21 Creatives for #SGABF2018 — Michael Ng
SGABF: Organisation of Illustration Council (OIC) started out as casual drawing sessions. You could have left it at that but you took it so much further. What was your motivation for setting up OIC?
Michael Ng (MN): Our very first meeting was an informal dinner back in 2006, which was nice because we finally got to put names to the faces of the web personas that we knew. Being known as web personas has been the weird existence of illustrators for a long time. That is why we felt that it was important for us to get out there and not just let the work be seen, but also for the artists to be known. That was how OIC came about.
One of our friends asked us whether there were any activities that illustrators could do that would be interesting, and that made us think, why not do something that features illustrators? It is less about selling things and more an activity where people can participate in and where illustrators can bond. So, we took up the challenge and organised our first event, Portrait Day (presently called portraits After Dark). We started with a small group, and although there were people who got bored and dropped out along the way, we are still running it 11 years later.
SGABF: Many creatives and artists are leaning towards an interdisciplinary approach towards the arts. How has your practice changed over the years with this shift? Is illustration your sole and preferred form of expression?
MN: When we first started out, we were just a pair of hands – the anonymous artists were making beautiful drawings, but nobody knew who the hell that person was. Personally, I was doing a lot of Annual Report illustrations. We came up with interesting formats that would transform a boring book with texts and numbers into an illustrated storybook instead. Many people were focusing on advertising and things like that, but these year-end reports were my mainstay. We would hide in the studio to draw, and if people liked your style, you earned a following.
I remember our first opportunity to create something in public. It was at the One Dot Zero event. We had never done that before because we had the mentality that illustrators always work with agencies, so creating something at an event was very new to me. The second time was at a 2008 event at Night&Day. Three illustrators were asked to draw on a single canvas during the event, and there would be drunk people trying to have a hand in it while the three of us were trying to steer that piece of work. It was quite crazy, and everything was impromptu and extremely nerve-wracking. But we learned a lot from the experience, so it was fun. Like many illustrators here, we are now doing more live event drawing and mural drawing projects.
Then there was a shift; physical prints were not viable anymore, so we had to find other alternatives to be able to sustain ourselves as illustrators. We went into other collaborations, including painting murals, which there are a lot of now, and also drawing on objects for events. We discovered other mediums for illustrators that are perhaps even more interesting than what it used to be. Illustration used to be flat, but now you see them on the MRTs, and on walls and products.
SGABF: You believe in the importance of commissioned works to get Singaporean illustrations "out there". Do you think that the illustration scene has moved towards becoming more mainstream, compared to when you first started?
MN: Not more mainstream but there are more opportunities for other work now that traditional markets in print and advertising are shrinking. I do feel that art has always leaned towards becoming more commercialised — be it fine art or illustration (somebody has to pay for it somehow). But I just like to draw, that is what I know and I think I am quite good at it. Creating an image is easier for me than trying to express myself with words. So I would create an image that is from deep within, and whether you get exactly what I mean or not, it doesn't matter. What matters is that I managed to get it out of my system, and create something that is interesting. It is different from how it used to be because back then we would just be hired guns. We would get paid for drawing what we were asked to draw, and that is the end of the story. Now, we try to own our art, and we can either create something that is very personal, or we can be commercialised.
SGABF: Widening the scope, what are your opinions on the arts and culture in Singapore? Do you think that there are enough art-related organisations and events like OIC and its flagship event, Illustration Arts Festival, that provide a platform to Singaporean creatives to showcase their works?
MN: As an attendee, I feel that there are so many things happening all the time, and you cannot possibly attend everything. As an organiser, I feel that there are too many of the same things, and we need to have more diversity. Our motivation for starting the Illustration Arts Festival was to cover the areas that were left out by events that are already happening in the industry. There are not enough of these events that would cover the areas that are often neglected, or which fall between the cracks of the categories of art. So our event seeks to champion this neglected area that we find to be interesting as well.
The greatest satisfaction is when people write in and ask you when the next event will be held, or when strangers or friends tell you that they have enjoyed your event. We work very hard to make sure everything turns out well, and so receiving feedback and appreciation is very rewarding. In spite of whatever limitations we have to deal with for the event, we still ensure that everyone gets something out of it, especially our participants. That is important to us.
That being said, we should figure out an easier way to get funding in Singapore. We are creatives, so doing paperwork is always a bitch. [laughs]
Michael Ng a.k.a Mindflyer (b. 1964) is a self-taught visual artist based in Singapore. Using the moniker "Mindflyer", he has been creating his art since 1989. His practice is embedded in concepts related to flight and escapism. Using a crazy mix of interesting aeronautical forms, bright colours, a mad dose of retro sci-fi and references to Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s "The Little Prince", he attempts to make everything "fly"! Some of his recent works include commissioned artworks for Microsoft, Singapore Art Museum, National Museum of Singapore, National Heritage Board, Samsung, IBM, Starbucks, The Elephant Parade, Tangs, Starhub, and Kalkitos. Besides painting and exhibiting, he is the founder of Illustration Arts Fest and also a founding member of the illustrator group, OICsingapore, where he actively engages and challenges young illustrators.