The past, present and future collide in a new exhibition by Andre Tan. Gwen Pew speaks with the time-travelling artist to find out more.
7 Nov 2014: One of Singapore’s most beloved pop artists, Andre Tan, is back this month with a new solo exhibition. RE is a fresh series of paintings adapted from masterpieces and given a curious, contemporary twist, like an image of Michelangelo’s David brandishing a smartphone. This artist is present – and in the past, and in the future, all at once.
What is the significance of the simple title, RE?
‘Re’ is a prefix, which is placed before the stem of a word. Adding ‘re’ to the beginning of one word changes it into another word. I am using the same metaphor, adding elements into familiar images or famous paintings. RE is an exhibition about recreating, rethinking and refreshing.
Why is the notion of the past so important to you?
I started my research for this series by studying Renaissance paintings. I find it interesting to juxtapose modern elements or materials with Renaissance images. The original context of the image is taken away and it creates another kind of telling. The gesture of introducing another element into the work creates a time void – it’s fascinating. Everything seems to appear within one dimension and is fused into the same time frame. As the series progresses, I shifted images around and toyed with different ideas. I assume that the past is an important factor in my works. Without knowledge of the past – and the original image that I’ve used – the viewer might not be able to grasp the idea of my art.
If this series is an attempt to look back at the past, does it also encourage a look towards the future?
Definitely, I believe that the past provides lessons for the present and acts as a guide to the future.
How long have you been working on this series?
I’ve been working on this exhibition, which will feature my latest body of work, with Galerie Belvedere for about half a year. In the exhibition, I’m revisiting the past and infusing it with the ‘now’.
How do you come up with ideas for new works?
To me, ideas are like rain. They would suddenly appear out of nowhere, but other times, when I wish it would rain, it doesn’t. However when it rains, I would be like a sponge, absorbing whatever is around me. Anything and everything can be a form of inspiration to generate new ideas. It depends a lot on my mood.
The paintings look very digital – how do you achieve this effect?
Usually, I work on a Mac to figure out the ideas for my paintings. It’s like sketching in a sketch book; the only difference is that I use a mouse instead of a pen or pencil. Upon finalising the idea, I will work on the layers of stencils to hand-paint and stencil the artwork. At first glance, the painting might look like a print, but upon closer look, you realise the works are hand-painted.
You’ve said that you hope to address the ironies and social ills apparent in our society today with a humorous approach. Tell us about this.
Personally, I think that smartphones are one of the best inventions of convenience in our modern society, yet they cause social ills and ironies. For example, in our fast-paced society, we are slowed down by the ones walking ahead of us with their eyes glued to their phones.
Smartphones enable us to keep in touch with the people close to us – especially those who live overseas – but they also estrange the ones beside us. The scenario is often seen in restaurants or cafés. You’d see how one would spend more time on the phone than communicating with those in front of them.
Selfies are cool, but too much makes it a form of narcissistic illness. The Renaissance Man series is based on such narcissism. Ultimately, I don’t find any of this wrong. I just find it an interesting subject matter to work on.
What do you feel is your mission as an artist?
I’ve been enjoying the process of painting for the last eight years since graduating from Lasalle. I’ve never questioned what my mission as an artist is. I guess it is the passion of creating and painting that keeps me going. Hopefully this passion will fuel me for the next 50 years or so.