A person almost reaching his fifties and without formal art training suddenly quit his full-time job to focus on being an artist, a career that is usually at the receiving end of jeers and mockery for the unstable income it generates. Is it a smart choice?
Now-51-year-old Yip Yew Chong, a prominent Singaporean mural artist, certainly thinks so, saying it was one of the best decisions he’s ever made.
His desire to craft artworks, which are not only evocative and bursting with humour, but also associated with the past, has urged him to travel off the beaten track.
Back in February this year, Yip came to Cambodia to show off his mural with Cambodian-Canadian artist FONKi in Street Art Fest++, organised by the Singapore Embassy.
The duo is known for their works which have graced the walls of many big cities worldwide, including Montreal, London, Singapore and Phnom Penh.
One of his murals, which drew the most attention, depicts a landscape combining the “unspoiled nature of Cambodia” and the modernised Merlion Park of Singapore. Right in the middle of the work is a picture of his young self, playing in the river with a Cambodian boy.
“When I am painting, it is like I am meditating,” Yip explains. “I put myself in the scene and imagine what it looks like. There is no model because I usually paint things that are no more.
When I do my work, I look at my surroundings: the local environment, the people, the cultures.” It’s hard to believe that it was just two years ago when Yip became a professional artist.
For more than 25 years, Yip had been working in finances at several well-known corporations, including Reuters and Visa. But in 2018, inspired by the vibrant street art scenes in many countries, including neighbouring Malaysia, Yip decided to shift from numbers to colours. Singapore could also do it, he thought.
While growing up in a working-class family who lives on the second floor of a shophouse owned by Arabs in Sago Lane, Yip began to exhibit his artistic talent but was promptly cut short due to the technical inclinations of Singaporeans.
“I did not get into art early in life because Singapore is very practical: it’s always ‘technology first’,” he says. “I had to choose the corporate life first to support myself, but the art was always there.”
While he was working as a finance director of a British multinational corporation, he started painting at night, on weekends and even during lunch breaks. Then, the art absorbed him so much that he decided to retire from his nine-to-five, with encouragement from friends as well as the support of his wife and children.
Since 2015, he has painted about 50 murals all over Singapore, from the street-side barber in Everton Road to the stunning 40m painting of early Hokkien immigrants at the back of the Thian Hock Keng Temple in Telok Ayer Street. “Yip’s artistic career is very special,” says FONKi, a Cambodian street artist who was also featured at the arts fest. “The way he paints using his imagination is very natural and we are glad to have him here to share it with our local artists.”
While Yip has already proved that it is never too late for one to follow his or her passion, his message to young people who want to become street artists is simple: Do it now! “You have to do it truly from your heart, and never give up, although it means you have to work under the blazing sun,” he says. “Of course, you will also have to ask for permission from local authorities and owners before you start painting on any structure.”