As we collectively stay at home during these turbulent times, how are artists coping, and what are they brewing up at home? Artists @ Home is a series of email interviews with artists where we find out what they’ve been up to as all of us, voluntarily or not, embrace the home as work and studio space.
Andy Yang is a Malaysian-born, Singapore-based painter whose works are inspired by the vitality of nature. His signature technique involves applying paint onto canvas using breath, such that it introduces controlled chaos onto the canvas. In this interview, we talk about carving out spaces for work at home, and how the pandemic has a hand in shaping the work.
What’s different about working from home rather than from the studio?
There will always be something that needs to be addressed immediately, at home. These are part of the many responsibilities that I share with my wife in running a household of seven. It can be quite a struggle to get inspired, create work as well as manage the business aspects of being an artist in such a situation. When I am away at the studio, I am more able to focus on my work due to its quieter environment.
But having been a full-time artist and parent for 13 years since the birth of my first child, I’ve always had to work from home from time to time. Ever since then, I’ve had a makeshift home studio, and found a balance in working from home. One thing I’d do is to create this room in my head and dive straight in. It has become a mental space in which I can shut out distractions and focus on my ideas.
This sounds like quite an ingenious imaginative exercise! Have you and your family members devised certain systems to ensure that you get uninterrupted studio time as well?
My makeshift studio has a door that I can close, but cannot lock. When it is closed, it signals to my family that I’m at work, and not to be disturbed. This is a non-verbal means of communication that works for me and my family, and I’m thankful for this division between work and domestic life.
What art (or non-art related things) are you working on right now?
Currently, I am working on some drawings on paper that explore the topic of human mortality. It’s an idea that’s close to my heart, that I’ve been exploring since early 2019. They started out as bronze sculptures, but with the current COVID-19 situation, I am not even sure if the bronze mills in Thailand are still operating. So, I decided to go back to the very roots of pure drawing to continue with the topic. I’m also taking the opportunity to dwell more deeply on the simplicity of drawing, to find more clarity in my art practice. Hopefully I can put them together for a solo show either late 2020 or early 2021. Either that, or I may have to find other ways to show them online.
What is your working process like, and why do you have two monitors for it?
I have a habit of viewing images in two different sizes. This is so that I can observe the layout dynamics and details of what I am working on when I am physically away from the work. It helps me to gauge whether I should continue with the work. In this case, the images on the monitors serve more as a reference point for me, while I work on a new piece in front of it. They’re also part of my effort to replicate my studio environment, to keep me inspired. I usually have pieces of printed images or magazine cut-outs pasted on the wall and strewn all over my studio floor.
What kinds of activities have you taken to, during your leisure hours at home?
I’ve been taking the time to practice my Chapman Stick, tweak my sound effects board and make soundscapes. I’m also watching movies and documentaries, and listening to more music. Occasionally, I indulge in some beer or whisky, or a glass of wine or two. I can also be found irritating spending time with my wife and children, catching up on how their day went or enjoying a movie together.
Does music play a part in the creation process of your works?
Yes – my visual and aural explorations do intertwine. Every piece of my painting has some form of sound in them. Both art and music require form, rhythm and colour in order to work, and I’ve always been intrigued by how music can inspire and influence even though it’s invisible. I have been exploring and experimenting with the interplay of visual and sound arts since 2011. It’s become an ongoing obsession of mine.
I usually leave an inspiring sound mix on every time I work. Sometimes, I would create soundscapes and leave them on loop to see where they can lead me visually. I am restless that way. Sounds and music act as a lubricant to smoothen and blend my ideas together, especially when I am stuck in what I might call an artist’s block. Also, I just think it’s a good idea to be away from visual arts once in a while, to recharge and create in a different medium. That way, the work in both mediums influence and enrich each other.
What’s one thing (poem, artwork, song, movie etc) that’s been on your mind and why?
The movie Prometheus by Ridley Scott comes to mind. What if you believed for your entire life that you could find truth and salvation from a higher being, and banked all your hopes on finding this being, only to discover that its purpose was to terminate all life? And what if its purpose, known only to its creator, has been carefully engineered every step of the way, to the point of a total annihilation of civilisation? No one knew whether it was a plan to reboot the universe, or simply one to force us to evolve for the better.
I find the premise of this movie similar to the situation that we are all currently mired in – almost as if the movie were a documentary of the future, way ahead of its time.