猪の画室 PIGOLOGIST aka 吴常瑀 Wu Chang Yu is an artist born and raised in Singapore, with a penchant for all things nostalgic. An old soul who draws inspiration from days long gone, vintage memories mean more to her than just faded furnishings and old movies.

Creating a colourful universe full or irony and humour, Chang Yu’s illustrations juxtapose joy against melancholy, hope against courage, all set against a backdrop of loveable characters. Her keen observation of everyday quirks provides her with an endless supply of inspiration and fuels her ability to create memorable visual landscapes, representing life in all its layers and contrasts.

Her one-piece hang, GREED, will be unveiled tomorrow at SPRMRKT Daily so in the mean time, we dig a little deeper into the porcine world of Chang Yu…

1) Growing up, were you always interested in art?

I suppose yes. I was always switching between arts club and sports in school. I once thought I might be able to have a “glamorous” sports career as I’m from the school team and doing pretty well. I grew up watching black and white, vintage cartoons, muppet shows and Doraemon comics. When I started my years in design school, I immersed myself in photography, animations, design and films. It was in my mid 20s that I narrowed my focus on the art of illustration.

2) What were some of the earliest influences and motivations that inspired you to become an artist/illustrator?

I love the works of Tim Biskup, Yoshitomo Nara, Tim Burton, Mary Blair, Fujiko F. Fujio and Mcbess. Their animations and artworks definitely inspired me and my style greatly.

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Girl With Cigarette by Yoshitomo Nara (Picture credit: Widewalls)

3) Your art works engage such a distinct aesthetic, often nostalgic and witty—do you have a particular source of inspiration?

I believe my fondness for all things vintage—from furniture to movie posters—does influence my art style. I find joy in injecting some melancholy and elements that reveal the dark side of humanity, to my often cute, quirky-looking characters. Some might not notice the disguise and irony but I like this contrast in my works. My inspirations come from daily observations and reads.

4) How do you begin designing a character? Do you begin with a story in mind?

Yes it always begins with a story and topic in focus that I want to express strongly. Then I package the story—which is often not a cute and happy one—in the guise of a cute-looking character. I do sometimes design genuinely happy characters for mass appeal too.

5) What is your work process? Do you begin on paper, or through sketches?

I begin with a few sketches. Often the big picture of the finished piece is projected in my mind before sketch.

6) How many times do you tend to draw a character until it’s “right”?

Once or twice.

7) What do you consider the most indispensable item in your creative process from imagination to creation?

Brain, pen, paper and conscience. I hate plagiarism. I have little respect for artists who rip off the work of others.

8) Which was the first artwork you ever created, and which you ever sold?

A piece from my <Not so HapPig Days>, titled UNPLUG. It’s a digital illustration of a puppet. I started getting some overseas exposure with this and another artwork, through 3×3 International Illustration ProShow (Annual 8).

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UNPLUG by PIGOLOGIST

A puppet is an artificial figure representing a human being or an animal, manipulated by the hand, rods and wires. It’s crafted by man for performance on a stage. It’s existence and characteristics was designed and given by the creator. What if the puppet was capable of experiencing its own feelings and even senses? Would it want to abide by the rules of the creator? One of the puppets had decided to unplug itself. It disappeared into the deepest void.

9) Do you have a favourite character from all your illustrations?

I’ve used puppets more than once in my digital illustration and acrylic painting. I suppose I like puppets alot—perhaps it’s the artificial intelligence in Disney’s Pinocchio that made me fall in love with it.

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To Be Real by PIGOLOGIST

10) Which living artist/illustrator do you find most inspiring? Why?

Fujiko F. Fujio. He created an imaginary friend and world for all of us.

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Fujiko F. Fujio, nom de plume of manga writing duo, Hiroshi Fujimoto and Motoo Abiko—the creators of Doraemon.

11) Are there any artists/illustrators, living or dead, which you would like to collaborate with?

A Japanese sculptor, Ishibashi Yui.

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Human Nature sculptures by Japanese artist, Ishibashi Yui. (Photo credit: Ishibashi Yui)

12) Are you working on any new projects?

Yes. It’s a secret for now.

13) If you could choose any other profession or life calling, what would it be?

A profession to serve the masses, preferably in the mental and health sector. 

14) Where do you see your career in 10 years?

I get nervous with a question like this.

15) Living or dead, which artists/illustrators will you invite to your ideal dinner party?

Fujiko F. Fujio and you and everyone.

16) Finally, what does Pigologist really mean?

PIGOLOGIST is one who studies the behaviour and mind of pigs.

