Playing With & For The Community
In August is Rachel Chan as our Artist of the Month fresh off her recent show in ‘Azalea Beckons’ at Dahlia Gallery. Melanie Chua sits with Rachel Chan and gets a lesson in embracing memories and lessons from children.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
A non-realist/idealist by nature. Melancholic and introverted, a procrastinator and semi-pessimist… That aside, I do have ‘positive’ dreams. Just perhaps not very ‘achievable’ ones.
I revel in abstract writings, swirling ink on paper, photography and cheap thrills [e.g collecting saga seeds and scratch-on decals]. I now spend my time practicing as an artist. Teaching art part time and doing freelance design & illustration and occasional photography work.
How did art get into your life? What kind of artist are you?
I grew up in a home where the arts was part of everyday life. My mum was an avid painter and expert scrap-booker and still is one today. My dad was the musician and carpenter, (who is always) transforming pieces of old wood, odds and ends into beautiful furniture.
While other children my age played with dolls and game consoles, I was doodling, painting, building blocks and creating my own toys. I still remember the yummy smell of cinnamon & vanilla infused home-made play dough. I enjoyed using my hands- whether to make things or destroy things [laughs].
I’m not sure exactly what kind of artist I am… a varied artist I suppose? My experiences in life influence my art and its direction. Being in Art school was one of the best times I had, experimenting with varying mediums and art forms. I believe that as I continue to discover, to learn and experience new things/art/people/places et cetera, my art will change and evolve, hopefully mirroring the ever-changing wonders of a kaleidoscope. My current works are mostly photographic mixed media installation based, with a heavy usage of lights, I love how lights can be used to enhance, highlight, disguise works, even as a stand-alone. Lights are beautiful to look at.
Who or what is your inspiration?
Too many to name but I’ll try!
My mum got me hooked onto the arts and till today she remains as one of my harshest art critics. Monet came along, (which) was the first time I did oil painting. Soon I was dabbling with water colour and attempting to mimic Mildred Butler’s gardens and landscapes.
Other influences include Sally Mann and Man Ray whose works fascinated me so much it influenced me to take up photography. As I moved on towards conceptual art , installation and video and text-based works, I looked to artists like Matthew Barney, Chris Cunningham, Barbara Kruger, Bolstanski for inspiration. Tracy Emin too remains as one of my greatest influences. Her automatic drawings and writings, installation works are so horrifyingly beautiful and tragic at the same time, reminiscent of my work and life at times.
How do you see your place in the arts and what are your main aims and hopes for yourself as an artist in the arts scene?
I guess I am just another artist doing what I enjoy the most, art. I am not much of a go-getter and I don’t hunger for popularity (quite the hermit crab or blend to some), but I will jump at any given opportunity in the arts whether big or small, insignificant or otherwise. Being an introvert, I rarely attended art shows and functions, now I do find joy in being able to engage in friendly debates and discussion, share stories and ideas with like-minded people. Well.. meeting new people wasn’t so daunting as before! In the future, I hope to receive a chance of an apprenticeship under an accomplished artist, something that is literally non-existent in our Singapore art culture, something which I would like to see become a reality.
I hear you are also an Early Childhood Educator by training. Has this influenced your art or your goals in life in any way?
It still baffles me why I took the plunge [laughs]. If I must find a simple reason, it would be my love for children. Loving them unconditionally when they are at their best and worst. I started working ad-hoc in a little art studio while I was still in art school to supplement my income. It was there where I got to experience working with children, some so young with hands so tiny they couldn’t even hold a paint brush properly! And eventually (I) grew to love them and their art!
Picasso once said that it took him a lifetime to paint like a child. Teaching children has taught me to be less critical, to not question everything, every aspect of life, every person, every mishap or every success.
Even today, it is not only the children themselves but my fascination with their works that keeps me going back to my job… not forgetting the crazy gifts I receive on Teacher’s Day! Oh well, ask me again when I am 60, I believe I’ll be somewhere, somehow still surrounded by an assemblage of children!