Featured Artist - Yip Yew Chong

Kriti Arts is pleased to invite Singaporean artist Yip Yew Chong as the Featured Artist of this Inaugural Issue . Yew Chong says that he tries to "make Art that tell stories". These stories reflect bits of his life, people and places he connects with and aims to make his art visually relatable and as authentic as possible to the general public.

Although he works with different visual mediums like canvas painting, sketching, installations, digital drawings, photography and video making, he is known for his public murals in different parts of Singapore such as Chinatown, Tiong Bahru, Kampong Glam to name a few. These murals have garnered a lot of attention in that they are often seen as quirky, scenes of everyday life with a touch of humour. Almost all of the murals describe scenes that the public instantly relates to and are often perfect spots for instagram pictures!

A finance professional who moved to the field of art, he is an inspiration for people who follow their passion and create an artistic environment that enlivens our surroundings. Kriti Arts has decided to put a few questions to gain an insight into understanding the artist and his artwork.

 

Personal Profile

KA: Why art? (in the context of moving away from being a finance professional)

YC : Art has always been my passion since young. Throughout my school days, army days and finance work life, I have always dabbled with art. After 25 years working as an accountant, I switched to becoming a full time artist in 2018. Between 2015 and 2018, I did art on weekends while working in finance on weekdays. The street murals I did on weekends received warm support and recognition, which motivated me to do art on a full time basis. My wife was key in urging me to quit my finance job so that I have time to develop my art while it is hot!

KA : Is there anyone else in your family interested in art?

YC : Not really. My children have their own passions. My late dad liked to draw but didn’t have the opportunities in his times. He was a fitter in the shipyard.

KA : Would you call yourself a self-taught artist? 

YC : No, I am still learning from many people and open sources, but in an informal way. 

KA :What is a work-life balance according to you?

YC : when you don’t overwork (regardless you love your work or not), leaving time for you to do other things, such as spending time with family and friends, relaxing, joining community activities. So even though I love my work and passion (art in my case), I cannot be spending all my time just doing art. 

Themes and Subjects

KA : We saw a lot of old Singapore in your works. How would you sum up the differences in Singapore of today vs the Singapore depicted in your artworks.

YC : The differences are mainly in the way of life, such as the infrastructure, the activities, the materials and general landscape. The spirit of the people are almost the same. 

KA : Where do you find inspiration for your new works? And what influences your choice of the subject for artwork? 

YC : From many sources - my observations of the environment, my people sharing their stories with me, from what other artists do, from my broad memories of my own childhood or travel experiences. Most of my murals are commissioned works, so the themes are mostly dictated by the commissioning party. For canvas paintings, I prefer to create a series of my own theme, for example “Stories from Yesteryear” (old scenes of Singapore), “World series” (scenes from overseas I have experienced). These themes are all about my personal experiences. I choose to paint my own life experiences, the period, events and places I have lived through, the places I have travelled through etc. 

KA : When is the favourite time of the day to create, especially because murals require you  to spend your time outdoors? 

YC : For street murals, there is not a choice, as I need daylight to see the colours. Hot days are better than rainy days although both are tough. For canvas works, I usually paint from afternoon till night. 

KA : Do you work in a studio environment before you start a new project?

YC : I have a studio to do my canvas works or prepare an installation. Planning works for murals, exhibitions or digital works can be done anywhere - during my runs, at home, or in the studio itself. 

Thought Process, Technique and Planning

KA : Give us some insight into the thought process and planning while doing an artwork. Do you sketch beforehand and scale it up in murals or on canvas paintings?

YC : It depends on the project. Sometimes, I don’t plan and just do it on the spot. This is usually the case for canvas paintings. I don’t draw outlines in details. I have a rough vision in my head and paint the scene details along the way.  Sometimes, especially murals that require approvals, a sketch needs to be submitted, thus I am forced to do it. For larger than life size works, I usually draw it out digitally over a photo of the building. The sketch can then be used for my easier transferring onto the tall wall. 

KA : What is your favourite medium to work with?

YC : Acrylics

KA :What would you describe as your ideal working environment?

YC: A cool temperature, quiet place with soothing music .

Artworks

The 60 m painting  : You can preview it via a video here: https://youtu.be/OfgahKI0zxUA panoramic view of Singapore of the 70’s and the 80’s. The painting is made up of 27 panels. It feels like an eagles flight or a drone flying over Singapore in a time warp.

KA : How did you plan the contents for each panel? 

YC : For each panel, as mentioned above, I don’t plan in detail. I have a broad vision and add/adjust details along the way. Even for the overall content of the 27 panels, I only have a broad plan of the places I wanted to include but I don’t paint them in sequence. I jumped about, inserting new idea places, removing some places when I found more interesting places/ideas.

