Feature Yip Yew Chong, mural painter
A full-time accountant and part-time mural artist, Yip has painted over 30 murals capturing the heritage of Singapore, which can be found along Tiong Bahru, Chinatown and Ann Siang Hill.
Singapore is a sanitised, efficient and tightly controlled modern city. Its multiracial population lives in harmony, are generally tolerant of diversity, law abiding and risk-averse. Locally, science, economics and technology are emphasised and valued over arts and humanities. In recent years, there has been an increase in the appreciation of arts, creativity and aspiration for a Singaporean culture. Culturally, it is a rising star with lots of latent potential waiting to be uncovered. Hopefully, we can create a recognised brand for Singapore culture much like we are recognised for being a clean, efficient financial hub. I hope the government will provide a one-stop channel to simplify the multiple-authority approval of street art creation and that Singapore’s cultural and art brands will be more recognised internationally.
I have loved drawing and artsy stuff since young but have not spent enough time to develop the interest. Upon graduation with a degree in accountancy, I was occupied mostly with my career and my family. After more than two decades in finance, I took an eight-month break in 2015 to try different things. I decided to try mural painting after spotting murals painted in Kampong Glam. I approached a house owner near my home and convinced him to let me paint a mural on his perimeter wall at Everton Road. Without any previous portfolio to showcase, I told him that he could whitewash the mural if he disliked it, which did not happen fortunately. The public also responded warmly to the mural. Thereafter, I received commissioned requests from various houses and business owners and painted over 30 murals in the last two and a half years.
The Letter Writer mural at Smith Street, which depicts a letter writing and calligraphic couplets stall, is the most meaningful mural I’ve painted for three reasons. Firstly, Chinatown was where I lived for the first 26 years of my life. I have very fond memories of my childhood in Chinatown. Every year just before Chinese New Year, my late dad would write calligraphies on red papers to decorate the house and refresh the ancestral altars. Secondly, the process leading to the completion of Letter Writer took about two years even though it was painted in less than two days. It was because getting the approval for street art in Chinatown was saddled by bureaucracies. So when it was finally approved and the painting completed, you could imagine how happy I felt. Lastly, this was the first street art I had painted with my two children. The family effort and bonding moments were precious.
I plan to spend more time on developing my art, especially canvas painting and film-making. Later this year, I will retire from my finance career and practice art on a full-time basis and fulfill my dream of painting a Cantonese opera stage scene in Chinatown. It is not easy to practice art in Singapore, but I can feel that it will get easier. There are still a lot of restrictions, bureaucracies and censorship. It is not easy to self-initiate an art project that grants creative freedom to artists. Also, even though there is a rise in arts appreciation by the public due to rising affluence, not many appreciators are not willing to pay for the art, unlike in the West. But compared to three years ago, it is much easier now.
Yip Yew Chong painted this 44m long mural outside the Thian Hock Keng temple in just 21 days.