"If I Radiated a Colour, It Would be Blue." - In Conversation with Chen Shitong [Part II]


Into The Mist #2, 2021, Collagraph and screen print on paper, 41 x 50 cm



By The Pedestrian.



On Pulp Editions

Pulp Editions was founded in 2017 by Shitong as a space to collaborate with professional artists using printmaking as the central medium. Between running the entity, teaching at several art schools in Singapore as well as putting in the work as an artist himself, I was intrigued by how the printmaker juggles the many hats that he wears. TP: What do you consider Pulp Editions to be?

ST: I consider it to be an experimental space for artists to try out printmaking. It's like a friendly space where artists can come to experiment and make new works. TP: What do you enjoy about the collaboration process with artists? ST: I like the problem-solving part of the collaboration. TP: So, you approach it from a very technical point of view? ST: Yah, I think I approach it from a very technical place. I feel it's a challenge for me to understand what kind of technique I can introduce to them to achieve what they want in their narrative. I will try to input my own creative thoughts but hopefully the artist can find something to use in their future works and bring it into their own practice.

TP: Do you have a preferred type of artist to collaborate with? ST: I am a bit more biased towards figurative works. But I think that this bias is not very good. [laughs] I think that's one of the things that I look for but I'm trying not to think this way by approaching a wider range of artist.

TP: How do you check this bias internally then? ST: Actually, a lot of times I won't approach artists straightaway. I will research on the artist by looking at their Instagram, website, visit their exhibition, and then meet up to try to understand what kind of person the artist is like.

TP: What is the most important thing that you look out for in artists that you collaborate with? ST: I think personality is the most important.

TP: As much as you have provided your technical expertise to the artists that you’ve collaborated with, what have you learnt from them? ST: One of the things that I've learnt is to try and look for the possibility that all works can be used for certain things. I try to be more open to the ways to create prints. Sometimes it doesn't have to be this way but there are other ways that the artists have proposed.


Shitong with artist Nhawfal Juma’at musing on a piece of work the former created. Nhawfal had previously collaborated with Shitong and will soon be displaying the works that were born out of the collaboration at AC43 Gallery’s upcoming print show. (Image by AC43 Gallery)



TP: What are the less glamorous, but equally important, aspects of running your own studio and Pulp Editions?

ST: I will say it’s marketing. Doing interviews and promoting myself or Pulp Editions requires me to step out of my comfort zone. Although I know it’s a necessity to a certain extent, I do feel very uncomfortable.


TP: Do you think that the commercial aspect of running Pulp Editions interferes with your creative process?

ST: I sustain Pulp Editions by juggling between different teaching jobs so that we can offer an affordable rate for the artist. Our residency ranges from $700 to $900 and it covers the cost of materials and rental of the studio. It usually runs for 2 to 4 weeks. Unfortunately, I would not be able to pay myself at this rate. However, raising the fee might also deter artist from wanting to participate in this collaboration.


TP: Do you think it's sustainable?

ST: I would wish that it would be sustainable one day. 走一步,算一步 (trans: take one day at a time) lor (sic).




Tools and paints, along with Pulp Editions' various collaborations with artists adorn this wall in an orderly fashion. A reflection of a functional aesthetic, perhaps? (Images by AC43 Gallery)



Not a Teacher, Not Yet a Full-time Artist



The stories of artists struggling to commit fully to their craft amidst the pragmatic realities of Singapore is a tale as old as time. Yet, art, in its many various genres, is still being birthed, giving testament to the limitless creativity and unrelenting drive of our artists to just keep creating. For artists like Shitong, the future is only as bright as his latest work and what really matters, therefore, is the ability to work with what they have and improvise with what they don’t. (Image by AC43 Gallery)


TP: Do you consider yourself a full-time artist?

ST: I don't think I'm a full-time artist. I think I teach more than I try to practise, which is why I always complain to my wife. [laughs] Maybe she's more an artist than I am because she spends more time making things that can make a living. She's making a living by doing things that she likes. This idea was floated to me by a friend. She was telling me, "Your wife is actually more an artist than us because she's doing what she likes and she's making money from it." When I went back, I told her "Actually you're really more of the artist." [laughs] I said, "You should go to schools to give talks because you're really doing what should be done in the art world. Not like us, we say we are artists, but we spend 80% of our time teaching in school."