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Three months ago, we welcomed 2 new members to the SPRMRKT family: SPRMRKT Daily and SPRMRKT Kitchen & Bar at our new venue in Robertson Quay, within STPI—Creative Workshop & Gallery. As we settled in, we knew it would bring much joy to be able to dine in the presence of art, and enjoy the supermarket experience, redefined, in our new space as well.

As we debut our one-piece art exhibitions at SPRMRKT Daily, we are honoured to have up and coming Singaporean artist Lakshmi Mohanbabu‘s acrylic masterpiece, Iron Rust II, adorn our walls.

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Iron Rust II is part of the Strata Morphosis series of 6 paintings based on the idea of change and layers that are gathered through the cycle of life.

1) Growing up, were you always interested in art?

I have been drawing for as long as I can remember, all through my childhood I did portraits/caricatures of my friends and people around me.

2) What were some of your earliest influences which inspired you to become an artist?

Both my parents were creatively inclined. 

My training as an architect and a fashion designer put me on the path to doing what I really enjoyed doing i.e. drawing painting and creating works of art. 

3) You are such a multi-faceted artist and dabble in so many mediums, genres and styles, do you have a favourite?

In terms of mediums it would be graphite pencils, genres would be Figurative and style would be Impressionism.

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Expressions by Lakshmi Mohanbabu

4) How does representation and a tendency towards abstraction find a balance in your work? 

The mind plays tricks on us. With the play of light and shadow what we see are indeed abstract shapes  even in realistic representation, not what we think we see. I don’t view them as separate which is what helps me balance the two concepts. 

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5) What do you consider the most indispensable item in your studio?

There is a Long list but if I had to choose it would be my 3 inch flat chisel brush. 

6) Which was the first artwork you ever sold?

The first artworks I sold were a series on disability for the voluntary health association of India in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1992. 

7) Which was the most recent exhibition you attended?

The Art And Science Of Gems by Van Cleef and Arpels at MBS. 

8) Which living artist do you find most inspiring? Why?

Patrick Hughes. I find his creation of the concept of reverse perspectives truly inspiring and original. 

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Reverspective painting by Patrick Hughes

9) Are there any living contemporary artists which constantly surprise you?

The works of Danish Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson.

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Deep mirror (yellow),  2016 by Olafur Eliasson

10) Do you think that your architectural training provides you with a discipline or structure which makes for a unique artistic perspective?

Yes it definitely does. The process and structure while planning and making an art work is something I learnt during my architectural training. Steps and methodology in perspective drawing, visualisation in 3D has helped me not only in drawing abstract or structural but also figurative forms with what I think would be a different viewpoint. 

11) Are you working on any new projects?

Yes. I have a few planned as well. 

12) How do you see the art market evolving?

Shifts from primary to secondary to online markets hasn’t taken long. I do think more art will be viewed online. But the need to appreciate art up close will never die. 

13) If you could choose any other profession or life calling, what would it be?

Being a mathematician.

14) Living or dead, which artists will you invite to your ideal dinner party?

Filippo Brunelleschi for his invention of linear perspective Marie Guillemine Benoist an accomplished woman artist of who there were so few, Rembrandt for his absolute mastery of the brush  

Giuseppe Arcimboldo whose works predate surrealism, Leonardo da Vinci for his inventive mind, Michelangelo for his versatility, Alphonse Mucha and René Gruau for their depictions of Parisian life, Katsushika Hokusai for his woodcut prints, Sargent for his beautiful portraits, Turner for his brilliant landscapes. The list could go on!  I would need a few dinner parties to interact with each one!

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Iron Rust II will be on show till 27 November 2016. For enquiries on how to exhibit and purchase art, do write to us at daily@sprmrkt.com.sg.

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The opening reception for Diagonale du Fou was held on the evening of 28 September, with the artist, Sandrine Llouquet arriving in Singapore just the day before! It was lovely to see some new faces at the event, who came across our invites in one way or another 🙂DSC_5165.jpg

Meanwhile, Sandrine has been kept busy speaking with guests who were trickling in for a first glimpse at the new work. It has been 5 years since her last exhibition in Singapore!

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Chef Joseph catches up with guests, new and old 🙂

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Quick snap of the view, unobstructed, from the wall at the back—each piece is framed in a natural wood timbre frame

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“Each of my artworks is a step left behind that shows the rebuilding of oneself: wandering, passage from one stage to another, rebellion, escape, rebirth… By pursuing my research on this idea of building oneself, I naturally came to study the history of alchemy and found deep similarities with my notion of art: a quest for wisdom that goes with material experimentations. Sine then, the esoteric/hermetic dimension has kept growing in my practice while I interrogate the ideas of religion and belief.”

