Man in the Mu­ral

The art of bring­ing up the past

Augustman - - Arts & Craft - WORDS HANNAH CHOO PHO­TOS YIP YEW CHONG

EV­ERY WEEK­END our city un­der­goes a lit­tle trans­for­ma­tion. With ev­ery mix of emul­sion paint and sweep of a brush, this age of In­sta­gram and vi­ral videos goes back in time a lit­tle. But slowly and surely side­walks be­come scenes of old ko­pi­ti­ams (cof­feeshops in Hokkien), pro­vi­sion shops of yes­ter­year pop out of blank walls, and back al­leys run wild with the old kam­pong spirit we all miss to­day. Yip Yew Chong is the artist who has brought us this nos­tal­gic art and no, he’s not do­ing it for money. An ac­coun­tant for years, he quit his job last June to take a breather. He trav­elled for a bit, and soon af­ter, he de­cided he wanted to paint. And so he did. It was as sim­ple as that. He was also in­spired by Ernest Zachare­vic, a Lithua­nian street artist who’s now known for his work across the faces of Ge­orge Town in Pe­nang and Kam­pong Glam. But it re­ally be­gan when Yip came across the per­fect place to start ‒ a former mo­tor garage from the ’30s. “It was a house put up for rent,” Yip says. “The prop­erty agent in­tro­duced me to the owner, Vic­tor Choa, a re­tired civil en­gi­neer­ing pro­fes­sor. I showed him some sketches of an old bar­ber­shop and it wasn’t long be­fore he hap­pily agreed.” When URA gave the green light, it was good to go, and it took just nine days for the artist to com­plete his first mu­ral. Look for it the next time you are in the Joo Chiat neigh­bour­hood. It’s on 39 Ever­ton Road.

It’s not easy to per­form street art. It re­quires a fair bit of tan­go­ing with the au­thor­i­ties, and fail­ing to do so could land you in jail. Since Fe­bru­ary, Yip has re­turned to work as a leader of a shared ser­vices team. But he spends his week­ends on project af­ter project. The two mu­rals he did in Tiong Bahru (one of a dated apart­ment and an­other of a song­bird cor­ner) were done within the first two months of work. “It was tir­ing,” he ad­mits. “But this is my pas­sion.” Self-taught through many at­tempts of trial and er­ror, his works are mainly mem­o­ries of the past, the Sin­ga­pore he grew up in. He lived his first 14 years on Sago Lane, bet­ter known to lo­cal folk as “street of the dead” be­cause of its busi­ness of pro­vid­ing coffins, mourn­ing vest­ments and paper ef­fi­gies. He lived just above all the ac­tion and had a bird’s-eye view of ev­ery fu­neral and wail­ing rel­a­tive. This he has cap­tured in an elab­o­rate sketch of Sago Lane, which can be found on his web­site (yipyc.com). On this steamy Sun­day morn­ing, Yip is dolling up a wall with the fa­cade of the old Na­tional Li­brary at the first Catholic High school cam­pus (51 Water­loo Street). “I used to come to this li­brary a lot. The beau­ti­ful build­ing held many mem­o­ries for me. While I be­lieve it’s im­por­tant to move for­ward, I also think we should re­tain some of the past. What a waste it was to knock this build­ing down for a tun­nel that’s so un­der­utilised. What a waste,” he laments. “Are these paint­ings your way of pre­serv­ing the past?” I ask. “Not re­ally. Hon­estly, I’m not all that sen­ti­men­tal. These mu­rals will fade over time, which is ok. Noth­ing is per­ma­nent and I don’t in­tend to do this for long,” Yip in­sists. “Re­ally?” “Af­ter all, I’m not re­ally an artist. There’s no depth in my work. I just thought, why not do this for a year, see what hap­pens and how peo­ple re­spond to it. Some­day I might study art prop­erly. Art is more than per­cep­tion. You need to paint with your mind and heart, not just your hands.”

WHERE ART THOU Sin­ga­pore has be­come much more colour­ful over the years. Some evolv­ing spa­ces to watch are the Sul­tan Arts Village, Row­ell Road, Tiong Bahru Mar­ket and Vic­to­ria Street. THIS PAGE Yip Yew Chong paint­ing the Old Na­tional Li­brary; ‘Amah’...

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