TP: As someone who isn’t in the industry, this is really my perception of what artists in Singapore are like. That you have to work elsewhere to earn money to sustain your art practice. Is your ideal situation what your wife is doing?

ST: Yah I think that is it. Then she runs her own social media, engage her followers and all that.


TP: What do you think is preventing you from achieving that?

ST: Something that gives me a more regular pay. Having something that is more constant. I mean her kind of income is not very constant income. It's also depending on whether people buy her work. I guess she's doing more 'business' than me then. [laughs] I'm more of doing it for fun at this stage. I also realised that the more you teach (in art schools), the more classes you will have. Then you cannot say no to all these classes. If you give up now, then nobody will want to approach you next time. But then again, you will be telling your students that to be a good teacher, you also need to practise so that they can teach you. Which is why I'm letting go of more classes next semester so I can make more works and work with artists more. Because I think the period when I came back (from America. Ed: *Shitong previously underwent a year-long printmaking course at Tamarind Institute, Albuquerque, New Mexico where he honed his craft and got the opportunity to collaborate with other artists who were not printmakers themselves), that's the period when I grew the fastest in terms of ideas on how I looked at art or how I looked at my own practice. I think that's when I really learnt a lot.



Occupying a corner of Shitong’s studio is his wife’s working space. A full-time illustrator herself, the printmaker’s wife creates ceramic works in the studio that are available for sale. (Image by The Pedestrian)


TP: Where do you teach now?

ST: SOTA, LASALLE and NAFA.


TP: Is it easy to get these teaching gigs?

ST: No, I think every freelancer in these art schools is always worried that if they give up, it's hard to get these jobs back because there's always going to be more people who will take over.


TP: But does spending too much time teaching mean sacrificing time for your own practice?

ST: Yes, but I also think that teaching is very important. Sharing is very fun. And also seeing other people create something, that's also very fun. In a way doing collaborations is also like teaching. But then you should not come to a point where you think that spending time teaching is not as helpful as in your studio making art. I think early this year I was feeling that, or maybe these two years. I think that I'm spending too much time on others and not using the time for myself.


Into The Mist #1, 2021, Collagraph and screen print on paper, 41 x 50 cm

TP: Are you the kind of person who feels that they are wasting their life if they don't do anything?

ST: Yah, I think so. But I spend a lot of time not doing anything too. [laughs] I need to do something, whether it's going to run or... I just need to be engaged. I cannot be sitting here and not doing anything because I will feel that I'm wasting a lot of time. I wasted a lot of time when I was younger but now that I’ve grown up, I still feel like I'm wasting a lot of time. [laughs]


TP: Why do you feel that way?

ST: Maybe I should use the time more wisely on doing something else. Till now, it's something that I'm still very bad at. But then at the same time I also feel that you should not be doing too many things at the same time. You should also be sitting down to reflect on what you are doing too.


TP: So now looking back at the young Shitong, would you say that becoming an artist was the right decision?

ST: I never regretted doing this. I also don't know what else I would do if I didn't do this. Going into fine arts was the time when I felt like eh, maybe I'm really good at something. That's when I thought that maybe I could do something out of it.


(Image by AC43 Gallery)

Throughout the hour-and-a-half long conversation with Shitong, I got the sense that as much as he was open and confident about sharing, there were many things regarding his practice and Pulp Editions that were still being figured out in his mind: how to expand his repertoire of techniques, how to balance his ambitions for Pulp Editions and as an artist, and perhaps even, how to enrich his students. In spite of all these, what really fascinated me was the quiet confidence of the printmaker that everything will eventually fall into place if you put in the work. As cliché as it may seem, this calls to mind the proverbial Chinese saying from Daoist philosopher Laozi, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” And I think ultimately, that’s what really matters – that in life, we do not need to have everything figured out. So long as we maintain the tenacity to keep doing what we love, the cards will fall into place in due course. This does sound like the entire process of printmaking, doesn’t it?



To read the first part of this interview, click here.