State Of The Art: To Wyn-Lyn Tan, Inspiration Comes From Observing Nuances Of Natural Ephemera

"It is from these intimate perspectives where I continually seek a connection with the world around me," says abstract painter Wyn-Lyn Tan from Singapore
"It is from these intimate perspectives that I continually seek a connection with the world around me," says painter Wyn-Lyn Tan of Singapore
Wyn-Lyn Tan

For our Art issue, we invited artists from Singapore and the Asian region to ponder the questions surrounding creativity, inspiration and purpose in today’s world. Here, we speak to Wyn-Lyn Tan from Singapore, who’s represented by Fost Gallery.

What would you say are the best things about being an artist today?

There’s hardly a dull moment. Being an artist today demands for us to be thinkers and makers, to imagine and to ignite imagination. The work extends beyond the studio, as we engage, challenge, observe and imagine. It’s a career that rewards curiosity and individualism, where anything and everything could seed the possibility for art.

Why do you create art?

Art is a calling I can’t quite explain. In a way, art defines my existence; there is a sense of knowing “this is who I am” that I wouldn’t be able to give up. There is an innate desire to manifest the ephemeral, to articulate into form what I feel and see around me. I’m an introvert at heart, but through my art, I can express volumes and tell my truths.

I relish the freedom to take on multidisciplinary roles, all in the name of art-making. I have worked in a range of media, from paintings on canvas, plexiglass and wood, to using unorthodox materials of patina, metal and soil. I have also recently embraced new technology such as A.I. (artificial intelligence). All these mean I can be an alchemist one day, or a tech nerd the next, as I squirrel away knowledge learned from equipping myself with the skills needed to make my art.

How do you stay true to who you are as an artist?

My art is a reflection of who I am. (My abstract paintings hint at internal emotional landscapes.) I feel if I have a dogged belief in what I’m doing, and stay honest to who I am, my art will follow suit. Honesty in my work is important to me. And the best way for me is to focus on my personal voice, make the best form of any work I present, and not worry about pleasing the critics.

How do you continually find inspiration?

I am intrigued by the seemingly invisible forces of energy that surround us, and I am drawn to the unnoticed or overlooked in nature. I am greatly influenced by Eastern philosophies, particularly in the paradox of “qi” as the life force that is both everything and nothing. I find inspiration from observing the nuances of natural ephemera—shifts in light and atmosphere, the blush of dawn on water reflections, the passage of time on oxidising metal. It is from these intimate perspectives where I continually seek a connection with the world around me.

Placing myself in distant, unfamiliar places also feeds into how I relate to the natural world. I have been privileged to have travelled and lived in the Arctic regions. In 2011, I was awarded The Arctic Circle Residency, where together with a group of international artists and scientists, we sailed the waters of Svalbard, an Arctic archipelago just 10 degrees latitude from the North Pole, stopping along the way to respond to the landscape in various ways. It was during this residency where I made one of my first video works, Adrift, that was subsequently exhibited at the Singapore Art Museum. Following that, I lived in Tromsø, a city in northern Norway above the Arctic Circle, where I received my MA in Contemporary Art at the Tromsø Academy of Contemporary Art.

What’s something you would like to explore next? 

Following my recent showing of my latest works, the Particulate: A World Without End series, I will be expanding on this new body of patina on copper paintings. The idea for this series first came about from noticing the beautiful patina developing on the copper pipes in the bathroom at home. It also got me thinking about how I could harness the humidity in Singapore, instead of being annoyed by it. Here I am giving form to the moisture in the air that we don’t see but feel, as I use the process of oxidation as means of painting. Serendipity steers the work, allowing for the invisible energy of metal, moisture in the air, and time to react and become interwoven as means of “painting”.

Ruminating on the invisible forces of nature, scenes of “shan shui hua” are enacted here. The work diverts yet draws parallels from traditional Chinese landscape painting — the subverted play on positive-negative spaces, the water element as referenced in the unseen moisture in the air, the green blue patina suggestive of the mineral pigments employed by ancient Chinese painters. And just as how shan shui paintings imagine ethereal landscapes out of the realm of nothingness, these patina on copper works tease out that intangible space between what is there and what is perceived.

I am also looking to expand on my generative AI video work (which I created by training with machine learning technology on images of my own paintings from the last decade) projected on shaped wood. These were first presented in a solo exhibition commissioned by the Esplanade in 2023 and subsequently at S.E.A. Focus this year. With this generative AI work, I seek to question traditional distinctions between what is natural and synthetic. In March to April this year, I will be in Paris for a two-month artist residency at Cité Internationale des Arts where I will focus on making new work that will inform my next series.