Life is a tunnel through which time flies through, tearing it this way, and steering it in another. Time rushes towards infinity; it twists and turns towards the finishing point. One way or another, it'll get to the end of tunnel like a ray of light shutting itself out. And most of the time we spend our time rushing about other things, oblivious to this phenomenon that is happening in parallel. How do we get here? In times of darkness, the sparks from the past, the connections we made will remind us of the real passage of time...


Catmasutra - Once Upon a Kopitiam!

Finished this painting on June 1st. Was tempted to call it "Open Coffee Shop" but thought better of it and decided on "Once upon a Kopitiam" (Kopi is a Malay word for coffee, and tiam for shop in Hokkien). Open Coffee Shop is a very Catmasutra title given the way Halo sits and what we generally understand by the term. But I'm submitting this for the Art Festival so you know... With every submission, you need a writeup which I think is important regardless. It gives you perspective as an artist. Every painting is a reflection of the artist - his world view, aspirations, beliefs, moods, etc. Sometimes, each piece seems to appear on its own free will. For example, I have sketched several pieces already but am at a loss as to which piece to begin painting. It needs the spark, the extra something that calls out to you, "paint me, paint me!"

Kopitiam always fascinates me - not the food court ones, they annoy me - the authentic ones. This painting sets the scene for a lazy afternoon in an old Chinese coffee shop, a remnant from our not-so-faraway past. Once upon a time, they were everywhere and authentic, and I think they represent a slice of who we are. I can still remember the old fashioned white porcelain cup and saucer, with many an uncle pouring and drinking from the saucer. I remember the marble-top tables, the high ceiling fans, and the old man with his abacus at the cashier calling the shots. There’s probably an innocence permeating through these memories, etched as they were on a child's mind.

You remember the good things although I can still recall how irritating it was then to be made errand boy all the time- buying lunch, Toto and 4d (never understood the need for them till now haha when you dream of opening a studio called what else but Catmasutra; I even planned for my designer to be a catmasutra coffee-maker cum waitress cum cat dancer who goes "Meow" and scratches the air with her claws on command) Wahahaha... Not that I was a very obedient kid. As compared to my parents' generation, my brother and I were considered really lazy, but there was always a sense of adventure - not computer games, but playing in the drain when there's a storm, catching spiders, playing soccer in car parks where the referee will call "time-outs" whenever there was a car approaching, or flirting with the ice-kachang girl... Maybe that's what Catmasutra is about. Halo, the cat motif – a cartoon character, almost but not quite – epitomizes this innocence cum devil-may-care bravado, and this deep sense of self-belief and unpretentiousness, that draws the viewer almost unabashedly to smile with it.


Catmasutra - Unplugged?

Paintings in Catmasutra is about creating a world that exists between our memories and reality – an “in-between” world. It is about the magic that suddenly grabs us, makes us laugh and remember things that don’t necessarily fit neatly anywhere. But you know it’s there, warm with life, hopelessly elusive, yet popping up time and again to fill you up in weird places. What is it that creates magic? Special times, special memories – maybe that’s why it’s important to keep on experiencing new things, travel and be in a different place at least once a year. Get out of the system for a while. See, hear and feel things for yourself. Pull the plug. Follow the rabbit down the rabbit hole. Live…

We live in a programmed society, where we’re not encouraged to find out who we are or what we really want to do – just what would guarantee us a better living in the future. Guarantee? Better living? These terms are weird because they co-relate only to money and status. Instead of living well by doing the things we love to do (those are the fortunate few), we’re more likely to see ourselves as graduates or non-graduates, lawyer or doctor, banker or professional, owning a Mercedes or Hyundai, a Condominium or HDB apartment, upwardly mobile or progressively stagnating. We’re manufactured to think that way, with many falling off the wayside unable to make the mark and resigned to life as a very average 7-digit NRIC number. It’s almost like we’re manufactured – with 20 years of programming – and finally churned out, thrown into the market place, with first class seats already assigned. The rest of us are just there to make the numbers, to pay our debts (that we’ve so unknowingly accumulate), and make the system work. That can’t be true, can it? Haha - Whether we’re in first or economy class, we’re all on the same flight. We choose what we bring into our lives and we have only one chance at it. Pull the plug?


A Catmasutra concept - Angel's Screw

Another concept for the "art of rebellion" ! This is for anyone facing a frustrating day in this modern world of ours. A metaphor for "screw you", this one showcases the fine art of deception, a necessary skill in most offices. Smile like an angel, and always be ready to open a bottle of wine - with skill of course. It's harder and harder to get by on merit alone, and those who can play the game well will get ahead. Unless you don't want to play the game; then you can screw everything else, open the bottle of wine and drink to goodwill, faith, and the really good things in life. There's always something to celebrate and be grateful for. You just have to look for it...


