The second trimester is finally over. It was frustrating, challenging and a steep growing curve.
Coming out of it, I feel like I have a clearer idea of my practice. I am uninterested in moving away from drawing and painting, so I would like to stay with a drawing and painting-based practice. What does that mean? I am still exploring.
We did many in-class exercises to sharpen our thinking and sensitivity. It took me a while to warm up to them but some really helped free me from my self-made boundaries. My favourite was the drink exercise. (To make a drink representing your identity to share with the class.) I dripped my tears, sweats and blood into a hand-painted wine glass of water. After I took a sip, I passed the glass around the classroom and invited my classmates to take a sip. (Two people did.) At the end of the round, I would take another sip. (See page 8 of source book for more information.)
We were asked to compile all the exercise documentation into a source book. The source book not only serves as a record of this trimester, but also as a logbook of our practice.
Since the term raised so many questions for me, I decided to conduct an interview in my head and made my source book into a magazine. I enjoy having gallery shows yet I hope the new works will be more than commodities. I recognize this is not the only outlet for my creativity. I have learnt to be more open-minded.
The past two months have seen a lot of developments in my art, or rather my thinking.
I have always been excited about selling my art. Would it be an exaggeration to say that it is the end goal of my practice? Why am I creating art? To feed the fuel of consumerism and capitalism?
Nothing seemed wrong until I enrolled in the current Master of Visual Arts programme. I am incresingly aware of the pitfalls and limitations of the gallery system. Hypothetically, if I am to escape the gallery system (am I?), where to? It is of course not to say that the gallery system is evil. The galleries offer plenty of opportunities to artists both financially and professionally. However, one also detects tension between the gallery and the artist when the gallery wants to hold onto a popular (lucrative) style, or when the artist wants to venture into the arena of experimentation.
Then what is the alternative? Do artists step outside the system to sell works? Like Damien Hirst (Once you are a star, you can pretty do anything?) or Christo (Pretty clever I must say.)
Would the museum system be the solution? Museums are much more willing to take non-object artworks, yet their pockets are also much shallower than private or corporate collectors. Then what do artists live on? Do artists have dual careers, creating commercial and “serious” works concurrently? Do they resort to a comfortable and stable art school salary? Get a day job! Or is it easier to sell their souls?
I am reading intensely in hope of arriving at an answer. My ideas seem to change weekly. In May 2014, there will be our first exhibition at school. I am rather excited to see what comes out.
A few weeks ago, Alice Liu who runs Listhus Art Space in Iceland (where I spent the past July) came for a studio visit. Over dinner, we were conversing about art and life.
I still can’t forget what she said, “Art-making is a very naked activity–it sells feelings and emotions. If the artist is too detached from the artwork, then the artwork is commercial.”
Over the past few months, I have contemplated intensively about my practice and art in general. I look back at my old works and am embarrassed. I look at the future and am scared. I look around me and realized that I was not a prodigy child. I am a late bloomer. I wasted a lot of time. But I am beginning to understand a few things.
1. There will always be opposing voices to any decision I make. Be aware of the constructive criticism but also hear the supportive voices and my own inner voice.
2. Trends come and go. Hold dear to what you feel strongly about.
3. Learn to be vulnerable. It will make your art stronger.
4. I will never stop doubting myself. I have however always gotten up in the morning and gone back to the studio. I probably will tomorrow.
From Halloween to their Christmas Fair, I was honoured to be Singapore International School’s 2013 Artist-in-Residence. Over the past few weeks, we worked on individual introspective psychological self-portrait paintings based on my body of works “I Don’t Know if You Know How Much I Love You.” Each of their pieces features an animal that reflect their personality, beliefs and/or identity. It could be a realistic, hybrid or mythical animal. We also worked on the symbolic meaning of colours, painting the background with a colour that represents them.
The grand finale of the experience was definitely last Saturday’s Christmas Fair. In front of the visitors, we worked the magic of live painting and team building.
This community mural is a visual depiction of Singapore International School (Hong Kong) in the style of their introspective self portraits. The mythical merlion is almost an animal synonym of Singapore. On the other hand, sparrows are not only a common bird in Hong Kong, and also enjoy being in a Chinese proverb “sparrows are small but have a complete set of internal organs.” This describes the compact and vibrant city of Hong Kong eloquently.
The merlion is surrounded by a flock of sparrows (the single Singaporean school amidst the local Hong Kong culture.) The twenty-one sparrows are a celebration of the school’s twenty-first anniversary.
I sketched out the merlion while the secondary students researched and drew individual sparrows with skills taught during class. I am absolutely proud of them as they received practically no help! This is concrete proof how much they had absorbed during class. The background colour red represents both Singapore’s national colour and Hong Kong’s flag colour.
It was a tremendous learning experience for both the student artists and myself. As much as they needed to learn to let go, the same could be said about me! They kept asking to render the sparrows they draw. The response was always, it is a communal mural, so whoever is there at that time will do the rendering. The input from other teachers and student artists made the mural better than I ever could on my own.