The Art of Water.
Many an artist have been inspired by the gentle beauty of water. Aaron Lye (for PURE magazine Oct-Dec 2008) talks to artist PAUL KOH about how water inspires him in his art.
So Paul. Tell us a bit about yourself. I have always been interested in drawing since I was a kid. I have no idea where that inclination comes from, but I always preferred looking at pictures and drawing them rather than reading books. Of course, the belief then as is now, is that art has no viable career path. It took me a long time to come back to it, and as it happened, I started work as an editor for a publisher of children’s books, and that opened my eyes to a rich and multi-layered world of illustration and magic. I started clamoring to do some of the illustrations, and in my next job, I got involved with web design. That’s when I knew this is where I want to be. They’re two different things, art and design, but they belong to the same family tree.
How did you first find yourself getting into art? Where did your love for painting come from?
It’s a natural inclination. I’m the only one in my family who has this passion. As a child, I’m already very visual. It’s a more emotional and direct way of expression, especially when you have a vivid imagination. I think drawing or art has a more direct relationship with imagination. When you are using your imagination, you’re more likely to think in pictures than words. Even now, I don’t really ‘read’ magazines but ‘consume’ the emotional content of the images. So my love for painting comes from this desire to make my imaginings come true, so to speak.
I understand you’ve experimented with a unique, abstract style of painting that makes use of water. How did this start? Where did the inspiration come from? Can you describe the process of working in this style? When I was working on “Fluid Abstractions”, it was a platform for me to become more intimate with the act of painting. You become an extension to the painting process. As you delve deeper and deeper into an art piece, you begin to explore your relationship with it. Brushes are used as whips, hands as brushes, water as paints. The spontaneity becomes important; the ‘natural’ way in which each painting reveals itself becomes the source of inspiration and creativity. Water – its fluidity – becomes central in developing this series. One of the inspirations comes from trying to fuse Chinese ink brush paintings with abstract art.
In your opinion, what is it about this particular style that makes it stand out from more traditional methods of painting? It alludes to the mysterious space between matter and spirit. There is a gap separating the intent of the artist, and the spontaneous manifestation of the paints on the canvas. It is a very intuitive mode of painting even though it can be frustrating. It can take you round and round until you are able to find it in yourself to say that it is finally finished, that it has reached an agreement with your heart and emotions.
Do you still use this technique in your paintings today? Has it influenced your later works in any way? I still use certain techniques in my later works. It becomes part of my repertoire of adding depth and texture, especially the pattern and flow of water.
Tell us a bit about your more current works – the Catmasutra series of paintings. Well, I have been illustrating since young, and growing up with cats means that my two passions seem destined to be linked together. And it did - when my first painting of a happy cat was sold in 2003 from the exhibition, Project Mooch. The first Catmasutra exhibition in 2004 was a sold out, and the series developed from there. For me, Catmasutra is about telling a happy story, a reminder to see the positive side of things, and even possibly the magic in between. I take stuff that we commonly come into contact through our surroundings, the media, etc. and present a moment in a story that is personal and yet universal. I'm fascinated with the flow of energy that vibrates in between, that blurs the line between reality and myth, between the power of everyday and the power of imagination. I conceptualize Catmasutra as part of this in-between world. The "eyes-wide-shut" and irrepressible "ear-to-ear" grins of the cats are representative of this energy - that in spite of life's imperfections, there is always a positive side, good enough for a smile!
I’ve noticed that quite a few of your Catmasutra paintings feature water scenes. Any particular reason for this? I love the spontaneity and fluidity of water. This was evident in the Fluid Abstraction series and this follows through to the Catmasutra series. Personally, I love the sky and rain. Water has a calming effect, rain a redemptive quality and sky, freedom. These are the most beautiful things and they are always here with us. Perhaps that’s why, inadvertently these elements find their way into many of my paintings.
What do you usually do for inspiration for your art? I get my inspiration from everywhere, magazines, movies, art, design, illustration, popular culture, etc. There are a myriad of energies all around us, so we can tap into these energies, distill them and re-energise them in a way that works for ourselves. In essence, there's beauty and freshness everywhere once we choose to see it.
Where’s your favourite water-related location in Singapore? In the world? I love Marina Bay, especially the view from the highest point of the ECP, where the city looms in front, flanked by the bay and sea beyond. As for the world, it has to be Venice. It has a unique colour, a reflective luminance unlike any other city.