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Guests were treated to magnums of the 2013 Chateau de Trinquevedel Tavel Rosé—generously sponsored by our wine partner, Analogue Wine Merchant. They were perfect with our lightly seasoned pork belly sliders, if I might say so myself!

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Wine lovers!

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Finding something to muse about on our curator’s note about the exhibition

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Sandrine with our director, Sue-Shan

Not forgetting the evening’s morsels—inspired by Sandrine’s French-Vietnamese roots, Chef Joseph created canapés that gave a nod to her mixed heritage, such as mini banh mis made using fresh baguettes baked in-house, choux puffs stuffed with savoury mushroom cream and pandan & coconut financiers for a local touch.

Mouse over the images for descriptions!

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Diagonale du Fou is Sandrine’s second solo exhibition in Singapore—the first being a solo exhibition titled I would prefer not to at Give Art in 2011. She is now the director of Salon Saigon, a new art space in a French colonial villa in downtown Ho Chi Minh City and has an ambitious new project currently on show at KENPOKU Art 2016 in Ibaraki, Japan through 20 November 2016.

Read more about Sandrine Llouquet on her website and email us at contactus@sprmrkt.com.sg for enquiries related to SPRMRKT and the exhibitions.

 

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As if mastering the art of penning beautiful script isn’t difficult enough, calligrapher and entrepreneur Ruth Tan has taken to bringing words to life by constructing original, movable calligraphy sculptures in her debut exhibition, Words Within, held at SPRMRKT from July to September 2016. The 10-piece installation with its pivoting words and secret messages—some cheeky, some thoughtful—was one of our most interactive exhibitions yet. We catch up with Ruth on her inspirations, studio life and everything else!

1) What inspired you to create Words Within?

I think language is a wonderful tool for us to express ourselves, and some words trigger associations that we have experienced in our lives. Words Within is an offshoot of that idea that words in themselves could and often do carry meaning in themselves for the speaker/writer and whoever she’s conversing with. It’s also something that fascinates me because I work with letterings and one day I was just wondering about how letters could be expressed as a physical machinery as opposed to just flat and two-dimensional, which is what I often do for weddings, corporate events and in workshops. This curiosity kept bugging me so I decided to marry the two—word associations and movable words—alongside funny quotes I’ve made up or heard before, to delight an audience.

2) It sounds like there’s a lot you’d like to express and which more than words can say, forgive the pun, is this something you feel about the English language?

Haha yes I think so. I don’t often know what to say because there is a lot going on in my head—it’s like taking too long to decide which food to buy at the canteen and in the meantime all the queues start to form and snake, so I just go with the easiest, shortest one. Because of the copious amount of things going on at one time—and I am pretty easily distracted—whatever I end up saying on the spot would often be a lesser (and probably less confusing!) version. 

3) Why these 10 words and phrases? 

I picked words that visitors could easily connect with! My two favourites are:

ExpertI talk to myself sometimes because I need expert advice

This is a tongue-in-cheek quote that refers to the need for us to listen to our own intuition. I don’t think others’ advice are always right or suitable for our context. We need wisdom to know when to listen to what, and when to trust our gut!

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Can you find the secret inscriptions?

Dreamthe distance between your dreams and reality is called action 

Most of us dream of something bigger than ourselves… that’s a good thing. But even greater would be to put it into action. Don’t procrastinate till it is “perfect”. Get it rolling and keep at perfecting it!

4) You’ve chosen a really unique career to be in especially in Singapore—why calligraphy and what does being a calligrapher in Singapore/Asia mean to you?

I think this kinda fell into my lap! I was an analyst in civil service, then a secondary school teacher. I couldn’t continue teaching any more given the tug-o-war between the long hours and my family. It eventually became obvious that I have to give up a regular job. Not working was not a choice for me either; I am always curious and seeking out new adventures.

When blogshops were popular in the late 2000s, I decided to have a proper webstore and try my hand at online retail. We had a good run with many roadshows including with Takashimaya, and the now-defunct Borders bookstore, and even ran the first ever MT tape exhibition, craft workshops and retail in Japan with the venue sponsorship from National Library Board. When the opportunity struck for my own brick-and-mortar, I knew right away I wanted to include in the retail store a small corner for craft workshops. I have always been craftsy … lettering, sewing, painting and all that. So coupled with my experience in events, one thing led to another and before I knew it, the craft business expanded very quickly. That’s when my studio The Workroom was born.

