Interview With Artist Billy Ma, The Creative Genius Behind Booda Brand

Billy Ma is a painter, sculptor, designer and illustrator. He was born in Taiwan but raised in Canada. 2009 saw Billy growing restless with his job as an art director in innovation and so he began to flex his artistic skills via digital illustrations during his spare time. With the popularity of the first images on social media and enquiries from interested buyers, Booda Brand - the limited-edition print company - was conceived. Drawing from contemporary themes, Billy seamlessly and naturally combines eastern and western aesthetics into his artwork. Many influences come from spirituality, socio-political issues and a sardonic sense of humour.

Billy now stands by a set of principles to guide Booda Brand artwork:
• The art must be beautifully crafted. Too often we see artists who can barely draw a stick figure.
• The art must have an inspirational idea and/or soul. Do we need another variation on a portrait of Marilyn Monroe?
• The printing and the materials must be museum quality. Our inks are guaranteed not to fade for at least 50 years and images are printed on archival paper.
• The artwork should be accessible while limiting the editions to as low as possible.
• We make art for people in the hope that it can make a difference and somehow give back – something of utmost importance to Booda Brand.

Is there a difference in developing your own unique set of principles whether you are in Singapore or in Canada?

Geography really had little to do with it. I essentially believed in these same principles in Singapore as I did in Canada. I developed the set of principles, as defined on the Booda Brand website, to help me focus my art process.

The Booda Brand collector has come to appreciate these beliefs and is just as passionate to put Booda Brand on their walls. They care about art that is authentic and honest. The principles I stand by, matter to my collectors.

The Booda Brand collector is not too interested in pretty pictures with very little soul.

Why is 'giving back' important to your Booda Brand?

Firstly I believe artistic talent is a blessing and a gift, it should be paid forward.

Secondly, I believe art can change the world. Consider the Statue of Liberty. Picasso’s Guernica. Obey’s “Obama Hope” print. I try to create art that seduces the viewer to say, “wow that looks cool” and “I get it now… that’s even cooler, I want that on my wall”. It’s about initiating a visual, emotional and cerebral conversation.

With any luck, Booda Brand will achieve sustained profitability sooner than later; I’ll then seek to donate prints to help various organisations raise funds or awareness. The Fukushima Hero series was created to assist the Japanese Red Cross and the Fukushima 50 who knowingly sacrificed themselves for the greater good.

“Fukushima Hero – Day and Night” by Booda Brand, Art With Purpose Series, 2011

Arty-Fact: In March 2011, the world stood still and watched as the Japanese people faced extraordinary circumstances. Fukushima Hero pays homage to the unique strength and indomitable spirit of those (The Fukushima 50) who made the ultimate sacrifice to contain and clean up the aftermath despite the long-term ramifications.

I also hope to support talent in developing communities. Booda Brand will give them a platform to show their artistry while helping themselves.

It all comes full circle and Booda Brand deeply believes in making a difference. Booda Brand will then be an art company of “WE”.

How does your growing up days in a predominantly Italian immigrant community in Canada influence you or your art styles today?

People don’t immigrate to another country because they have it so good in their own countries. They immigrate because they are struggling and wish for a better life for them and their families. They do hang on to their culture as the DNA of their existence. Canadian culture gives a nod to diversity. My friends were passionate about their heritage yet we were all in the same boat together.

I adopted this Italian(ness) since there were few Asian families in my hometown. Capicola sandwich anyone?! I do identify with being Asian but also with my adopted Italian side.

My artistic style is never written in stone. It’s always an organic and fluid situation. I am deeply influenced by people’s stories, love of music, nature and of course, love.

I draw from my education in fine art, art history and design as a springboard to my artistic process.
The visual results usually take care of themselves and develop organically.

So no, I don’t directly draw visual influence from my childhood community, or else I’d have a penchant for plastic covered floral couches and crocheted white doilies.

To describe the Italian side in one word….PASSION.

MUZIK ELEV8S (Special Edition - Silver)” by Booda Brand, 2017

Arty-Fact: When Melody, Rhythm, and Soul conspire together in your favourite song, that very moment can elevate your spirit. MUZIK ELEV8S is an homage to your music that makes you love, laugh and cry.

What in particular around you (in Singapore) inspires you the most? How would you define the 'spiritual humanist' in you?

The ascent of Singapore in 50 years, since 1965, is nothing short of remarkable. As much as I admire the efficiency of the big, bright, shiny city, I feel it has lost some of its humanity in its zeal. I find it to be a culture obsessed with distractions that leans towards all that is money and status. I don’t mean to generalise, it’s just part of nouveaux Asian prosperity.

“Majulah!’ by Booda Brand, Socio-Politicking Series, 2011

Arty-Fact: Majulah is Singapore’s motto, “upward and onward”. Majulah pays home to the imported foreign workers on whose back the bright, shiny city is built. Their symbol is the ubiquitous yellow rubber boots. If you look long enough, you’ll see their twisted bodies holding up the Lion City

Though I started my art career in Singapore, and my first series was about Singapore, my art has grown to address more global influences. A large component of that is the human elements that grapples with stigmas, hypocrisy, hate, abuses and injustices.

I try to utilise a more positive perspective; quite often the viewer will not even notice the intention, it’s subtle. It’s part of the great Canadian sardonic humour I grew up with.

Saving Gaia” by Booda Brand, Art With Purpose Series, 2015

Arty-Fact: It had to be done… Big palm oil dollars. Impoverished farmers who have no recourse but to clear burn for this cash crop to survive. Endangered wildlife in peril and unbreathable air choking the life out of the disenfranchised. It’s always easier to complain than take action. Is our apathy killing Mother Gaia?

When you say "Asians aren’t as compulsive, expressive and spontaneous on average", which Western or non-Asians are you comparing with?

I’m afforded the innate chance to derive insights from the dichotomy of the East / West cultural divide, I’m told you can see it in the artwork. That chasm is getting smaller.

I am however drawn more toward western expressions of art. Whether it be music, performance arts, comedy etc, I feel it takes more chances which drives innovation and originality.

I’m always inspired by art forms where you feel the very soul of the expression, it immerses you, envelopes and profoundly affects you. You’ve achieved success as an artist when you’ve touched people in that way.

It’s not a comparison with any one person or culture specifically. It’s more a question of the great artistic expression from the west that I identify with more.

For example: music like Mozart, Jazz, Pop, Reggae, Rap/Hip Hop, Soul; art: Expressionism, Renaissance, Impressionism, Cubism, Surrealism. Comedy: Improvisational comedy (think Robin Williams), Saturday Night Live, Russel Peters; dance: Ballet, Tap, Modern Dance; movies: Godfather, Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Apocalypse Now, Lawrence of Arabia.

Geisha Girls” by Booda Brand, 2013

Arty-Fact: Traditionally Geishas are an enduring image of Japan. Geisha Girls portrays the Geisha as a metaphor for the rapid collision of Eastern and Western influences via globalization.

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