When you first hear about Ink Crisis, the latest exhibition at Findars art space in Kuala Lumpur, your first impulse may be to worry. Are we really having an ink crisis? How serious is it? How can we write or draw without precious ink?
As it turns out, however, there’s no cause for alarm. The exhibition’s title combines the two projects on show – Stephanie Yong’s Inksalad Illustrations and Chong Chin Yew’s Artist Crisis.
It’s a cute combination. The name, however, is fitting for this exhibition. Yong and Chong have one thing in common: they are both talented artists who took long breaks from drawing, before rediscovering their passion.
“My story starts way back … about seven years ago. I was doing comics and art for many years, but I wasn’t making money. So I quit everything, packed my bags and left the country. I travelled for about five years, and never picked up a brush in all that time,” recalls Chong, 35, during a recent interview at Findars.
Yong also mentions that she had other jobs before returning to art.
“I hadn’t picked up a brush in 10 years and I hadn’t drawn for about six or seven years! I did a lot of drawing with a mouse. And that’s click, click, click! To me, that’s not really drawing,” says Yong, an art graduate.
It seems that while you can try to run away from art, it will always find you again.
For certain, it’s good to have Chong and Yong back in the art scene. Findars looks like a giant comic book with two big panels showing Chong and Yong’s comic-style artwork. The gallery is neatly divided for this joint exhibition, with Chong’s art on one main wall and Yong’s work on the other.
Chong’s illustrations are distinctive and irreverent. According to the artist, they are drawn as a way for him to express his emotions about the world around him.
Many are based on current affairs or things in his life. You find musings on everything, from the state of the haze to discoveries made upon watching movies alone to his feelings on the recent destruction of the Puncak Purnama (Lunar Peaks) public sculpture in Kuala Lumpur.
Visitors to the exhibition will notice a few gaps in the comics on his wall. Apparently, during Ink Crisis’s opening last weekend, a combination of humid weather and poor adhesive caused some of Chong’s artwork to fall.
Instead of worrying, the artist realises this is a blessing in disguise, especially since the works in question touched on “sensitive” issues.
“I’m not planning to put any artwork back up once they have fallen. This is to give a sense of life expectancy to this art show, where audiences have to rush to the show as soon as possible before they are all gone,” says Chong, who keeps a work profile on www.instagram.com/ashingtray.
It’s literally an off-the-wall approach. Then again, Chong is not a man used to the conventional.
At 24, the high-spirited KL-born artist quit his full time job in the printing industry to become a full-time artist. Art is not his only calling card, though. He is also the co-founder a film production company 2Men Productions.
In 2005, he started a project called the 30-Day Artist, where he created 40 paintings in 30 days.
From there, Chong released a graphic novel, The Boy Who Loved Clouds (2007), and later had his own solo art exhibition (at Seni Gallery in KL in 2008).
Travel is also part of Chong’s interesting story.
In 2009, he began his personal soul-searching trek in Indonesia and eventually went on to the United States, Angola, the Czech Republic, Germany and Belgium, among others. He financed himself by doing a variety of jobs.
However, Chong realised that he missed art and making comics and eventually returned to Malaysia in 2014.
And so, for the second time, Chong finds himself having to make a new beginning in the arts. Fortunately, he discovered Patreon, a crowd-funding platform that allows fans to support their favourite creators by contributing a minimum of US$1 (RM4) a month. He now has about 90 backers for his work on Patreon, and works to create Artist Crisis comics for them every day.
While Chong’s drawings are more slice-of-life, Yong’s works feel more whimsical.
Many of her pieces on display feature fantastical, maze-like landscapes, which are rich in detail. You can also try to follow her intricate maps of places that exist in her fertile imagination.
“It’s my own style. They’ve got a ‘Where’s Wally?’ feel. You can keep looking for things. There’s actually a lot going on in them,” says Yong.
“When I share my work on art communities, people actually message me and send me screenshots of my work, saying they found little things in my work which they like. It’s nice to have people enjoy looking for things in them!” she adds.
Like Chong, Yong also had several jobs before turning to art. The 33-year old Selangor-born artist first worked as a 3D animator with a few game and production companies for five years.
“I mostly did 3D buildings. I was working on racing games and I had to do the (background) environment. I made lots of buildings. And I found I loved architecture. I loved drawing and modelling buildings, but I didn’t like making them look realistic,” explains Yong.
“I spent a lot of creative energy on my job. I had no time for my own stuff and I started to burn out.”
She quit the gaming scene and moved into other areas, becoming a pastry chef and then helping her friend in a dessert shop.
During slow days without any customers, she resorted to drawing to entertain herself. This rekindled her love for drawing. Later, she quit the food industry and became a full-time freelance illustrator. There was no looking back. Her work can be viewed at facebook.com/inksalad.
To some, an artistic job can sometimes be challenging, but Yong insists that it offers a sense of fulfillment.
“It’s been a huge change, from the old job to this one, in terms of self-improvement, and loving what I do. I needed to direct my talent somewhere more useful, instead of wasting it in the office where I wasn’t enjoying myself,” says Yong with a laugh.
“I’m poorer now, but I’m a lot happier. I feel my long term satisfaction is a lot higher now than when I was working in the office, feeling miserable every day!” she concludes.
Ink Crisis is on at Findars, 4th Floor, No. 8 Jalan Panggong in Kuala Lumpur till Sept 3. For more info, visit facebook.com/findars.