Featured Artist - Tsuyumi Miwa

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Tsuyumi Miwa is a Japanese artist based in Singapore who is proficient at calligraphy and started painting very early in life. As a teenager she became involved in television and acted in various Japanese dramas, before entering Tama Art University to study Theatre and Art. She spend some time studying art history in Italy. After spending some time in Australia and returning to Japan she worked as a radio and television announcer in Tokyo.

Now in Singapore, in a new chapter of life, she has rediscovered love for painting. She currently uses acrylics as a medium to suit the tropical climate in Singapore. Colour and light play a very important part in her work which is interpretive rather than photo-realistic

Her efforts at understanding the cultural aspect of the Indian diaspora as seen in her works inspired by the flower garland makers of Little India was covered in The Straits Times on 21 January 2024. https://str.sg/KdhP

Personal Profile

KA: WHAT INSPIRES YOU AS AN ARTIST?
TM : My inspiration comes from the simple yet profound experiences I encounter every day. I'm drawn to the beauty of nature - the calmness of the sea, the warmth of a sunrise or sunset, the tranquillity of a river or lake, and the peacefulness of the forest. Alongside nature, I find inspiration in the variety of cultures, music, poetry, movies, and flavours that surround me, as well as the creativity of those I meet. Whether it's the scent of spices, the feeling of the sun on my skin, or the quiet of a moonlit night, I draw meaning from the world around me. The interplay of light and shadow captivates me, as it brings depth and emotion to my work. When I paint, I strive to capture more than just a scene - I aim to convey the essence of a story, evoking emotions that resonate with viewers on a deeper level.

KA : HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR ARTISTIC PROCESS?
TM : My artistic process typically begins with photographs. For instance, when creating a portrait, I prefer to photograph the subject in a location that holds significance or comfort for them. This engagement allows me to delve deeper into their personality, background, history, and purpose. I harness all of this information to breathe life into the portrait. However, my paintings are never mere replicas of the photographs; rather, they are a re-imagining that incorporates additional information or emotions I may have gleaned during the process. I spend a lot of time to try and capture the essence of my subjects and I have received great feedback over the years.

KA : HOW DO YOU OVERCOME CREATIVITY BLOCKS? 
TM : Introducing some change is a good way of dealing with creativity blocks If I'm encountering low productivity or struggling with a specific aspect of a painting, taking a break from the process often sparks new inspiration. Of course, this means I sometimes have 5 or 6 canvases in the apartment, awaiting inspiration! Immersing myself in other art forms like music, theatre, or exercise frequently leads me to fresh sources of creativity. Alternatively, exploring new surroundings or reconnecting with nature helps me break through blocks. I've also found that disconnecting from life's daily distractions and mentally immersing myself in the painting process creates a meditative state that enhances my creativity.

  KA :WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS YOUR FAVORITE MEDIUM TO WORK WITH?
TM : In the past, I primarily worked with oils, but since relocating to Singapore and experiencing the challenges of humidity, I've transitioned to acrylics. The slower drying time of oils became less practical for me, so I find the quick-drying nature of acrylics to be more conducive to my workflow. This flexibility and speed allow me to better express my artistic style.

KA : WHAT ARE SOME THEMES OR SUBJECTS THAT YOU FIND YOURSELF FASCINATED BY?
TM : My artistic journey serves as a profound exploration of various subjects, offering me a path of discovery and continual education. Currently, I am deeply engrossed in a series cantered around the cultural diversity of Singapore. Through this endeavour, I have gained invaluable insights into the people of this country. I find that my creativity flows more effortlessly when I am captivated by the subject matter, satisfying my innate curiosity and driving me to delve deeper into my artistic expression.

JOURNEY

KA : Have you studied art or are you a self-taught artist?
TM : I have studied art formally, immersing myself in lessons across various mediums from a young age. Art has been an integral part of my life since childhood, where I found joy and fulfilment in expressing myself through calligraphy and painting. As a teenager, I ventured into the realm of television, participating in various Japanese dramas. Despite this, my passion for art remained steadfast, leading me to pursue further education at Tama Art University, specializing in Theatre and Art. This academic journey also provided me with the opportunity to explore art history in Italy, enriching my understanding and appreciation of art culture and philosophy. While formal training and technique were crucial aspects of my development, I have come to understand that genuine growth often stems from self-exploration, experimentation, and the inevitable process of trial and error.