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Ruth is head honcho at studio-outfit, The Workroom. Together with a team of passionate instructors, they organise creative workshops and accept commissions for exclusive events.

I started off with barely a handful of instructors, all of whom had no experience in teaching, but were passionate about their art. Given my background in teaching, I found that I was in a good place to design and structure lessons better. It was a natural progression for me to dive headlong into teaching calligraphy and committing to commissioned work. I now work with a team of calligraphers, craftspeople and artists to teach students and provide art services to our private and corporate clients. It has been immensely satisfying ride so far and we have had opportunities to work for clients from all walks of life, from brides-to-be to celebrities and luxe brands.

As for being a calligrapher in Singapore and Asia… frankly I don’t think of it as extra special from other kinds of craft. There are other forms of art that are a lot more intricate and laborious and I really admire people who invest their lives in that. For me, calligraphy is both extremely gratifying and practical form of art. For one, I get to use my skills to add a special pizazz to special events and that’s really moving for me, to be able to contribute to and share a part in clients’ happy occasions. I always tell my students that calligraphy has also got to be practical. For most of our purposes, we really are learning calligraphy to communicate in a beautiful way to others. There is little point in being “beautiful” but illegible… for example, if we are writing placecards, and the guests cannot identify their names, can you imagine the confusion and discomfort? I enjoy typography, design and lettering, and I have learnt italic, copperplate and modern calligraphy. I would like to continue to share my knowledge and skills with new learners, and to share the beauty of writing with clients for their events’ needs. 

5) Have you had any strange/interesting requests because of your skill as a calligrapher?

Not really, unless you count designing a lettering for a client’s tattoo as strange! It is the most unusual request to date, and I thoroughly enjoyed working on it. The client was superb to work with. She knew exactly what she wanted and communicated it very clearly so I could work in the right direction to process the exact thing she had in mind. Right now among the projects I’m working on, the most interesting one is to letter a Bible verse for Class 95FM DJ Jean Danker’s wedding. This will be printed on her aisle runner! I can’t wait to see the end result.

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“Reunited today with Ruth! She used to helm a store in holland village called the little happy shop (check her out now at http://www.thelittlehappyshop.com) and I never forgot her positive spirit and great energy. Fast forward to today and she’s going to be the one handwriting all my place cards/wedding invites/aisle runner/coffee cup sleeves… basically everything that requires words, she’s the woman behind it!…”  (Photo credit: @jeandanker)

6) We understand you have also been holding calligraphy and other creative craft workshops for the past 6 years—who are your students and would you be able to describe what a class at The Workroom is like?

Most of our students at the studio are ladies in their 20s – 40s from all walks of life. Increasingly we also have expatriates and foreigners on holiday in Singapore! I’m always very grateful for everyone who take time off to learn from us… we know how precious weekends are! A typical class at the studio is very hands-on. The students usually go straight into the making/ crafting, and everyone on the team is more than eager to share all that they know, from history to where to get supplies and tips to make your art better. We make effort to sincerely sustain the community we build. I also now have two of my students now on the team, teaching their own students how to write lovely calligraphy. Class size varies depending on the craft… something that requires a lot of 1-1 coaching such as fine art botanical painting would be restricted to a very small size of 4 or 5 students, whereas modern calligraphy classes are often capped at 10 pax or so.

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Workshops held at The Workroom (Photo credit: @theworkroom.sg)

7) From your website, you’ve listed that you’ve worked with quite a number of big corporate clienteles such as Chanel, Dior & SK-II, would you be able to share some of the more exciting projects you’ve done with any of them?

Sure! For Chanel, the client was from the Fine Jewelry store in Takashimaya and the brief expanded from just live calligraphy service for their VIPs on the Valentine’s weekend, to coming up with original watercolour paintings of Chanel’s iconic representations such as the plume (feather) and the camillia (flower). VIPs then get to choose a famous quote by Chanel to be written on one side of the card, and to have her name (or the name of the recipient) on the side of the illustration.

More recently, I wrote for SK-II’s invites to their VIPs to the global launch of their Masterpiece Pitera collection — the most luxurious series of all. The launch was to be held in Tokyo and among the invites I was writing, there were those going out to big names around the world.

