Never Share Your Dreams Coz They’ll Try To Stop You
Award winning artist Ruben Pang on getting past artist block, industrial music and the best advice he’s ever gotten
CULTURE | BY JONATHAN LEONG | 24TH JULY 2019
Q. When did you realise you wanted to pursue a career as an artist?
A. Super long story cut short, the principle of Catholic Junior College, Brother Paul Rogers essentially said:
1) Quit my school
2) Join Lasalle
3) Forget design
4) Go be a painter
And I said yeah sounds good.
Q. Your work has a very unique quality to it, tell us how your style and process evolved to what it is today?
A. I grew up in a remix kind of world, a rip-off, cut copy paste situation. I don't know if this was the way things always used to be, but it seems like a lot of things begin with a quick scan of artwork that speak to me, either i'm in love with it or I think there's a compositional problem with it. I think, oh this would be perfect if we notched this shape here, changed the background etc. So its very superficial, that's how it begins. Then when I paint, this initial stimuli wears off, I start thinking, what am I trying to say, what's the point of another painting in the world that looks like this. So its like taking the framework of a language that someone else has tediously constructed, pulling it apart and sliding a bit of myself in there.
I'm very self conscious about this, I mean I love Glenn Brown, Gerhard Ricther, David Reed, Salvador Dali, Francis Bacon, the list goes on...and in my mind I feel this affinity towards the artists, I never dare compare myself to them, if there's any chance I get to declare this I'll say it, I think when I imitate them, its barely a fan-art-esque tribute, with a bit of myself in there. But then there's always this spark and glimmer in there (the painting process, the oils and mediums) that pulls you towards what it wants you to do to it. And then the rest takes off from there.
I do believe in what Bacon said, "A painter must painter, even if only through imitation." And I guess it starts there, and then I'm watching myself grow, sometimes regress, but what the hell, its a good journey. Today I'm starting small, just scribbles on paper, to see what my mind races to quickest, pen drawings reveal a lot about yourself. And now I'm expanding that energy, which feels more honest, onto the sheets I paint on.
Q. What’s the story behind your usual method of using Aluminium as a base for your paintings?
A. Really its just preference. I don't find it special, just practical.
Q. What were some the the initial challenges you faced in making your art?
A. Putting art on a pedestal, looking up at it and thinking that it is unattainable, it stopped me from actually getting down and doing anything.
Q. Some of your work reminds us of the painter Francis Bacon, was he a source of inspiration?
A. Oh yeah.
Q. You’ve have had major showings in Switzerland, for a Singapore based artist that’s quite a feat. How did that project come about?
A. I got an email from Primo Marella Gallery, the director, Primo, had seen my work in the Singapore Art Museum. I was in national service, and the day before a friend sent me an artwork commission (under a fake italian name) asking me to paint a portrait of liquor poured over himself. The next day I receive Primo Marella's email, and I actually almost deleted it because I thought it was a prank. Good thing I actually read it.
Q. How do you go about selecting the subject matter you want to work on?
A. Very arbitrarily.
Q. Outside of art what are some of your obsessions?
A. Industrial Music and late 60's American Muscle.
Q. Having shown your work in Switzerland, Italy, Hong Kong and Singapore how have different audiences reacted to your work and are there any similarities or particular differences that are interesting about the various audience encounters you’ve had?
A. Well I'm always genuinely surprised when someone actually buys a painting of a dark subject matter, like a headless crucifixion or a suffocation scene. Then I have a conversation with the collector and I realize we happen to share a similar vision or see the world in a shared light.
Q. Do you have a dream goal or project that you want to accomplish?
A. I was told never to share your dreams because everyone will try to stop you.
Q. If you weren’t an artist what would you be doing?
A. Probably nothing.
1. In the future everyone will be:
An exaggeration of the same concept.
2. Your living / working space is:
No big deal.
3. Mobile phones are in need of:
4. The Internet is one big:
I don't know.
5. What the world needs now:
is to slow down.