  KA : Where are you from and how does that affect your work? 
TM : As a native of Japan, I've come to realize that my cultural background profoundly influences my work, particularly since I left Japan. I have developed a deep reverence for nature and possess a keen eye for detail—traits deeply ingrained in Japanese culture. (The aesthetic sense of Japanese people has been deeply intertwined with ethics and nature since ancient times.) The emphasis on meticulous attention to detail, along with Japan's rich artistic heritage and traditional aesthetics, continues to shape and inspire my artistic journey to this day.

KA : When is your favourite time of the day to create? 
TM : I'm not sure if there's a specific time of day. When my mind is focused and the environment is quiet, I can sometimes get into a zone and paint for a few hours. Other times, I may work intermittently throughout the day if conditions are calm. Since light is integral to my work, having access to natural light is particularly important.

KA : What motivates you to start a project, and how long does it usually take to complete?
TM : Approximately 50% of my work is commissioned, which means I may not always have the freedom to choose the subject matter. However, I do have the creative liberty to depict them in my own style. The process of getting to know the subject and collaborating with them to better understand their essence is crucial to me. This journey from collecting narratives to envisioning a final piece is integral to my process. Once I have a clear vision in mind, I can work quite quickly. The time to complete a piece varies significantly depending on its complexity and nuance, including the time spent on finding the subject and the collaborative process, and typically takes a couple of months. For projects cantered around a particular theme, such as the 6 paintings in my Sea and Sky collection, I typically set a goal and work towards it diligently.

KA : How did you cultivate your art skills and do you experiment a lot with mediums, subjects, and processes?
TM : I began attending art and Japanese calligraphy classes at the age of three, but my serious study of art began at the age of 11. During my teenage years, I learnt various techniques including sketching, painting, carving, wire art, and more. Subsequently, I pursued a high school education majoring in art, dedicating three years to intensive art studies before entering a specialist art university. My educational journey extended beyond traditional painting and design; I delved into theatre, photography, film, history, writing, and comprehensive art studies. For me, creativity knows no bounds—it encompasses many forms of expression. For instance, I spent a decade as an actress and an announcer, producing radio programs, and engaging in voice-over work for recordings. I also served as a speaker for the blind community in Japan, through presenting a radio show dedicated to the blind. I don't limit myself to a single category and I have cultivated my art skills through dedicated practice, continuous learning, and a willingness to push the boundaries of my creativity. I thoroughly enjoy experimenting with different mediums, subjects, and processes as it keeps my artistic practice dynamic and ever-evolving.

KA : How do you balance work and family?
TM : Similar to other professions, there are periods when I'm very busy and others when things are quieter. I don't adhere to regular office hours, but since my art studio is at home, it tends to be quietest during typical office hours. Fortunately, my husband is a great support to me, and together, we manage to maintain a balanced approach to work and family life.

KA : How do you find financial support for your artistic journey?
TM : Finding financial support for my artistic journey has been a deliberate process. Upon committing to a full-time career as an artist, I recognized the importance of selling my work to sustain myself. Rather than collaborating with galleries, I currently organize exhibitions independently in private venues. While I haven't secured a gallery yet, I remain open to the possibility and am actively seeking opportunities to exhibit cultural series in notable spaces in Singapore. My primary method of selling is direct-to-customer, largely driven by word of mouth. This strategy enables me to retain autonomy over my artistic direction while achieving financial stability through direct sales channels.

WOMAN ARTIST

KA : As a woman artist, please share if you have had any particular influences that have impacted your artwork? For example, any cultural background that influences your creative process, or any impact of expectations from society to explore certain styles of art?