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Brush lettering for SK-II (Photo credit: @theworkroom.sg)

The two most unique calligraphy services I did were for IWC and Clarins. Writing placecards for guests was commonplace, but for IWC’s private luncheon for their VIPs, I wrote placecards for the beautiful, exquisite ladies’ watches. The styling was so on point with each watch displayed among flowers (and with my placecard) in a glass bell-jar. For Clarins’ trade and media event at Gardens By The Bay, I wrote patrons’ names on Tree Certificates —these are certificates to thank patrons for their support for their green project to plant trees in Northern Thailand. It was such a treat!

8) What would you consider to be your dream project? 

It would be a dream come true if I would have the chance to work with Guo Pei Couture. Guo Pei is a Chinese high fashion designer and she makes the most beautiful couture pieces, based on traditional Chinese imperial court design. I really admire her beautiful pieces with stunning structure and texture and intricate embroidery. I wonder what it would be like to combine modern calligraphy or lettering on high fashion!

9) Coming back to art, what made you decide to showcase your debut exhibition at SPRMRKT?

SPRMRKT is extremely supportive of indie art and crafts. It is my pleasure to accept Sue-Shan’s invitation to create a series of lettering for the exhibition! As a commercial artist, we don’t always have the time or space to create for our personal projects… this exhibition gave me a great opportunity to do just that!

10) Who are some of your favourite artists or what are your favourite artistic periods?

My favourite artist is Claude Monet. When I had the opportunity to visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum last October, I was in awe standing before the original works. They were immense and breathtaking and so much more than I had imagined. I am particularly drawn to the French Impressionist paintings, and Monet’s works are always precious to me. There is a sense of freedom, tranquil and solace in his works. Impression, Sunrise (1872) and the earlier Water Lilies are my favourites. 

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Impression, Sunrise by Claude Monet

 

11) What’s next on your art calendar—are you exhibiting anywhere else after SPRMRKT? If no, why not?

I am currently working on returning to library@orchard for the 2nd run of ‘Calligraphy Travels’. As with 2016’s exhibition, the contributors for 2017 will be calligraphers from Singapore, and I hope we will delight patrons with a gorgeous display of letters in different calligraphy scripts!

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Ruth doing a watercolour demonstration at a modern calligraphy workshop held at library@orchard earlier this year (Photo credit: @theworkroom.sg)

12) Any final thoughts you’d like to share about your debut exhibition Words Within?

I hope everyone enjoys checking out the hidden quotes/messages within!  

Missed the exhibition? Get in touch with us (contactus@sprmrkt.com.sg) to take a closer look!
For more information about Ruth, her team and their creations, step into The Workroom.

Glossary

Bloom – Plant yourself where you may bloom.

ShineOne day the people who didn’t believe in you are going to tell everyone how they met you.

BaeBe mine always.

ExpertI talk to myself sometimes because I need expert advice.

LaobanDon’t let this face fool you. I roll like a boss.

ArtistI am an Artist. Sleeping is an art.

DessertDessert is not an option. It’s why I started eating in the first place.

DreamThe distance between your dreams and reality is called action.

ShoesRoses are red, violets are blue | You can keep the flowers, I’d rather have shoes.

CertaintyNothing is certain except death and taxes. And laundry.

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Tracy rounds out the 3 artists of Art Is Gallery & Artist Studio with her series of photographs – printed on HD ChromaLuxe, these are impossible to miss as you enter the backroom. In this session, we get acquainted with Tracy to learn about her love affair with design and how photography came to hold a special place in her heart.

1) When did you graduate from NUS and when did you realise that you had an artistic inclination?

I graduated from NUS with a Masters in Architecture in 2013. I wouldn’t say I drew frequently when I was a kid but I doodled a lot since I was in secondary school. Different from most of my peers in Architecture school, I did not take up Art as my  A-levels subject; I took Higher Chinese instead. Ha!

Before I enrolled into Architecture school, I actually considered doing Fashion or Graphic Design. While I didn’t become a Fashion designer in the end, I’m really glad how things turned out now because the design principles I learnt in Architecture are unparalleled and can complement my other pursuits. 

2) What sparked your interest in art and design if it wasn’t influence from your family?

I can’t recall anything particular that sparked this interest but I do love beautiful things. To me, the joy to see good design solve problems is probably the same feeling that one gets when you solve a very difficult math question.

3) How did you find Raphael’s studio? What made you decide to take up a course at his studio? 

I knew Raphael when I took up enrichment course in Oil Painting at NAFA. His studio provided me an avenue to better my skills in Oil Painting and Charcoal Drawing after the enrichment course.

Images taken from @heyartcyk

4) When you say that your “instincts can manifest in the most raw form”, do you mean that you can easily express yourself artistically using a camera?

