A Period of Reflections

Two decades of perseverance.

Water and reflections – a duo that’s constantly in motion and is ever-changing, but is temporary and hard to capture. Sure, photography can lock that movement in, but for one man, photography wouldn’t cut it. Rather, he paints them, and this theme constitutes a significant part of his recent body of work.

Meet Johor-born artist Hoe Say Yong, recipient of the Asia Art Award from the Korea Culture Art Research Institute in 2011. The man’s resume lists the inclusion of his works in several exhibitions, both local and regional. As mentioned, he is known for his painting of waterscapes, which span almost 20 years.

That journey didn’t immediately start with water, however; like most, the call to the arts started with a spark.

He recalls his early aspiration to be an artist, based on his budding passion, “My passion for the arts started when I was young; I was always interested in drawing, and I remember filling in ‘artist’ as one of my future occupations during primary school.”

That interest persisted and maintained throughout his schooling years, and he pursued art as his field of study after secondary school. However, the journey wasn’t as simple as he thought – Hoe’s eyes were opened. “That was when I learnt that drawing isn’t simple – mere talent wasn’t going to carry me through. There are basics that you need to learn and follow; a knowledge on how shapes and colours work; perspective and anatomy – so many things to learn!”

The journey remained challenging after his studies, as the local art industry wasn’t as developed as it currently is. Drawing as a means of sustenance wasn’t feasible back then, so Hoe had to take on other jobs, but he still worked in fields related to his passion and area of study. “I did advertising and interior design – things related to my field of study. I did this for many years, while using my holidays and weekends drawing landscapes. Because you needed to be fast, I was then exposed to watercolour.”

It was through one of these trips that his attention was drawn (wordplay not intended) to waterscapes. “I saw a reflection of some trees in Pulau Redang, and that caught my interest to attempt to put it on paper. I went the next day, and the reflection changed! It was then that I wanted to focus on recreating reflections – spent many years on that as well! When I got tired of local views, I went beyond our shores.”

That moment of inspiration took him on a journey in producing multiple waterscapes throughout the years, including Passion (1996), The Floating Light (2012), and Fantastic (2014), and his pieces are widely exhibited in Asia.

Now seems to be a different season for Hoe, as he’s moved from aquatic reflections to personal ones instead. “A friend introduced me to a course, which taught us not us to see with our eyes, but to experience and feel with our heart. From that point, I moved from reflections to my own personal journey.”

All in all, the journey to become an artist took him two decades. Even then, starting out as an artist was a struggle, so he had the idea to open a gallery, Pipal Fine Art.

“The gallery started as a means for me to survive – to sell the art of others while working on my craft at the same time. Currently, my wife is taking care of the gallery – I haven’t been hands-on with it for 20 years now! With her helming it, I can fully focus on my art.”

Hoe draws his inspiration mainly from the impressionists, comments that he often incorporates bits and pieces of the style into his own works. “My personal favourite is Mark Rothko – I’ve seen his work; they may look simple, but when I had the opportunity to stand in front of his works, I was utterly in awe and was moved to tears. It’s one of those moments where you had to be there to experience it, and not just look at a picture of the artwork.”

With regards to the local art market, Hoe opines that though it is better than when things were 20 years ago, there is still work to be done. “We in Malaysia have yet to come to the point where artists can sustain themselves solely with art. I have seen many of my peers – some better than me – move away from art, simply to get by and survive. But it’s getting better, with auctions more commonplace and more collectors around.”

Listening to Hoe’s story, you will find that it is not an uncommon one – early artists evolving and adapting to survive without giving up on their first love, and making it out the other side with success under their belt.

Perhaps a little… reflection is in order for all of us, to evaluate and see if a reorientation is in order.

More information about the determined artist as well as Pipal Fine Art gallery can be found here.

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