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7 Minutes with the Printmakers

Featuring Chen Shitong, April Ng Kiow Ngor, Tan Seow Wei & Zhang Fuming

Chen Shitong

I choose to be a printmaker because . . .

When I was young, there was this MacDonald’s Lunchbox that my parents used to get for me. I still remember that it was green in colour and on the lunchbox there was this embossed, relief surface, which I always used to put paper on it over the lunch box and just used crayons to do a frottage (the technique or process of taking a rubbing from an uneven surface to form the basis of a work of art) of the lunchbox drawing on top of it. Looking back at this now, I think this is always connected to printmaking; this has been something I’ve always liked — this frottage, and not knowing how your image would turn out, except only after you’ve printed or rubbed it. This is something I’ve always been attracted to since young.

My favourite printmaking technique . . .

I don’t think I have a favourite technique; all techniques are fun to me! I don’t see them as individual techniques but as a whole—they all come together to fit a certain puzzle in the art-making process. They all can be used and are interchangeable here and there. It’s not a limiting process, despite what other people have always been saying; it’s actually a very experimental and rewarding process if you’re willing to try out and just go deeper into what you always understand. You’ll get more out of it if you just keep trying and experimenting with different techniques.

My current series . . .

I’ve always been very interested in notebooks and sketchbooks and I have a lot of them. I’m very interested in paper and how you can print paper or the look of paper onto a piece of paper, just trying to mimic how paper looks like on paper. And I have all these sketches with me, so I thought why not make these into art — into prints. Instead of putting them into a sketchbook, why don’t I just convert all these sketches into prints?

That’s when I begin using different techniques, such as chine-collé — a method in which you paste paper on top of a piece of paper. So right now, I’m trying to just print paper on top of paper. Is it weird to put it this way? Basically it’s like trying to print an image of the paper on a piece of paper. On top of that there are drawings and all these little mark-making that are very personal. The works I’m doing now, in a sense, it’s like a personal journal which I’m trying to make into a larger body of work.

I’ve just finished my one-year study programme at the Tamarind Institute (in Albuquerque, USA) and I’m now trying a lot of lithography techniques in my prints. Lithography is a very challenging process; it’s very unlike what I’ve learned so far. The experimental part is where I try to apply the new things I’ve learnt at Tamarind and try to incorporate them into what I’ve always done so far, and try to make them into lithograph prints.

April Ng Kiow Ngor

I choose to be a printmaker because . . .

Since young I watched my parents being very hands-on and involved in a lot of craftwork, so that influenced my early interest in art. I love printmaking because I’m a person who’s very hands-on and sensitive to texture — all these are encompassed in the process of printmaking. Although I majored in painting at NAFA, I’ve always like exploring all these different kinds of textures, hence I decided to pursue printmaking in the UK.

My favourite printmaking technique . . .

My favourite technique is intaglio printing. Although the outcome is often unpredictable when you’re starting out, as you familiarise yourself with the process, there’s a lot of potential for experimenting and also there are many ways to create different effects. I’ve tried Lithography and silkscreen printing but I’m most fascinated with intaglio!

My current series . . .

I quite like nature and this series reflects such sentiments. In the midst of producing this series, especially for the few pieces at the later stage, I happened to see the exhibitions of Wu Guanzhong and Chua Ek Kay — both exhibiting Chinese paintings but with a common topic of exploration—and on the spot an idea came to me: How about I try using these printmaking techniques to convey the idea of Chinese painting images?

Although I had this idea in mind at the time, I hadn’t exactly figured out how to execute the process. It would be a new concept to express, and ultimately, what I was looking to achieve was to “immigrate” the Chinese painting images from the result and outcome of printmaking.

I’ve been mostly employing traditional methods like engraving and aquatint for my intaglio process, but since I was keen to achieve an outcome evocative of Chinese painting for this current series, I realise that I could use collagraphy, which is capable of generating textures reminiscent of Chinese ink painting. Therefore, I started applying some collagraph techniques into my intaglio process. Well, the texture looks quite soft and achieves an outcome almost like that of a Chinese paintbrush. At the moment, I’m still trying and experimenting in this direction and technique!

Tan Seow Wei

I choose to be a printmaker because . . .