KA : Why not the 90’s? and later?

YC : 60s Singapore was mostly kampong and shophouses ways of life. 90s Singapore was already mostly modern living in flats and tall buildings. 70s and 80s were the transformational decades when the old and new ways of life coexist. 

KA : The painting looks like a personal journey that tells the story of transformation of  Singapore over decades. For many people who came to Singapore post Year 2001, we can understand how the landscape changed rapidly based on the paintings of old Singapore. This is a fantastic and  unique series,  snapshots of time that capture the evolution of the human and architectural landscape of Singapore. Your memories give us an insight into the evolution of your identity as well. What motivated you in creating this artwork? Is it a commissioned project ? Was it born out of your intrinsic urge to tell your story?

YC : It is a personal project, not commissioned by anyone. I just loved painting and curating  these scenes of my experiences. Overlaying the scenes with personal stories make the painting more compelling. 

KA : Similarly, Stories of Yesteryear take us through a panoramic view of Singapore in the olden days and introduce the collective ‘people’ as the protagonist of the story. The activities are not heroic or dramatic but mundane like washing, eating, conversing, shopping etc. They bring out a smile in everyone viewing them and you have described them as “ intricate scenes, such that one can walk into the paintings, listen to the conversations, and watch as the stories unfold.” What is the purpose of painting these scenes? Is it a nostalgic indulgence or more of preserving history?

YC : Same as above, the purpose is to paint what I have lived through because I like painting and curating them as a series. You can say it is more a “nostalgic indulgence” than “promoting history” (history can’t be preserved as they are bygone). 

Travel Learnings

KA : Having travelled to many parts of the world, how have your travel experiences influenced your art expressions?

YC : The experiences made my paintings more realistic and compelling - in terms of ambience, details and story-telling. I normally don’t try to paint something I have not personally experienced or have no connection with.

KA : Which place outside of Singapore gave you the best experience as an artist?

YC : Italy - I spent a month painting three large canvases in a beautiful goat farm overlooking a lake. The family who hosted me is wonderful. I felt like a Renaissance artist!

KA :What art materials do you carry with you when  traveling?

YC : It depends on the artwork I do there. For example, for my Europe trip, I had to bring all my acrylic paints and brushes with me as I didn’t know if I had time to find them, or know where to buy them. When I painted in Malaysia, I knew where to buy the paints needed, so I didn’t need to bring everything. When I did art in India or USA, I didn’t need to bring any materials as they were all provided there. 

Canvas vs Digital

KA : What is your opinion about Artificial Intelligence that has crept into every part of our daily life? Simple tasks as visually described in your paintings such as eating, shopping, conversing and doing daily chores are being done by ‘smart’ machines. What is the impact of 'smart' art on creativity?

YC : The impact would be speed and ease of doing these same things. With these efficiency, the artist can in fact channel his/her time to thinking about new/fresher ideas, and opportunities to break new grounds. 

KA : Does painting on canvas with mediums such as acrylics or oils give you more satisfaction or Creating art digitally?

YC : Both give the same satisfaction when the artwork progresses and come to live. It’s not so much of the medium, but how a blank canvas, wall or screen gets filled up in the creation process and becomes something so visually compelling. That’s the satisfaction. 

The India Connection

Have you read the Ramayana? The images that were created for Indian Heritage Centre were brilliant! They were created digitally and true to the epic story. What resources did you utilise in creating the images?

this is the instagram link on how this work was created: https://www.instagram.com/p/CFCidUnHQd1/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet

YC : I looked through hundreds of versions of how other artists drew scenes from Ramayana, and even films and TV scene excerpts. 

KA : You have visited Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer. Give us a glimpse of your impressions about the cities of dust and desert of Rajasthan?

YC : The cities were bustling with street life. The urban architecture were intricate, haphazard yet in harmony as a whole. In 1995, my wife and I went on a memorable 4 day desert Safari travelling on camels from Bikaner to Jaisalmer. We rode from village to village and didn’t see any motor vehicles or tourists for the entire 4 days. It was our honeymoon!

Conclusion

KA : So, do you see yourself capturing a future vision of Singapore?

YC : I have only created a few artworks of future Singapore - one canvas painting series for NUS on how Singapore looked like in the future, and one digital painting series for NTU Earth Observatory on climate change adaptation. 

KA : What are the new projects that you propose to explore.

YC : I need to catchup on my “World series”. I will also try to secure more overseas works. Wish to do more installations. Ultimately I wish to be a film maker.

 

Mural at kampong Glam

Other Featured Artists