biennale 3 — Opening Party on Sept 22nd

 Giant Robot is returning to JANM!

GRB3 Opening Party
Saturday, September 22
6PM – 10PM

Giant Robot Biennale 3 opens with a party on Saturday, September 22.

Join us as we celebrate the exhibition opening with curator Eric Nakamura, GRB3 artists, and a performance by Money Mark!

The third show in conjunction with Eric Nakamura, owner of Asian American pop culture juggernaut Giant Robot. Giant Robot Biennale 3 will feature a gallery of eight emerging artists along with a customized vinyl figure collection.

Following two previous successful exhibitions at the National Museum, the Biennale continues to push the envelope with a creative, fresh, and uniquely interactive experience. This year’s exhibition highlights the works of Rob Sato, Deth P. Sun, Ako Castuera, Eishi Takaoka, Saelee Oh, Sean Chao, Albert Reyes, and Zach Gage.

Using figures designed by Uglydoll creator David Horvath, Nakamura curated Project Remix, a custom vinyl show with over 80 artists from seven countries—including the rare combination of both established customizers and fine artists.

Special additions to the exhibition include an original piece from Japanese painter Masakatsu Sashie as well as arcade machines running Jeni Yang and Beau Blyth’s new indie video game, Catburger.

Check for more info about the exhibition and related programs.