Arts News Singapore

Art What!: Dillon Poh on the expectations of a promising artist, and the future of the arts

Winning the 2022 UOB Painting of the Year award for Most Promising Artist of the Year (Emerging Artist Category) was a milestone for artist Dillon Poh. Now serving the nation in the Navy, the young artist has always nursed a fierce passion for the arts since his youth, taking up the Art Elective Programme (AEP) during his Hwa Chong Institution days, a passion that has only continued to grow with time.

“The AEP was a fantastic opportunity for me to get exposure to different art forms, and school had plenty of resources for us to try new mediums and learn to appreciate art in all forms,” says Dillon. “It’s something I’ve carried with me till now, where even in the navy, I still have opportunities to create art, like designing the batch shirt or banners for events that allow me to keep my practice going.”

Dillon’s winning work, Greying, is very much in line with his intent to create works with a strong social commentary to raise awareness of the plight of those who go unnoticed in society. This time around, the work intentionally uses a monochromatic colour palette to spotlight seniors and the elderly, who require the most care and attention in the fast-paced society we live in.

“My process of creating this started with going out there to take photos for inspiration. I initially didn’t intend for it to be monochromatic, but eventually thought it would be more in line with the theme of the piece, adding to the meaning of the artwork, and I guess it paid off,” he says. “Even my father was quite surprised when he saw the work, and was impressed by how many layers there were to it despite the monochrome colours, and he was interested in finding out more about it.”

Dillon Poh’s Greying, which won the 2022 UOB Painting of the Year award for Most Promising Artist of the Year (Emerging Artist Category)

The mundanity of the artwork reflects the loss of identity of individuals as we proceed with our lives and the lack of attention for the greying population, with the old man in the middle intentionally detailed to amplify his loneliness. “I’ve had close relationships with the elderly since young, like how my grandmother stayed with us, and I like to think my work encourages others to care more, and pay more attention to these issues,” says Dillon. “In my earlier years in school, I personally felt a sense of loneliness or that I didn’t fit in. And I think that also led to me thinking about how there were others in society who might feel isolated and detached. I also tend to be quite critical of myself, and I do think that I’m my own biggest critic. That’s why support is so important to me.”

“It’s so important to create a striking piece of art, because only when you capture the attention of viewers can you get them to look at it, and begin to interpret meaning,” he adds. “Not everyone will find it ‘beautiful’, but I’ll be happy with it if I feel it reflects my identity as an artist, and that people can find a way to appreciate it.”

For Dillon, the support behind the art is incredibly important, whether from family sending him for classes, or friends who are there to cheer him on. “My first foray into the arts was taking part in art classes at NAFA thanks to my parents, and I don’t think I’d have continued without these classes. In school, I made friends who would encourage me and support me when I displayed paintings and artworks, and in the studio, there would always be this cosy, warm and supportive atmosphere,” he says. “There’s a time crunch for projects of course, but we were always supporting each other and pushing each other on, and even for this painting, it was actually a friend who helped me come up with the title.”

“Even in the navy, we’re a small batch and quite close to each other. They knew I was participating in the UOB Painting of the Year, and they were actually watching the livestream of the award ceremony,” he adds. “I was away from Singapore at the time and wasn’t able to be there in person, and when they found out I won, they immediately texted me and congratulated me. I was touched that they would show so much appreciation for the ‘token art kid’.”

With the win under his belt, Dillon is encouraged to continue pursuing art, though not necessarily as a full-time affair. “I think the grand title of Most Promising Artist of the Year comes with its fair share of expectations, but I don’t think it’s a burden. It’s reassuring that there are people out there who recognise my work, and that they see potential in me to do great things in future,” he says. “It’s not an obligation to churn out more pieces, and I don’t feel pressured to become a full-time artist. I still want it to remain an outlet for me to destress, and for me to do it at my own pace.”

As for now, Dillon certainly doesn’t see his art journey ending anytime soon, but recognises he’s still a fresh new face, hoping to learn from veterans and those who came before him. “I’m still very new to the local art community, but I find that it’s been very welcoming so far, where everyone has similar goals and aims and don’t see any point bringing each other down,” he says. “We all want to spread the influence of art in Singapore, widening the scene and getting more people into it. I feel I can approach mentors and people to talk about their experiences, or even exchange lessons with each other on this new world of NFTs and the metaverse with them. Creativity and art transcends age.”

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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