Escape Into the Temps Perdu of Nanyang

It all boiled down to one fine day, he made a bold move by switching to the other side of the creative world.

Turning your passion in art into a legitimate career is so much more than just the hipster thing to do.  “I was not a fine art graduate, it’s naturally harder for me to blend into the art scene,” claimed Siund (pronounced as ‘swim’ but with an ‘n’) Tan, one of the emerging local artists who’s more comfortable being addressed as a painter. It gets even harder by the second, especially if you have to break the news to your traditional chinese family in Alor Setar, Kedah who are highly likely worshippers of the clichéd chinese proverb jiǎo tà shí dì (of being practical) and this, being an artist, is just not part of the notion.

Even so, his artistic calling prevailed.

siund1
Siund, the simple guy who surprises.

In case you’re curious, he looks like a perfect model in a guide book that says “How To Look Like An Artist”. The humble artist whom (I dare say) Malaysia is proud to have has produced some of the most exquisite works in the country, including Season, Ming’s Instinct, Luna Park and a series of three which delineates the passage of time — past, present and future.

On keeping it real

Siund’s the kind of artist who is neither a commentator on nor chronicler of his era. “I’ve always believed that a painting doesn’t really change anything, so I don’t try to put social politic elements in it.” Art, to him, is a form of escapism, as a contradictory of dadaism—the short-lived but influential movement. It’s never about challenging artistic and intellectual conventions.

It seems unambiguous that he has a strong preference towards a certain period time of work — between the Renaissance and 1800. He fancies oil paintings by European Old Masters like Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo. Nonetheless, he’s still keeping it real, “I’m not trying to pretend I’m an artist from 18th century.” Staying true to his roots, his oil paintings often depict Nanyang style in the bygone era with the Instagram sepia filter.

Despite the portrayed nostalgia in his painting, his fondness for temps perdu is, in fact, lacking. He’s not always longing for the past.

On painting habit

Oh, don’t we forget about the importance of rituals for the brilliantly creatives! I stumbled across this interesting book “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work’” some time ago, and it has some humourous examples. A supposedly comforting daily gesture could easily turn out to be a complicated, if not onerous act. For instance, Beethoven couldn’t start the day unless he drank a cup of coffee that was brewed using exactly 60 coffee beans! You’d also be enlightened by one thing which Truman Capote and Marcel Proust have in common — working in bed, cocooned by an abundance of food, alcohol and cigarettes.

In Siund’s case, it’s blasting rock music at a full volume when he paints, “When you listen to Bon Jovi, it creates a unique atmosphere. It contradicts and that’s what I like — the beauty and the ugly, the quiet and the noisy.” To keep the creative juice flowing, he tends to spend two to three months on researching and finding inspiration in life. The trick is to start with a few keywords and come up with a mind map after. His wife also served as his biggest muse. “I like paintings which narrate and depict something,” said the thirty-four-year-old.

Being Mr. Brightside, his attitude upon the completion of a painting seems to be ‘don’t-get-too-attached’. “You have to be optimistic, the next one will be better.” For him, it’s the process, not the product. It’s about going into the unknown, turning a plain canvas into a painting with life which he then, lets go.

siund3
Siund’s work of art—intricate detail, rich pigment and allegorical overtone.

“You kind of live a double life. Once I stepped in the studio, everything is about art. Once I leave, I’m just a typical lad who loves gadgets,” said Siund.

“It’s not possible to live your life 24/7 with art.”◆

Gallery credit: G13 Gallery. All rights reserved.