I wouldn’t say that I can easily express myself using a camera but as I trusted my instincts more, there seemed to be an internal compass that snaps into place whenever I take an image. I enjoy these processes. 

While we choose to learn the technical skills of these art forms, how our artwork will turn out is also very much influenced by the outlook we have in Life. 

5) Is there a story behind each of the photographs (on display)? Where were they taken?

The photos were taken during holiday overseas where a deliberate trip was made to explore the place. I didn’t set out to take any of the photos specifically; they were more of a reaction or an emotion I felt there and then at the site. Thinking back, I think I was trying to understand myself more, to be more aware of my identity as a person. I guess when I named the works, the person I was searching for, or hoping to meet again was actually myself.

Bones: Gold Coast, Australia
Finding, you: Yokohama Port, Japan
We will meet again.: Yokohama Port, Japan

6) Did you try to express yourself using other mediums? Why did you choose photography as your medium as an artist?

I am trained in Charcoal drawing and Oil Painting under Raphael and I do draw whenever I need an outlet. But photography to me is different.

My photography journey started almost 10 years back, even before I was enrolled in Raphael’s studio and I guess it is one medium that I turned to frequently and tried to develop the earliest of them all.

Images taken from artis.sg.

7) Why did you decide to put together an exhibition with Alessia and Liu Ling?

Both Alessia and Liu Ling are friends I got to know from the studio, with Alessia being one of the first few people I knew from there. 

I guess all of us are pretty similar in our art philosophy despite difference in character. The exhibition is an opportunity to show the world how each of us has developed under the same teaching. 

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Alessia, Tracy and Liu Ling at the opening reception of Pure Days: Art & Life held on 25 May

8) Are you working on something new now?

Yes 🙂 I do not plan to limit myself to a single type of photography genre. I’m currently exploring still life food photography – something I’ve been working on this year. 

9) Any plans to eventually explore fashion design?

Not planning anything yet, but I would love to start with fashion photography or to even design a fashion retail store! 

10) Where do you see yourself in 5 years and what would you be doing?

Possibly,  I may become a full fledged qualified architect 😉 Where you will still find me doing design for a living with a better understanding of life and myself. 

More of Tracy’s work can be found on her Instagram feed.

Pure Days: Art & Life will be on show at SPRMRKT till 26 July. Print editions are also available for viewing upon request – email us at contactus@sprmrkt.com.sg.

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Aspiring to be a full-time artist, Liu Ling’s craft has improved dramatically in the short 2 years that she sought formal art education. We find out more about her early encounters with art, why she felt compelled to choose art over computing and the process of creating each piece in Pure Days: Art & Life.

1) Your bio mentions that you relocated to Singapore in 2002, what made you decide to relocate? 

Before I came to Singapore my future was planned out – national exams followed by a decent university followed by a secure job. I was doing fine by struggling hard, although I failed to understand the point of struggling. I couldn’t share most people’s enthusiasm for competition and their sense of success, which was often built on others’ pain of failure, or on choosing being constantly busy over a 10-min casual walk during lunch break. Besides, I was more shy and awkward back then. Few would join me on that walk. A deep sense of not belonging troubled me. 

Doodling offered me comfort, but it was discouraged as a distraction from schoolwork. I was too obedient and timid to think about what kind of life I wanted. I just felt that the life I had at that time was suffocatingly undesirable. I guess that’s why when Temasek Poly went to my senior high school for enrolment, my heart suddenly brightened up and said let’s get out of here.

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Liu Ling came from Dalian, China (Photo credits: Panoramic)

2) Have you finally found your sense of belonging in Singapore?

Despite limitations, Singapore has given me the air of freedom that I couldn’t get in China. Art-related events are everywhere. It is always a pleasure to enjoy free live music at Esplanade. The amazingly many public libraries across the tiny island have opened my mind with all kinds of books. Although it is also a stressful and competitive society, here I have more control of my life and more opportunities to learn art. Finding Art Is studio makes my life better. It’s great to have like-minded artists on the same journey inspiring each other.

3) When did you graduate and why did you decide to pursue a career in the arts when you studied a science-based subject like computing?  

I graduated from TP in 2005. Distinctions and As paved my way to NUS in 2007, but never convinced me that I was good at computing. The realisation of my limited ability of grasping advanced abstract concepts became more clear during my further study in NUS, where study were much tougher. My grades in major modules were not pretty, whereas I easily excelled in art related enrichment modules. Most importantly, I enjoyed them much more than programming. As it is said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” I hadn’t given up climbing trees after  graduated from NUS in 2010. I thought that being a web designer was a perfect balance between dream and bread, and it was enough to have art as a hobby. But the fish inside me didn’t agree. It gradually got fed up with the amphibious life and wanted to jump into the sea. 

