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La Kopi with Tam Kwan Yuen

We're glad to learn of the varied creative avenues in which the artists have kept themselves busy with while working in remote. This week's instalment is no different. Until travel becomes officially possible, here's hoping our correspondence with Tam Kwan Yuen and his wondrously travel-evocative paintings can offer a source of joy during this period.

". . . my trip to India in 2018 trumped the rest [of my travels]. Its amazing atmosphere made that trip truly unique. I‘ve been to more developed places such as Europe or neighbouring countries like Malaysia, but it was the combination of poverty and exotic culture I experienced first-hand in India that really inspired me to produce the pieces that I’m especially pleased with. From the narrow alleys of cities like Jaisalmer and Udaipur to Varanasi along the Ganges River – the oldest city in India – the destinations didn’t disappoint."

The idea that life is a series of happenstances rather than planned happenings best sums up Tam Kwan Yuen's journey as an artist. Then a fresh graduate of the School of Art, Design and Media in Nanyang Technological University majoring in Product Design in 2014, Tam fell into the world of watercolour painting when he undertook a painting elective course on a whim. Fast forward to 2020, Tam is today a force to reckon with in the field of watercolour painting, one whose works have been regularly selected into internationally juried exhibitions. Most recently, his painting titled Fez Marketplace was accepted into the 153rd Annual International Exhibition of the American Watercolor Society (AWS). This marks the third time in which his paintings have been accepted into the AWS Annuals, earning him the coveted title of being the youngest Singaporean to achieve Signature Membership from the prestigious Society. 

Tam Kwan Yuen shares about his work-from-home painting setup

Ever the travel aficionado, Tam is quick to profess that the pandemic has made him appreciate his freedom more. Where previously the artist would travel leisurely in search of exotic subject matters and scenery, the severe limitations imposed onto international movements during lockdown mode have since made travelling a distant dream of the past. Hence, this period has given Tam the resolve to plan out his future travelling itineraries more purposefully and not take travelling for granted. Furthermore, he is also mindful of his health and expresses a deeper appreciation of the company of close friends and relatives surrounding him, especially after witnessing people all over the world suffer from the deadly effects of the virus. 

A sketch of the Ganges River at Varanasi, India.

Artist's impression of the Ganges River at Varanasi, India.

A snapshot of the Ganges River at Varanasi, India. Photo courtesy of Tam Kwan Yuen.

From Europe to New York, Morocco to India, it is evident that these travels have provided a wellspring of inspiration for the artist! Read on as the artist walks us through each of the following paintings:

Fez Marketplace, 2017, Watercolour on paper, 76 x 56 cm, SGD 3,800.

Juried into the 153rd Annual International Exhibition of the American Watercolour Society.

TKY: "The amazing city of Fez located in Morocco consisted of narrow alleys and earthy-toned buildings, exuding an altogether weathered and exotic aura with locals dressed in traditional costumes roaming the streets. It felt like I was in an ancient city from a fairy tale. I visited the marketplace and the light shining on the woman’s dress attracted me. The scene was well-composed with details in the background; the red cloth to the left revealed interesting details. The shadows were falling in the right places and created attractive patterns everywhere. I thought this scene represented fully the city's atmosphere, so I decided to make a painting out of it."

Morning Sun on East Broadway, 2018, Watercolour on paper, 46 x 76 cm, SGD 3,800.

Juried into the 152nd Annual International Exhibition of the American Watercolor Society.

TKY: "This is the Chinatown area of New York City, along a street named East Broadway. I chanced upon this scene as I exited the subway while visiting some friends in New York. I was struck by the staircases that protruded from the sides of the buildings, and also the strong red building on the right, which contrasted perfectly with the blue World Trade Centre building in the distance on the left. The colours displayed within the painting have been intentionally arranged such that they show a smooth transition from the warmer tones oforanges, yellows, and browns to the cooler tones of greys and bluish grey. The figure in the middle of the road and the shadow at the bottom right balances the composition and adds variety to an otherwise nondescript road."

Seller in Varanasi Alley, 2020, Watercolour on paper, 74 x 53 cm, SGD 3,800

TKY: "This was a scene from one of the alleys of Varanasi, the city next to the Ganges River in India. I was immediately attracted to the sunlight which shone on the peeled walls and the beads surrounding the shopfront. The breezy blue and orange walls tell of a city that is storied with history yet brimming with cultural surprises at every turn of the corner. The expression on the man’s face was exaggerated to look a little lost and forlorn, reflecting the poverty of the place (in my opinion). I really like the play on light and textures in this painting."

Evening at Marina Bay, 2020, Watercolour on paper, 111.5 x 167.5 cm, SGD 19,000.

This painting is part of the National Arts Council's "Streets of Hope" initiative,

where artworks by local artists are lined up in the form of banners around the Civic District.

TKY:"I completed this scene of Singapore Marina Bay area during the start of the pandemic in March, when most of us were already staying home. Through this painting, I hope to convey a message of hope. I believe that as a nation, we are able to withstand adversities and hence will emerge from this crisis stronger. The light emanating from the buildings and the Merlion symbolises the hope that we have as a collective whole. I also painted the evening sky a little differently than usual; instead of opting for brown colour which I would normally use, I found that the blue tones complemented well with the brown of the waters and the buildings. I must say that I am quite pleased with the painted effect of the evening sky."


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