TM : As a female artist, my personal experiences have undeniably influenced my approach to my subjects and have directly shaped my artistic style. While I don't exclusively view my work through the lens of being a woman, I acknowledge the unique perspectives and insights that my gender brings to my art.
I believe that art should transcend societal expectations based on gender, age, nationality, disability, and other factors. Instead, I strive to create art that reflects my individual voice and experiences, regardless of societal norms.
Regarding experiences which have influenced me:
When I was in my 20's, between studying, I volunteered as a Japanese teacher in Sydney, Australia staying with a host family that kept a large number of Persian cats.
I did not know I had an extreme allergy to cats until it was too late, and I had a reaction which resulted 2 detached retinas and me losing my sight for over a month. After some time in the hospital back in Japan and after several operations, my sight did return bit by bit.
And as the world emerged again, I initially saw things in a very different way.
Whites were far too startling, Edges were not crisp, colours became slowly stronger and more vibrant - but with different intensities.
It was tough, but I believe this taught me a lot as an artist - and has a strong influence on my work,
To be deprived of something so fundamental, to long for it and then to have it return slowly makes you appreciate it more. I have also supported charities for the blind through donations of my work.

  KA : Have you faced any particular challenges as a woman artist?
TM : During my time as a full-time artist in Singapore, I've been fortunate to encounter numerous opportunities to connect and collaborate with individuals from diverse backgrounds. Thankfully, I haven't encountered any instances where my gender has posed a barrier to these opportunities.

KA :How long have you been in Singapore and which are some of the places that inspire you here?
TM: I've been living in Singapore for over 12 years now. Despite its small size, Singapore offers many intriguing areas and experiences. Nature, particularly the lush greenery and tropical flora, serves as a significant influence on my work. I live not far from the Botanic Gardens, so you may see me there seeking inspiration! During the pandemic, I found solace in capturing the serene beauty of Singapore's coastlines at sunrise and sunset, including locations like East Coast, Changi Beach, and Labrador Nature Park. Since 2021, I've been immersed in a project exploring Singapore's cultural heritage, often venturing to heritage sites such as Chinatown, Little India, and Joo Chiat. Here, I learn about their traditions and artisans, connect with those dedicated to preserving them. I feel fortunate to reside in such a diverse and inspiring city.

KA :How would you describe the art scene in Singapore?
TM: I feel like the art scene in Singapore is constantly evolving. There are a number of very talented local artists and several foreigners like me who have chosen to make Singapore their home. We also have some great initiatives driven by MCCY (the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth) and the National Arts Council which showcase the works of local artists. So, I think the opportunities are growing. There is also a large and growing base of collectors based in Singapore.

THE LITTLE INDIA CONNECTION

KA : The Straits Times featured your art explorations of Little India. Have you ever been to India? Why did you choose that part of Singapore for your art explorations? 
TM : I truly appreciate the recognition of my art expressed through the 'Singapore Cultural Series,' which celebrates intangible cultural heritage. I have only visited India once, a long time ago. Its chaotic streets, aromatic spices, warm air, and the smiles of its people left an indelible mark on me. This experience was part of a larger solo journey during my university summer holidays, where I explored 13 countries. I definitely look forward to returning to India and immersing myself in its many cultures.
In selecting Little India in Singapore for my artistic explorations, I was drawn to its vibrant and culturally rich atmosphere, reflecting the diversity inherent in Singapore itself. As one of the city's most dynamic districts, Little India captivates with its bustling markets, lively streets, and diverse culinary offerings.
The Mala flower sellers of Little India hold a special place in my heart, not only for their visual charm but also for their significant contribution to the cultural fabric of the community. My friendship with Ponna, a Mala flower seller, has been a delightful experience, as she generously shared her knowledge and introduced me to her family. The warmth and hospitality of Indian culture is truly remarkable.
My current artistic series focuses on depicting traditional craftspeople from Malay, Chinese, Peranakan, and Indian communities, highlighting traditional crafts that are threatened by our 21st century lifestyle.
HORSES AND POLO SPORTS:

KA : Horses are a symbol of strength, beauty and Polo is considered a Royal Sport. Polo is a typical sport found historically in British Colonies such as India & Singapore. What is it about horses that fascinates you?

TM : Currently, I am hosting a solo exhibition at the Singapore Polo Club. While my knowledge of polo was limited, my previous experiences with horseback riding has given me an appreciation of their power and beauty. The exhibition has been a delightful experience, allowing me to engage with the staff and members of the club, who are all passionate horse lovers. Immersing myself in the world of polo, observing the magnificent horses in action, and learning more about the sport have served as inspiration for my artwork. Much of my painting was completed on-site at the club, providing a stimulating environment that fuelled my creativity.

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