What have you achieved in the past 12 month?
I left the corporate world after working in Shell for 13 years to pursue my childhood dream, to be an artist. In June 2016, I had my first exhibition at The Substation in Singapore. The sales were great and was given very positive feedback by the public. Now my art works has been collected and traveling all over the world, such as USA, UK, Spain, Australia, Singapore and China.
How would you describe your personal vision? What would you say is the theme in your work? What do you seek to explore?
Quite simply, my personal vision is to bridge diverse cultures such as the east and west. Through my art, I want to break down boundaries and make life more free.
My current theme is based on my oriental heritage, which I connect to in a modern way by using strong colours that I apply with bold strokes using a palette knife.
I am currently exploring prominent female figures that have lived extraordinary lives, women that made a difference. I paint portraits of these women from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, to show that what happened over a century ago is still prevalent today.
I read about your journey from working at Shell, then motherhood and then art. When did you first pick up painting?
I started traditional Chinese ink painting when I was growing up in North East China . I must have been around eight years old when I first started under a traditional Chinese Xie Yi master. The Xie Yi master was apprenticed to Qi Bai Shi. I painted many Xie Yi ink paintings on traditional Chinese rice paper until the my focus shifted to getting good grades at High School before sitting for entrance exams for University.
I read that your early interest in art wasn’t encouraged. How does your family feel about your work as an artist today?
My parents often said to me that I never failed to surprise them. Like all parents, they were (and still are) very proud of their child. They were delighted to see that I was finally able to realise my childhood dream of bridging diverse cultures through art.
My husband is extremely supportive. When we met several years ago in Singapore, I was unable to paint so freely because time was poor. But in recent years, through my husband support, I have been able to take my hobby to a professional level.
Tell us more about your creative process.
My creative process is unique. Before I decide to begin on the next piece of art, I will question my personal vision and ask myself whether I feel it still remains relevant to me. For example, I ask whether the subject that I am painting would appreciate me sharing their extraordinary life, through in my painting.
I am lucky because so far, all of the subjects that appear on my canvases are close to my heart. Strangely I feel attached to them and therefore comfortable painting them.
Of course, if an artist told you that painting is straightforward, they would be lying. That’s because there are always unexpected challenges that pop up throughout the creative process.
How has your working process changed through the years? Why so?
When I first practiced oil painting eight years ago, like most amateur artists, I used a range of brushes to paint. But in recent years, I transferred my practice to a palette knife.
I feel the palette knife compliments the freedom of my hand strokes and this gives me greater opportunity to express my vision. Not only that, the palette knife offers a vintage effect because there are several under layers.
How long does a piece take on average? How long did you take to finish the series?
It really depends on the complexity and size of the painting, but typically from conception to packaging, it can take approximately 3-4 months.
Describe your studio. Where do you work on your artworks?
I currently paint at a shared art space located along Orchard Road, in central Singapore.
You’ve mentioned that you give notes on the paintings to collectors. Can you tell us about one of the paintings and the story behind it? As in, what’s shared in the note, how it connects with the collector, how the painting relates to your family’s stories etc.
Yes sure. One popular painting that a collector bought earlier in 2015 was called “A Dream In The Forbidden City”. I knew that because the collector was from the UK, they may be unaware of the story of the subject. Who was this woman.
So I wrote a short summary on a lovely card. It read:
After a few years of living in the Chinese Feudal society, she developed her own political ideologies. This lead to political ambition and coupled with her daring behavior brought trouble.
The Empress Dowager, Cixi, not surprisingly, took a disliking to her. Cixi’s authority and jealously had Zhen Fei imprisoned not once, but twice. Zhen Fei eventually committed suicide by ‘falling’ into a well. She was 24 year old. She is still remembered today”
Consort Zhen is a well-known Manchurian lady. When studying my family history I learnt that my late grandmother was also from a prestigious Manchurian family but due to the revolution of society, all of my grandmother’s family’s prestige and power was lost, practically overnight.
When I was doing the research, Consort Zhen’s story drew comparison’s my grandmother’s plight.
What aspects of China’s history fascinate you? What would you say are the aspects most personal to you and that you wish to portray in your work and why?
China’s beautiful history extends for thousands of years. The recent history, say nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century fascinates me most. Like many Chinese families, we endured some difficult times and we try to get better in every way.
I love painting portraits. I was an only child born in a relatively conservative environment. I have experienced the traditional ritual of being the only female child and that can often translate to the vision of my work.
Why do you love using the palette knife in your work?
I want to continue to challenge myself and by using the palette knife, it takes an artist out of their comfort zone. I feel the palette knife allows me to express myself freely. The texture always gives a vintage look, which fits perfectly with my theme.
You use bright, emotional colours in your work. How did you arrive at this style and why?
I used to paint a lot of Chinese Xie Yi on rice paper with ink but then I decided to try something different. So I experimented with bold colours using strong strokes. It didn’t take long. As an example, I seldom fill in all background layers on the canvas which was influenced by my Xie Yi practice.
What motivates you to keep working on your art?
There are so many things. I get a buzz from doing what I do and I genuinely love learning about my Chinese heritages and translating that onto the canvas in a modern way.
What’s your process like when you work on commissions?
Generally when I am approached by customers, I will arrange a consultation with the customer. Face to face is fine but if that was not possible, over the phone is fine too. It is critical to get acquainted with the customer to understand their desires.
I use a Collector Questionnaire which the customer can complete and this will help me to understand all important aspects of the piece, including such things as size and atmosphere they want to achieve through the art piece.
I want to be able to feel the energy and the passion they have for the art work. I want to be able to walk away from the consultation with a firm understanding of the research I need to undertake to present back as a formal proposal.
Once a purchase order is agreed, I will commence the project and share with the customer a list of milestone including the option to show progressive pictures of the art work.
My art work can be shipped worldwide.
What are your plans for the future?
My plans for the future include creating more unique work, and sharing my vision. I love the the way that I bring back to life, incredible people from the east by using western methods.
Finally, I will hold a solo exhibition – you’re all invited!
The first time I met Michelle Mcfarlane was Feb 2016 just before I started my art business journey. BWN gave me tremendous help. Through BWN, I met many inspiring women who were at the same business phase as me, kind hearted and business driven etc. My business wouldn't of grown so fast if I didn’t get involved with BWN at the early stages of my art business. The latest collaboration project was with Photographer Natalie Ziglaer from White Prangapani and Personal Stylist and Make-up Artist Jeann Ng for the lifestyle magazine featuring in December 2016.
BWN is a network I will recommend to any entrepreneur to join.