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Meet the amazing muralist decorating Singapore's neighborhoods

He has three new murals in Tiong Bahru. Check them out!

By Mrigaa Sethi | Mar 04, 2016

  • Meet the amazing muralist decorating Singapore's neighborhoods
    Yip Yew Chong (left) and Coffee Story mural at 29 Sultan Gate
  • Meet the amazing muralist decorating Singapore's neighborhoods
    Yip Yew Chong with Home mural at 74 Tiong Poh Rd.

Perhaps you've seen one of Yip Yew Chong's works without realizing it. He has decorated walls in Spottiswoode Park Road, Everton Road, Sultan Gate and, most recently, Tiong Bahru with his impressive, large-scale, nostalgic murals of uncles, aunties, bird cages, barber shops and provision shops. An accountant by day, YC has been commissioned by small businesses and resident communities to bring life to their streets. Here he tells us about his love of painting scenes from years past, his extensive travels and why he won't quit his day job.


Bird Singing Corner: 71 Seng Poh Lane (next to Por Kee Eating House)

Do you think you’ll ever quit accounting and work on art full-time?

Not at this moment. I'll like to continue with my long-time career in finance and keep art as a hobby free from bread and butter ties, then my art will be more progressive and beautiful. When I retire, I can do art full-time at a higher level. 


Barber:39 Everton Road (backlane)

How are murals different than other mediums of painting?

Actually, there is little difference. In fact, I find painting murals on a big wall easier than on a small canvas because the brush strokes can be bolder and don't need to be too precise in the details. Murals can be painted in "diluted" water-color style or in thick coats "oil painting" style, just like on canvas. I've never tried spray-painting for murals nor airbrush on canvas, but I believe the techniques are quite similar.

How did you choose the images you would do for each of your murals?

I first look at the site and its surroundings. Then I try to imagine a mural scene that will be very relevant and meaningful to the site and also blend in well with its surroundings; best if it can even "speak" and tell a story about the place. I will avoid painting a mural image that is just nice on its own but stand out like an irrelevant sore thumb and dominate its neighbours. 


Amah: 40 Everton Road (side gable wall)

What kinds of things do you use for reference?

I observe scenes and things in Malaysian heritage towns like Melaka, Ipoh, Teluk Intan and Penang where I can really soak in the nostalgic mood. I feel that Singapore's historic places are too sanitised (e.g. Joo Chiat, Chinatown, Little India etc), so I look up websites for old photos of Singapore to refresh my memories of how the scenes and objects used to look like.

Your murals seem to be all about nostalgic things, like provision shops and uncles with bird cages. 

I started with the nostalgic "Barber" and "Amah" in Everton Road and since then, have been pigeon-holed to do heritage themed murals. I personally like nostalgic stuff, perhaps because of my age! The images were inspired by a mixture of my childhood memories, references to archived photos of old Singapore, and oral history from requestors. I think many people of my age miss those scenes because Singapore just moves too fast but our hearts linger on things we have fond memories of.

You've done a bird cage mural in Tiong Bahru. What are the other two you're working on now?

I've already revealed the theme of the second mural on my Facebook page. It will depict the inside of a typical home in the area in the old days. The third mural will be a scene from the old Tiong Bahru Pasar.


Provision Shop: 8 Spottiswoode Park Rd.
 

What kinds of clients engage you to do murals?

I don't really call them "clients" but sponsors and appreciators of my art style. In fact, for the Choa Kim Keat Garage and Tiong Bahru, I approached the owner/resident committee with a proposal rather than the other way round. Requests and enquiries come from both private and government-linked organisations, commercial businesses and residential homes.


Kampung: Back wall of a bungalow house next to Palmwoods Condominium main gate at 450 Upper Changi Rd.

You travel a lot. Do you think a visual artist’s experience of travel is different than most people’s?

I can't speak for visual artists in general. I personally pay attention to scenes and the atmospheres more than the fun of an activity or savoring food. I am not a foodie and eat almost everything everywhere. I also like to take photographs during travel (in a way capturing scenes), but I own a point and shoot compact camera and iPhone as they are more handy and candid. I only focus on composition of a scene and don't know much about other technicalities.

Yip Yew Chong is working on two more murals around Tiong Bahru. Check out the work-in-progress at 74 Tiong Poh Rd. For more about YC and his art, visit his website.

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