Arts News Singapore

Art What!: Andrew Huang reflects on the next step of his artistic journey, and living in a garden city

Andrew’s Garden City, which won the 2022 UOB Painting of the Year Highly Commended Award, Emerging Artist Category, Singapore

Andrew Huang’s relative youth is no deterrent to his success, winning the Highly Commended Award at the prestigious 2022 UOB Painting of the Year (Emerging Artist Category). But the now-NSF remains humble about his success,

“I took part in it mainly to challenge myself and get to know the process of preparing and participating in an art competition,” he says. “It’s not the first time I’ve tried, having submitted an entry in 2021, but I’m very humbled by the win, and appreciative for the exposure on such a large platform.”

Andrew started off his art journey with early childhood exposure – via art classes at community centres. With his own parents originating from China, Andrew started off with a strong background and interest in Chinese painting and calligraphy, even joining it in primary school. Perhaps most significant though was his transition to secondary school, where he would make a decision that would take his art journey further than he ever imagined – in School of the Arts (SOTA).

“Initially, it was really tough to figure out what I was doing at SOTA, because it’s such a Western art environment, a place where my Chinese-styled art didn’t really fit,” says Andrew. “I had to learn skills like 3D drawing from scratch, and I felt lost. That is, until I participated in an interdisciplinary arts course, where they brought students from different disciplines together. That was an experience that really made me figure out what art really meant to me, to bring out the passion and learn to work with new friends.”

“That was what led me to discovering a new realm of art, where I never thought it could be expressed in this way, in an abstract manner,” he continues. “When I was in Year 5 and 6, I joined the International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme (IBCP) where I spent almost nearly half my time just making art and painting, and it felt like I had an infinite amount of resources and time to create whatever I wanted. I think that’s when I truly fell in love with art, because of so much exposure and opportunity to just paint, which led me to this point.”

In many ways, his winning painting, Garden City, is a consolidation of his art education. Presenting rows and rows of HDB flats, almost divine in the way they float upon clouds, it seems to be an ironic title, with a complete absence of any greenery in the image itself. This is a recurring theme for Andrew, who often works on paintings that deal with the urban environment, and Singaporeans’ relationship with their surroundings and modernisation.

“My work was partially inspired by the cynical realism art movement in China, something that my own father experienced growing up in the 80s after the Cultural Revolution,” says Andrew. “He would tell me stories of the period, and how it had so much apprehension and fear. In the translation to my art, I didn’t want to make it too politically-charged, but I did want the message to be clear that there is a diminishing amount of forests and trees around us, something I’ve noticed living in Whampoa, where there’s an increasing number of buildings being constructed all around.”

“I combined this with my experience in Chinese painting, and that’s why I included a reference to ‘shen xian tu’ (pictures of the gods), where the gods are usually standing upon clouds. In the cast of this painting, the buildings replace the gods, and are meant to represent how much we glorify and worship them,” he adds. “It’s not about pointing fingers, but really about figuring out what’s next for us. We’ve integrated nature really successfully so far, but it’s also concerning how much deforestation we’re undergoing now, which I’m responding to via art.”

Even as he enters National Service, Andrew vows to continue drawing, carrying on with his journey to explore more mediums and styles of art. “I’m not just restricted to Chinese painting, though it can be hard to pull away from my training and the way I render images,” he says. “It’s still a struggle to display a more Western-style, and I’ve been using illustrator and Photoshop these days as well on various projects.”

“In SOTA, it was never purely about the art at the end of the day, and it was a very holistic experience. It put me on this journey where I would get constructive feedback and continually develop as an artist, pushing me to make more complex work. I still think the SOTA curriculum is one of the best out there, because of the rigour and the amount of exposure we get,” he adds. “I do hope that we eventually see more artists in Singapore, and even if not, then more people who can shape and appreciate culture, and really contribute to us becoming an art hub.”

“Picasso once said ‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.’ Singaporean parents are afraid that art is not sustainable, but I believe that one can pursue art and find a stable living in it as long as they are willing to work hard, and find joy in it,” he concludes. “At this stage, I’m still thinking of pursuing fine art in the future, but the throughline I have is that I will always want my voice to be heard and recognised through my art, as I continue to change and grow. Hopefully, I don’t go at it alone, and that eventually, I’ll find friends with similar interests to forge forward together, and continue having new experiences to inspire me in my paintings.”

View the full gallery of winning UOB Paintings of the Year here You can also visit the UOB Metaverse Art Gallery. More information available here

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