Fea­ture Yip Yew Chong, mu­ral painter

Esquire (Singapore) - - Feature -

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.

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