Catmasutra - Mirror mirror on the wall...

Mirrors are wonderful things. They appear to tell the truth, to reflect life back out at us; but a mirror set correctly and it will lie so convincingly you'll believe that something has vanished into thin air... Angle it right and a mirror becomes a magic encasement; it can show you anything you can imagine and maybe a few things you can't... - Neil Gaiman, Smoke and Mirrors


Catmasutra - Serenading Monet

Claude Monet painted “Japanese Bridge Over Pool of Water Lilies” in 1889. Since the mid-1880s, Monet was able to secure regular sales such that he was able to buy the house in Giverny. That was to become his own personal paradise. Monet and his family (then still unmarried with an entourage of their eight children, six from Alice HoschedĂ©) began to transform his apple orchard into a garden that made history. He began to shape the garden as he would have liked to paint it. He assigned every plant its place, according to colors and varieties. Here the great impressionist found his earthly paradise, his plein-air landscape painting gaining sovereignty over Nature itself.

And yes, Halo is having a time of her life exploring and admiring Monet’s water lily garden - haha! When I’ve decided to “reverse pop art” in Catmasutra 2, I was intrigued and fascinated by Monet’s Japanese Garden. In the beginning, it seemed very daunting, if not, impossible to incorporate the Catmasutra cat into his paintings. Not sure what grabbed me that day, but I just took a large board and started applying paint on it. I needed to move my strokes a bit (painting details always leave me exhausted), and I must be deluded that I could do that with Monet’s Japanese Bridge. I’m self-taught so I have no idea about the techniques, etc and I have to explore intuitively. And the more I delve into it, the more the painting process became a delight. I can see his garden once you’re into it. How the trees move, the colors of the water lilies, the reflection from the pond, the shades, the smell of the water and the plants, and without realizing it, you're in Monet’s garden. In many of the paintings, if you ask me if I can paint them again, the answer is probably "no"...


At the end of the road...

There's always something at the end of the road... If you're not willing to see what it is, you probably shouldn't be out there in the first place...

Let designers design

"All projects are collaborations to a certain extent and each must play their role, but yes, designers should do all the designing," says Dana Robertson at Tango Design... Designers are intuitive and lateral thinkers who thrive best when allowed to explore. I believe that curtailing their natural instincts ultimately leads to poorer creative solutions in the long run."

This was from a Computer Arts (August 2006) article I read, and I find it incredibly relevant especially in the Singapore context. There's generally a lack of respect for the designer's ability to solve problems for the clients. Designers are generally seen as tools who know Photoshop, Flash, etc and hence should be instructed to reproduce what the client has in his head (which in most cases range from vagueness to clueless). Maybe it stems from the general impression that Singaporeans only go into design because they're not academically inclined enough to pursue other more reputable professions. I think this is changing with Singaporean agencies winning awards abroad etc - but the general impression is still there. If we want to have good designers, we need good clients.

To me, design is only good if it works, whether the goal is to communicate a vision or convincing someone you need to pay for imported air (as an extreme example). A good designer with enough experience will know the subtleties better than any clients. Not only does the designer need to understand the client’s brief (top level perspective) but be savvy enough to work through problems at the micro level.

"That's not to say client feedback and direction isn't useful, and more often than not enhances the end result. But this can only happen if the client offers abstract feedback as opposed to saying 'move that there, make that bigger, and can we try that in green?" which is essentially unhelpful," says Franki Goodwin, creative director at Franki & Jonny. This scenario is something that we see too much of in Singapore. Without an enlightened marketplace, designers will be stifled. Designers on their part must work hard to prove that they are not mere operators with a Photoshop toolbox.

Goodwin agrees that a client's distance sometimes means they are better equipped to highlight a problem with a piece of design, but points out that it's ultimately the designer's job to come up with the solution. "There is a common misconception among some of our clients that we fight design battles for ourselves, out of vanity and ego, not for the good of the project. But creativity or good design does not compromise the commercial appeal of a project. It enhances it."


Finally - Catmasutra.com!

Yay! Finally got www.catmasutra.com! I was waiting for the domain for a long time and having given it up for lost cause, registered catmasutra-art.com instead. It was held by someone else who, during the last few years, didn't do anything with it. A few months back, I noticed that the domain has expired and there was a notice for the owner to renew it. I was checking it quite frequently then but gave up after a while. Then last week, it was available!!! YAY! Registered it straight away!!!!

