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Interview with Prolific Artist Lee Kow Fong


Lee Kow Fong, or Ah Guo, graduated with a BA(Hons) in Chinese Studies from National University of Singapore and holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Translation and Interpretation from Nanyang Technological University. He received his MA in Children’s Book Illustration from Cambridge School of Art, Anglia Ruskin University, UK in 2011. Since then, he has been actively involved in the promotion and creation of picture-book in Singapore. Presently, he is putting in full-time effort in pursuing his passion in illustration, writing and picture-book. He is also a regular columnist on Lianhe Zaobao and provides adjunct teaching at several institutions including Ngee Ann Polytechnic and National Institute of Education.

Inbetween: water-colour on hot-pressed paper, 12X16 inch, Mar 2020




Little Wilderness of Day 50 is part of your art on COVID19, Singapore's Circuit Breaker efforts and measure to use a stringent set of preventive measures collectively. What inspires you during this period?

The 2 months Circuit Breaker just ended beginning of June, though the measures implemented did bring about a certain level of inconvenience but on the whole, it did not affect me that much. I’m more than happy to stay in my room to paint and write. Moreover, it was not a total lock-down and we could still go out alone to run important errands as long as we donned a mask and observed social distancing. But there’s no doubt a strong level of anxiety in our society especially during the first few weeks. I was thinking maybe I could continue to share my illustrations and art-related activities on my social media, to bring some comfort and happiness through my art to everyone.

Everyday life has always been the most important source of inspiration for my art; so far, I’ve done around 12 paintings related to COVID19 and most of them are just about tiny happenings or little observations, which I think are also an integral part of our history. For example, the big cross we see on public benches marked by red tape definitely caught my eyes. It’s such a strong symbol for 2020, the year in which “social distancing” disrupts the way we stay connected. And for “Little Wilderness”, it was my way of reacting to the over-growing wild floras in our neighbourhood due to the suspension of weeds-cutting service during this period. We are so used to the prim and proper Garden City that for once, we are surprised by the rich diversity of wild plants right outside our doorsteps. And for all the public facilities such as playgrounds been fenced off with long tapes, I would imagine them as little presents tied with pretty ribbons. We could always see things from another perspective, the optimistic perspective, and this is what I hope to share in my illustrations.

We feel a lot of passion you've put into illustration, writing and picture-book art, do you have a special secret? What do you think is the most important element/aspect in pursuing your career as an illustration artist?

I think the only special secret is my love for whatever I’m doing, be it illustration, writing or making picture-book. The only 2 things that I’m good at are firstly drawing and secondly writing, that’s how I best express myself. I ventured into picture-book art 10 years ago simply because it combines both drawing and writing.

And also because of picture-book, my focus for illustration has always been about children and childhood. To me childhood is the most precious moment of one’s life, as a kid we are always full of energy, we are always full of curiosity, and we are always receptive to all things new every day. We can’t turn back the clock but we could always remind ourselves that we were once a happy kid. And this is the core message for my illustrations.

Mother and Child, pre 2013, digital art
Mother and Child, pre 2013, digital art

Have you considered bringing your art to other parts of the World (Europe, USA etc)? Where do you aspire to showcase your work? 

Yes, definitely! I aspire to bring my work to every corner of the world, to everyone who has fond memories of their childhood. And I’m also curious how friends from the West would react to my illustrations, since most of my works are heavily inspired by local context and Asian style.

And within our region, I have managed to venture into Mainland China, Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam, but I’ve yet to try Japan. I enjoy Japan’s animation, picture-books and illustrations a lot, I think it would be great to have a chance to showcase my art over there.

Autumn Moon, water-colour pencil on cold-pressed paper, 7 x 9 inch, Sept 2013
Autumn Moon, water-colour pencil on cold-pressed paper, 7 x 9 inch, Sept 2013

With your adjunct teaching experience in the national institutions, what new inspirations have you gained? or progression have you developed?

I’ll briefly answer this since most of the modules I handle are not related to art and illustration. There’s only one module on introduction to children’s literature which I place special emphasis on picture-book appreciation. The eco-system of picture-book is slowly building up in Singapore, we are seeing more writers, illustrators, publishers and readers coming together to create a vibrant and hopefully sustainable environment for picture-book. So, in a way, I’m also playing my part as an educator in spreading the appreciation of the art to my students.

Moment of Silence, pre 2013, digital art
Moment of Silence, pre 2013, digital art

What are your future goals/dream?

My ultimate goal is to be respected as an artist and not just a commercial illustrator. I started off working digitally, that was many years back. Right after my first exhibition in 2013 which showcased prints of my digital illustration, I was thrown with one question: do you have original paintings?
Up to that point, I was so comfortable working with digital tool that for a moment I wasn’t sure if I could create real art on paper and canvas with real paint. It took me half a year exploring before I finally found my direction in water-colour illustration. I still enjoy digital art though and would at times work digitally for commercial project. But the value of having the one-and-only original painting can never be achieved in digital art. I dream of the day that people from anywhere would find the worth in collecting my original paintings for the sake of art. I also dream that my life would be “prolonged” even after I’m physically gone through all my illustrations done over the years. It’s good to have dreams 😊

Waiting, water-colour on cold-pressed paper, 7 X 9 inch, Nov 2013
Waiting, water-colour on cold-pressed paper, 7 X 9 inch, Nov 2013

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Interview with Prolific Artist Lee Kow Fong Reviewed by JaamZIN on 8:39:00 AM Rating: 5
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