I’ve always had an interest in art since young. Although I went to study other things when I was at NUS, after having worked for a few years and tried a few different jobs, I’ve realised that art is still my first love and that I would like to do art as a career. Printmaking is very interesting — it has all these different special effects and textures that cannot be achieved through painting or drawing. Techniques or effects generated through different processes like aquatint, etching — all these are very interesting effects that captivate me and make me decide to do quite a number of my works in prints.

My favourite printmaking technique . . .

Because I did not major in printmaking but in fine art painting, I’m actually more of a “drawer” or “painter”. A lot of my printmaking techniques capture drawing effects, so actually monotype is one of my favourite techniques because it combines drawing skills together with printmaking techniques.

My current series . . .

Having experienced major changes in my life this year, both on the career and family front, I needed some personal mantra to live by and keep me going. The series actually draws inspiration from quotes or colloquial phrases that I sometimes read. It could be a quote from the street artist Banksy, “If you get tired, learn to rest not to quit.” Also, Les Brown’s “Shoot for the moon and land among the stars.” These old adages of how one should enjoy the process of whatever one is doing, or simply remember to have some fun in life are important to me. They remind me to not miss out the fun and the joy of just being. Instead of writing out these quotes or phrases as one normally would, I translate them into a series of imagery that serves as visual reminders to myself.

The main subject matter or my visuals in this current series is the persona of a girl who takes on various poses, often amid play or sports. However, the meaning of each work lies in the details; each image embodies another layer of connotation (or message) to its otherwise normal activity, which opens up interpretation for the viewer.Various mediums are employed to create the works and the process involves not just printmaking techniques like monoprint and silkscreen, but also drawing and collage. The negative space of the human form is sometimes created through silkscreen printing, while the line works are layered onto the surface via monoprint. The details in the background are then slowly worked on using scrapped pieces of relief-printed coloured paper.

For this series I’m also experimenting with mimeograph printing, which is used together with ink wash to create the artworks. Andy Warhol’s blotted line drawing has always been a great source of inspiration to me as I’m very much drawn to the ephemeral quality of those frail, broken and/or dotted lines that sometimes fade into non-existence.

I first explored mimeograph as a printmaking technique after chancing upon the material during an overseas trip. I find that the kind of lines produced by mimeograph as compared to the blotted line works are not without similarities. In the process of crystallising these outcomes, I attempt to balance the fragility of these line works with the solidity of ink wash and weight from the characters.

Zhang Fuming

I choose to be a printmaker because . . .

Initially I wanted to do something creative so I enrolled in Lasalle. I thought I’d be interested to do design but turned out it wasn’t what I desired, because ultimately I wanted to express my own ideas. In my first year at Lasalle I didn’t do very well in my foundation course, so a lecturer recommended me to try fine arts. She said it would allow me to express my ideas and emotions. I decided on printmaking because the first print that I saw was by Kathe Kollwitz (the German expressionist printmaker) and I was really intrigued by the black-and-white emotional kind derived from prints, so I explored deeper into it. When the time came for me to choose a medium, I went for printmaking.

My favourite printmaking technique . . .

Woodcut. Because it’s accessible; I can do it anytime and print it anywhere. Also, the scale is not limited.

My current series . . .

I’m currently preoccupied with the idea and theme of education — the motif that represents success. Very often it’s about the motion and symbolism of education. In my work I used a lot of motifs that are suggestive of ‘ascent’ — to ascend. In a way it’s to question the motivation and the purpose of man and what we want to achieve in life.

I recently completed a program at Pulp Editions with another printmaker, Shitong, where we delved heavily into lithography. Lithography is a plate technique, and together we did a few monotypes and experimentations that were very spontaneous. One benefit of having a printer to assist us, such as in lithography, was that I got to try things that had very little constraints despite my own knowledge limitation; I got to do what I wanted and someone else in my team would try to find out and solve any issues or limitations that might arise. The presented series of works are selected pieces from my studio explorations. These works are done with the objective of conceptual and visual studies; with little consideration of its linear consistency to the works I'm known to do.

These selections are a sort of tribute to the idea of "studio practice" and to the artistic process of unrestrictive explorative creation.


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