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La Kopi with Tan Seow Wei

We have gotten so many positive responses since our last email - thank you all for the kind show of support! Sending love and light via La Kopi - a sit-back-and-relax series of interviews where we catch up with artists digitally and shamelessly invite them to share in-progress snapshots of themselves at work, at home - over their favourite local beverage of choice, no less.

"I have always been moved by Picasso’s etchings from La Suite des Saltimbanques series, so for my recent series I explored Intaglio printing. I thought the smoky linework and the dark atmospheric background would go well with the gloomy situation."

Printmaker and Chinese ink artist Tan Seow Wei won us over with her elegant line quality and diaristic art approach back in 2018, when we staged BON à TIRER, our first ever printmaking exhibition featuring her works and those of three other printmakers. For Seow Wei, the human body in particular is an object of intense study. Not unlike the fortune teller who interprets one’s fate by reading lines of the palm or the detective who deciphers the identity of a person through the lines of the finger print, Seow Wei sees the body as a fascinating network of lines and marks, not just mere outlines but also contours, creases and folds. More importantly, they provide alternatives to reading the human body and other subtle hints to understanding the person.

The artist's local beverage of choice

As it turns out, Seow Wei is quite the storyteller! Over videos and emails, we learnt of the artist's beginnings in Chinese ink painting and subsequent decision to join the Siaw-Tao Society (one of the oldest surviving ink societies in Singapore that emphasises seal-carving as an equal art form alongside calligraphy and painting). She states simply and resolutely of how she is "obliged to take up the mantle of change". We were also surprised to learn that, aside from taking up administrative duties required in her role as a committee member, Seow Wei was the artist responsible for the interesting designs seen on the Society's recent collaterals!

Seow Wei holding up a copy of A Treatise on Calligraphy (书谱) by Sun Guoting (孙过庭).

The author was a Tang Dynasty Chinese calligrapher known for his cursive calligraphy.

The artist's home studio and the tools of her trade.

For one whose art practice draws inspiration from the age-old fundamentals of Chinese ink painting and traditional printmaking techniques, Seow Wei's outlook on the future consumption of arts and culture is refreshingly forward-leaning. She acknowledges that digital technologies are here to stay and remains open to methods of representations that promote a reproduction of the art viewing experience, beyond the duration that one would normally accord of a physical exhibition.

Seow Wei's experimentations in intaglio printing

Intrigued by fellow printmaker April Ng's creative adoption of the otta board (more commonly known as compressed foam board) in her printmaking process, Seow Wei similarly chooses to use the otta board in drypoint intaglio printing, for lack of an access to acid baths in her home studio. Over numerous attempts, the artist experiments with different tools and different methods of ink application, scratching her images onto the surface of the otta boards, and then placing the plates onto a printing press to effect a smoky, atmospheric look in the finished works. Watch Seow Wei discuss her working process here.

The Hug, 2020, Intaglio print on unbleached mulberry paper

30.5 x 23 cm, Unique edition, SGD 200 (unframed)

On her latest series titled The COVID Days, Seow Wei notes how the virus was innocuously thought by many to be just a flu but exploded in unimaginable number of deaths all over the world. Personally," she writes, "the COVID-19 outbreak became a fecund source of images for me to work on. With the media's incessant bombardment of images informing the latest situation at hand, some visuals were powerful and shocking, while others offered unusual sights of the new normal. I began toying with the idea of documenting this pandemic of a lifetime by translating those images into artworks."

The Fight, 2020, Intaglio print on unbleached mulberry paper

30.5 x 23 cm, Unique edition, SGD 200 (unframed)

The result is a series of contemplative works imbued with a sense of quiet optimism powering through a stark, minimal background. Seow Wei's unvarnished and vivid treatment of her subject matter - the frontline healthcare professionals tasked to keep COVID-19 patients alive and well - invariably recognises the grittiness of their day-to-day battles; her sensitive portrayal of their resilient, dignified presence in the face of the pandemic conjures hope for the unknowable future. 

The Swab, 2020, Intaglio print on unbleached mulberry paper

30.5 x 23 cm, Unique edition, SGD 200 (unframed)

The Nap, 2020, Intaglio print on unbleached mulberry paper

30.5 x 23 cm, Unique edition, SGD 200 (unframed)


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