4) Is anyone else in your family artistic/creative? 

I have two uncles who are self-taught artists. They were more into Chinese painting and calligraphy. Unfortunately I am not close enough to them to learn from them. Sometimes they gave me sketchbooks, but at the same time warned me not to take the path of art, because they didn’t become professional artists and had a hard time making a living. 

My own father insists that he can’t draw but I believe he has shared his two brothers’ artistic genes. He developed great interests in photography and Flash animations after retirement. The biggest lesson I learned from them is that talent is not everything to be an artist. It takes a lot of self-belief and not giving up. And don’t listen to the adults too much. 😛

5) How did you find Raphael’s studio? What made you decide to take up a course at his studio? 

I took a short-term charcoal drawing course at NAFA where Raphael happened to be the lecturer. Besides the coursework, he also gave me valuable advice on my personal pen drawings. 8 sessions were not enough for me to learn from him so when I asked he told me about his studio, and showed me Alessia’s oil paintings. The moment I saw her Red Gems, I thought “I want to paint something like that.” That’s when I made up my mind to follow him to his studio. So far it’s the best decision I have ever made in my life. I feel like a fish finally finds water.

A collection of charcoal drawings from her first solo exhibition, Faces Of Writers at Booktique: Where Writers Shop.

6) What was different about Raphael’s teaching methods that made you decide to join his studio and continue to pursue this passion in the arts? 

Raphael is nice in person but strict with fundamental skills. We are constantly pushed to achieve our best. Being a big fan of realistic details, I need that push to build solid foundation. He encourages us to explore on our own and to treat mistakes as discoveries, learning art by abandoning old habits and seeing things independently and openly.

Raphael believes that you have to be a good person to make good art. His teaching is integrated with his philosophy of life. I’ve learned more than art skills from him. It’s a good deal to have a 2-in-1 course teaching art and life at the same time, so I never tried to find another teacher.

7) You mentioned doodling at a young age as an outlet — what did you doodle about and do you still keep copies?

My interest in doodling first began with Japanese anime when I was around 12 or 13. My drawing subjects were usually typical manga girls with half-face sized big eyes. So far as I can remember, the first girl that inspired me to draw is Marian from an old and not so popular anime called Robin Hood’s Great Adventure. 

Unfortunately, most of the earliest doodles were done on scratch paper during homework or exams, so few of them were preserved. These are some later ones probably done at the age of 16 or 17, when I got much better after copying and tracing a lot of Sailor Moon.

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Uncovered manga drawings by a teenage Liu Ling

8) How did working part-time as a web designer help you to realise that art was your true calling and that you wanted to pursue it full-time? 

Unlike art, web design rarely allows me to express myself or showcase the subtle beauty I see. I really appreciate it for providing me bread, but it’s less interesting and technically more challenging for me. Meanwhile, my interest and ability in drawing have kept growing. Maybe it’s just me not being energetic enough, splitting time between the two is exhausting and I often become unproductive in either area when I try to balance. I have to make a choice, and I choose art. 

9) How long did you take to complete the pieces in Pure Days: Art & Life and what was the process like?

Most of my artworks are done on and off. It is hard to tell the exact amount of time spent. I usually don’t set deadlines for artworks,  and prefer my works to grow with me at a natural pace.

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The tree drawing was developed from my small sketchbook. I often scribble trees on the bus. My mentor Raphael encouraged me to draw on large scale, so I did. After 2 enjoyable attempts on A2 sized paper, I drew that one of 100 x 70 cm. Scribbling on big paper is physically demanding. I think it cost more time for my strained wrists to recover than the approximately one week for the whole drawing to finish.

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Paper Clips is the most time consuming among the 4 pieces on the wall. It is a charcoal drawing course work at Art Is. Each clip, regardless of size, took me about one lesson of minimum 3 hours. I never counted them and did the math.  In real life there is only one clip with different poses. The most difficult part is to find the right location for it and keep the whole flow spontaneous. 

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Bright Eyes was initially a few hours’ sketch study. I didn’t have any further plan for her at the moment. One month later she came back to my mind when I wanted to try a photo-realistic portrait. It took me another 1 or 2 weeks to finish it. I was happy with the result, especially with the subtle smile that replaced the sadness in the first version. 

