I grew up surrounded by plants. My grandfather is an orchid breeder and has been making hybrids for over 60 years. We grew up playing in his garden that we called the ‘secret garden’. My father has a landscape business. I like to think that my love for plants grew naturally. When I graduated from art school, I started to help at the nursery, where I learnt about plants, observing how each species thrives and learning the names and background of the plants. I like to think plants are like people. You have to understand their background to understand them and have a happy healthy plant.
My artistic practice began when I decided to take a degree in fine art, where I developed my practice exploring themes of identity, existence, and predetermined circumstance; and also, how identities are contextualised beings, tied to the world by their bodies. I am still continuing my practice today, and I'm gradually being more influenced by nature in my work. My works range from paintings, drawings to large-scale murals and performative video art.
How did you get into art?
I think I’ve always been creative, but it was never a clear-cut thing to actually decide to get into art. At 15, I was unable to take Art as a subject and I felt so left out and envious of the creative environment that my other friends were in during their classes. I actually got my own sketchbook and would follow along with their art assignments in my own time. I first learnt about Art History and Art Theory at ‘A’ Levels and that’s when I fell in love with the art-making process which I found so liberating. It was at LASALLE where I developed my practice, and I haven’t stopped making art.
I would like to ask about the process of nursing plants because it’s a little mysterious to me, and I’m not entirely sure what goes into it.
Well it’s basically plant propagation and cultivation, growing the plants till they are established. I work in plant retail and also landscape, so the plants we have are grown for both, either as houseplants or for use on landscape projects like ones you see around shopping malls, offices, campuses and factories around the island. To propagate plants, it’s important to know the different methods for each plant, the plant’s characteristics and what sort of sickness it is susceptible to, and of course, general care for the plants till they mature.
What are your days like?
Weekdays are mainly work, I head to the nursery where my office is and I'm there till about 7. On certain days I am out visiting various nurseries around the island. I enjoy getting first dibs to hand pick plants so that we always have fresh stock to accompany what we grow. After work, I meet up with my friends for dinner, go for shows, and try to make gallery openings once in awhile. I make time for my art during the weekends. I’m trying to be a little more disciplined with that because it’s pretty difficult to balance the two.
I notice that you tie in plants and your art together in a few of your artworks, apart from your work in the nursery where do you draw inspiration from?
I do love plants and they have definitely become an influence in my art work. That said though, I think observations of the day to day are most important to me; Observations of interactions and relationships between people and spaces help me to look at the relationship between the body, the self and its position in the everyday world.
Was the first award back in 2007 an “aha” moment for you?
This award was for winning first place in the very first N.E.mation Competition way back in secondary school. I joined my friends from the Art class to enter this animation competition to represent my school where we made a claymation stop-motion piece. We eventually won a trip to Ghibli Studio’s in Tokyo for that work. Seeing the artists at Ghibli paint the scenes of the backgrounds of the beautiful Miyazaki films was truly amazing. A truly tedious process, they paint each blade of grass stroke by stroke with the finest brushes. I think getting to experience creativity in a ‘work’ setting like that made me realize that working creatively is attainable and not just idealistic fantasy. I wouldn’t say it was ‘the aha’ moment, but I would say that it was a major thing that led to where I am now.
What books do you like reading? Name a book you’d recommend anyone to read.
To learn about heart-wrenching love and loss, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.
For your classic coming of age novel, The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger.
To never stop being creative and for a surprise every day, I would recommend Grapefruit by Yoko Ono. It is a compilation of her instructional art pieces that I'm currently reading. It's great if you’re stuck in a rut. Pick up the book. Open a page and do one piece every day.
Have you had any mentors along the way?
No, not really. I mean I've definitely had teachers who have taught me so much from the basics, but I wouldn't say I have a specific mentor on this journey.
That said though I think I have my mum to thank for teaching me to be a hands-on and creative person. She taught me to write, draw, sew and make. She makes bags and leather goods that I've helped her sell at some art markets alongside my illustrations. I hope to someday get her a potter's wheel for her to make clayware at the nursery.
How tough is it juggling running a nursery and pursuing art at the same time? What other challenges do you face?
It’s not easy managing a business and trying to be an artist at the same time. The main thing is there’s only 24 hours in a day, and there’s simply not enough time to do both. Learning to be disciplined with dividing my time between the two is a process.
Another thing that I struggle with is that both require different ways of thinking, and it’s tough to constantly switch between the two thinking caps. I find it difficult because my mind needs to be constantly thinking about a particular project for me to focus on the creative process and develop my ideas, instead of being constantly interrupted by the other. That being said, juggling both has made me learn to be less of an obsessive perfectionist and become more pragmatic.
What is your feel-good day?
To have time alone, clean/do laundry, lock the door, put a record on and paint/draw.
Do you feel a responsibility to contribute to something bigger than yourself?
I think that this is something that every artist or every creative feel. When I was much younger, I always felt like I wanted to change the world albeit not knowing why, when or even how. I just knew deep down I wanted to. I think that every creative person can relate to this innate want to do something, anything to constantly create, make and do; the instinctual desire to add to the world.
Are you creatively satisfied?
I think creativity is ongoing. I think to be creatively unsatisfied gives you allowance to keep going and keep pushing on.
That said, where do you see yourself in the next few years? Are there any projects you want to explore?
I hope to see myself accomplishing bigger art projects and learning about orchids from my grandfather. I have several projects planned that I hope to accomplish by then. I hope to bridge my creative work and my love for plants even more. I would love to have my own creative studio. I am also currently working on a personal project in the form of a blog titled Plant People, which I intend to have up and running soon.