He’s Been Drawing Professionally For More Than A Decade - Without Any Formal Qualifications
Singaporean Artist Ee Shaun Soh spills the tea on his staying power
OBSESSIONS | BY JONATHAN LEONG | 26TH AUG 2019
Blue chip clients, check.
A career spanning more than a decade, check.
Your art immortalised on an MRT wall in Bishan, check.
Art Degree - None.
I first met Eeshaun Soh (better known as GardenSilly back then), when I was hawking my wares for my side-art-hustle, at an artist run flea market called “MAD” over a few fun-filled weekends.
As the name of the flea market suggests, all the artists there were literally abit crazy. We all had enough self delusion that people would buy our artwork. Our idea of a fun weekend was waking up at 8am to prepare setting up a stall, so that people could ask whether you could give them a $10 discount on a $15 t-shirt.
An exaggeration perhaps, but you get the idea.
Every week, a group of Singaporean creatives would muster up the courage to put up their wares for public scrutiny and ‘live-in-person-carouselling’ before #Carousell was a thing. All of us just wanted to create and put our work out there.
Making art is like savouring a fine wine of pain, it might get better over time but there are no guarantees. The only assurances come in the form of self doubt, rejection, uncertainty and just when you’re ready to hang up the tools of your trade - the occasional genuine and ego saving compliment regarding your work.
I can count on one hand - the no. of creatives left (from those flea market days) who still put out recognisable work occasionally over the years. Once in awhile we bump into each other and reminiscent the days where it all began at that flea market, it’s also refreshing to see what each creative has been up to.
Eeshaun has been up to - a-lot…
I sat down with him recently to delve back to uncover the secret to his stamina, and why after so many years he still manages to create images that evoke the sort of childlike wonder towards the art of visual expression.
Q. You’ve been in the Singapore art scene for more than a decade now, what’s your ‘secret origin story’ and how did your visual crusade start?
I never had a formal art background, so it was a love for drawing when I started Gardensilly (a play on 'Garden City'), which was an avenue for my art to express my feelings about society.
Q. You have a very distinctive style, that is instantly recognisable, how did that come to be and what are some of the joys and pains of having such an iconic style?
At that time, I was very influenced by illustrations, street art, cartoons; trying to improvise and draw in a spontaneous style. It's nice because people recognise you for it, but it also makes it challenging to break out of, since people are attached to what's familiar and popular.
Q. Some people lament that there’s nothing interesting to draw in Singapore, however you’ve proven to be able to reignite nostalgic icons in Singapore’s visual history via your work - why do you think this is so?
There's always something interesting! It depends on how open your mind is. You can always find a new perspective on something tired.
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Q. What were some of the initial and ongoing challenges you face in making your art?
Well currently it's about developing a simple, abstract and painterly vocabulary, and still making it interesting for people. I think that's the real challenge for me right now.
Q. You’ve managed to amass an impressive roster of clients over the years, what advice would you give to your younger self or a student eager to establish their future career in the visual arts?
Sticking to a specific style, theme or genre really helps you stand out, especially if you want to go into illustration. Having a personal voice helps too so people can relate to your work. And most importantly, stay happy and enjoy the process.
Q. Some artists struggle with doing their own work .vs. commercial work for clients, but you are one of the few that have managed to strike a balance, why do you think this is so?
I think every artist goes through that sort of struggle. I have a friendly and fun approach to drawing, which makes my work adaptable in advertising. Also I think it's good to let go of commercial work, and use those to fund your personal pursuits which you really care about.
Q. How do you go about selecting the subject matter you want to work on?
The client usually determines the subject matter and content, and the rest is really up to me!
Q. Outside of art what are some of your obsessions?
I spend alot of time practising Taiji these days. It's quite similar to painting, except body and qi become the material where improvisation occurs.
Q. Do you have a dream goal or project that you want to accomplish?
Well it would be nice to put my work on a flying object, like a hot air balloon. I also wish I could do more abstract and experimental, interactive animation, stuff that Len Lye did in the 30s, but something which responds to people.
Q. If you weren’t an artist what would you be doing?
Probably a monastic...
Q: As an artist how would you complete the following sentences?
1. In the future everyone will be:
Looking for something new
2. Your living / working space is:
3. Mobile phones are in need of:
Shorter battery lives
4. The Internet is one big:
5. What the world needs now:
I sipped my tea and wrapped up my interview with Eeshaun.
This interview felt like a journey back in time, to when we were both wide-eyed visual arts enthusiasts, wary of the trials pertaining to the creative life, but hopeful for what the future might bring.
“You can always find a new perspective on something tired.”
Words to live by.