Man in the Mural
The art of bringing up the past
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’...