"Fat Cat" was the first painting I did of a cat with a fish bone. It was a small piece exhibited in 2003, and one of the few pieces that was sold. It was probably this painting that sparked off the creation of the Catmasutra series! This painting was used as one of the designs for a pack of Christmas Cards for Cat Welfare Society. So come year end, remember to get the pack for a worthy cause and come to my annual exhibition! Fat Cat has really evolved since haha into the shape of Halo, who has been steadily putting on weight as if preparing for this role. Even the fish head is different; Now it has the shape of a heart, an object that signifies one's desires. The secret to getting what one wants? It is to know you have it already. Easier said than done!

This was another piece that was sold, called "Gesture".
HAha I missed this piece as well.


mood post - nara yoshitomo

Mood post - From my favorite artist Yoshitomo Nara -

I need a break - big time - wahahahah i need to paint! That's when i'm most alive. It's getting harder and harder to move in any other direction. The weekend passed in an instant. Didn't get much sleep last night so my head is heavy.Probably can't paint tonight... didn't manage to get the coffee table right, and I'm painting over and over... hahaha

My designer is crazy today. She wanted us to call her "Nina", "Nina Bay" she says...wahahaha

Nina Bay


Catmasutra - Core of Apple

A re-visit to one of my favorite paintings. In a way, I'm glad this piece remains unsold as I have become quite accustomed to it. In fact, it feels like a signature painting of the Catmasutra series.

Core of Apple is a Catmasutra take on Rene Magritte's "Son of Man" painted in 1964. The surrealist painting is a self-portrait although the man’s face is obscured by a hovering green apple. “Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see, but it is impossible. Humans hide their secrets too well...” Magritte said of his painting. It seems to represent the modern businessman being the son of Adam having to fight temptation in the modern world.

In the Catmasutra version, the cat motif, Halo has eaten the forbidden apple (temptation) and has the apple core by its claws. The man finally shows his face (a manga-style self-portrait, which is similar to the cat as both depict the artist) and seems not too bothered by the fate of the hovering apple. Perhaps, there are no longer any easy illusions in this day and age; we simply have to believe in ourselves and have the courage to make our dreams come true, whatever they might be...


Catmasutra - The art of rebellion - what's your poison?

There are only two things in this world. Hope and fear. The classic dichotomy of life. Hope floats while fear sinks. Hope will lift your heart. Fear wil sink it. when you fear having hope, that's when you know you hit rock bottom, that is, if only you know. Addiction (whatever your poison may be) is a placebo antidope for fear. Hope springs eternal and is the only true antibody known to man. Hahaha from the imaginary book called "Root of all wisdom by Yaya Papayaz" that inspires the true spirit of Catmasutra . Knowing something is different from feeling something. For me the mind always speeds ahead, and it takes some time for my heart to follow. Once the mind and heart becomes one - then it's easy.


Catmasutra Campbell Soup Series

Campbell's Soup Cans by Andy Warhol produced in 1962, consists of thirty-two canvases, each one consisting of a painting of the various canned soup flavors that the company offered at the time.

The Campbell soup is instantly recognizable both as an ordinary can of soup and also, amazingly as an icon for a major art movement - pop art! In the sixties, processed food signified American affluence and struck a chord with those who lived through the Depression. Herein lies the process for pop art and I always find this art movement intriguing. "The things represented within the paintings were available to people of most classes, while the paintings themselves, which proved to be highly marketable as art commodities, were likewise available, especially when reproduced as prints, posters, and postcards." (David MaCarthy, Pop Art, 2003).

Here pop artists are using the popularity of marketplace objects to help sell their own work - ingenious! In other words, it's allowing customers to buy and engage with their own tastes sanctified by the aura of fine art. In Catmasutra II , it dawned upon me to take those masterpieces that I love from great artists such as Seurat, Van Gogh, Monet, Magritte, Hockney and of course Warhol (which are available in prints of course) and immerse the Catmasutra cat as part of the landscape and viola, the birth of the Catmasutra Campbell Soup Series. The first was "Fish Soup" done in 2005 and "Hot Soup" in 2006 for Catmasutra 3.

Inevitably, I'm planning for another Campbell soup for Catmasutra 4 hmmm... what soup should it be?)


House Cat Gone Wild 1

This painting was done pre-Catmasutra days for our first exhibition by Utterly Art. It was exhibited at Space 21. Haha it's about Halo going wild... Cats have this tendency to go berserk now and then, like the sudden need for speed (especially after a visit to the toilet). She's be speeding from one room to the next and if you are in her way, she'll arch her back with bristling fur and dagger-eye you sideways, but only for a split moment, and then she'll calm down and relax one corner. Those were her younger days. Now it's Angel's turn, although his target is mainly Halo... I guess we all need to go crazy some time...