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Like most of my portrait drawings, Autumn Dream is based on a free reference photo online. I did not follow the photo strictly but tried to include as many details as I wanted. At first I decided to leave out the patterns on the boy’s jacket due to time constraints. However, it felt like a huge potential regret. It is said that you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did. So I kept on with details and planned for a substitute if I couldn’t complete it on time. Luckily I made it. It took a month from start to finish. 

10) Are you working on something new now?

I’m currently studying oil painting at Art Is, progressing from monochromatic drawing to coloured painting. At home I’m about to finish a portrait study by oil bar very soon. There are another two works in progress of coloured charcoal and coloured pencil respectively. There is also a clay sculpture draft sitting in the corner of my room waiting to be completed.

Sneak peek at what she has in the works:

11) Where do you see yourself in 5 years and what would you be doing?

Tough question. I don’t even have the confidence to see myself in 5 days. Life can be very unpredictable and out of control. As a person lacking ambitions and long-term plans, I’m trying to take good care of today, and hopefully tomorrow will take care of itself. 

Having said that, I think it would be nice if I could be still doing art with the same/even more passion 5 years on, and it would be nicer if where I would live or work is within walking distance to a library and/or a beautiful nature park.

Intrigued? Find out more on her website.

Pure Days: Art & Life will be on show at SPRMRKT till 26 July. Print editions are also available for viewing upon request – email us at contactus@sprmrkt.com.sg.

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We catch up with Alessia Levonique of Art Is Gallery & Artist Studio to discuss her journey in becoming a Singapore-based practicing artist, obsession with hyper-realism and projects in the pipeline.

1) Your bio mentions that you had a fascination with oil painting from a very young age – why didn’t you decide to study fine art as your first degree?

Although I love arts, I didn’t pursue it then because my parents advised that it was not a practical path to take in life. They wanted me to take accounting and finance instead. I must say I was 17 then and lacked conviction perhaps about my passion so I went ahead and took a business course to make my parents happy. No one in my family is in the creative or artistic field, so it was a really difficult and long process to be one in my family.

2) How did you find Raphael’s studio? What made you decide to take up a course at his studio? 

I came across Raphael’s courses when I decided to pursue art and attended them at NAFA. It’s not easy to find a good teacher especially in arts, so I guess I’m really lucky to have found one that actually helped me in pursuing this passion of mine.

I knew I wanted to do realistic paintings since the very beginning and he helped me to acquire this skill to paint hyper-realistic paintings – something I thought I could have only dreamed of.

4) What was different about Raphael’s teaching methods that made you decide to join his courses at his studio and continue to pursue this passion in the arts? 

In a way, his teaching methods are different. He really teaches people how to develop observational skills and techniques of drawing and paintings. Too many instructors now only encourage you to dabble on colours and paint what you want with zero grounding on what you are doing. I like to draw this analogy about music and arts: Like in music, you can’t master an instrument till you know the scales and techniques and the same goes for paintings, you can’t master a medium till you know colours and techniques.

5) How were you exposed to oil painting when you were younger? What was it about oil painting that fascinated you?

Hmm I can’t remember exactly but I think I went to the museum or perhaps saw pictures of famous paintings. But I was deeply impressed with Monet and still life paintings. 

6) What was the turning point of your decision to pursue art despite graduating with a finance degree?

I think it was a calling. I was pretty lost and unhappy in life so I wanted to find my own way. 

7) Why hyper-realistic paintings in particular?

I love the idea of three dimensionality being achieved in a two dimension paintings. A bit like trompe l’oeil. It is also a challenge for every painting painter to be able to try to mimic nature and bring it to life.

Examples of the art technique, trompe l’oeil  or “deceive the eye”: 

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The Chatsworth House violin by Jan van der Vaardt is actually painted on the door.

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The Crevasse by Edgar Müller was a large-scale 3D pavement painting that transformed a huge slice of the East Pier into a dramatic ice age scene.

8) How long did you take to create each piece in Pure Days: Art & Life and what was the process like?

At least 8 months to a year. But sometimes I still will touch up the paintings should I find it not satisfactory to what I want to achieve. 

9) Are you working on something new now?

Yes I’m always working on something. For now there’s more still life of fruits in progress and planning to do flowers as well.

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WIP!

10) Where do you see yourself in 5 years and what would you be doing?

That’s a tricky question. I think no matter what I’ll still be painting no matter where the journey takes me in life. 

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More of Alessia’s work can be found on her website.

Pure Days: Art & Life will be on show at SPRMRKT till 26 July. Print editions are also available for viewing upon request – email us at contactus@sprmrkt.com.sg.