Meet Melissa Tan, The Artist Who Captures The Cosmos

A 2023 Young Artist Award winner, Melissa Tan is inspired by the world around us, from organic materials to extraterrestrial bodies
A 2023 Young Artist Award winner, Melissa Tan is inspired by the world around us, from organic materials to extraterrestrial bodies

Every issue, GRAZIA Singapore highlights a Game Changer who inspires, educates, and celebrates individuality, beauty and style. This month, we speak to Melissa Tan.

How would you describe your art and style?
My current body of work explores the notion of womanhood through the lens of mythology. It considers two main aspects—concept (story) and form (data)—and at their intersection resides its endeavour as a melancholic object of art and resistance. Camouflaged within the laser-cut patterns are images that I referenced from paintings, sculptures and antiquities that interrelate with the characters from my research. In tandem, I source for asteroids [that are] named after these characters and currently orbiting our solar system. The shape and folds in the metal aren’t random; in fact, they correspond to data points on an astrological chart that tracks the asteroids’ trajectory. These asteroids traverse vast distances away from Earth, but always return via an elliptical orbit. Likewise, time-honoured myths bear new insights when critically re-examined and eventually circle back to social consciousness.

What inspires you to want to create or crystallise something into art?
I love experimenting with different materials; I try to see if the material I’m working with is able to visually convey what I’m trying to say. For instance, with my metal and resin series, I use resin to mimic natural gemstones, as I see my sculptures as a reinterpretation of classical sculptures. Plus, epoxy is an industrial material we use today for kitchen countertops and office flooring, and with the invention of new materials, there has been a new classification of rocks known as anthropic rocks—rocks that are made, modified or moved by humans. I wanted to use a material of our time for my works, and that resin is a new man-made rock that will shape art-making.

With every piece or series, what do you seek to convey or accomplish?
With each series, I hope to find a meaning of my own and it’d also be nice if others are able to relate to the stories I’m interested in, as the reading of the audience completes the work, in a way. My current body of work has hidden imagery from mythology across various cultures and histories, which some might find familiar. I reference paintings, sculptures and antiquities from the past, and find great joy in sifting through these materials to find what I feel works best for the work or character whose voice I try to convey to viewers.

What excites you about being an artist today?
That there are endless possibilities. There are many diverse practices and you can have many interests. Connecting with other creatives or even collaborating with people with different specialisms is made easier with Instagram, and travelling to different places that have residency programmes that’ll suit the needs of artists is made easier with the Internet. There are many kinds of materials at present, as well as
information on how to use these materials. I’m able to use industrial materials such as epoxy resin or polyethylene and when I encounter problems, I can easily run an online search for solutions.

And what’s challenging about being an artist in this day and age?
Being able to financially sustain [one’s] practice across the diverse scene—and this is [something] I hope to see [realised] in the coming years. I believe that when that begins to happen, it’ll spur a change in the attitude towards the way jobs in the arts are viewed by the public. In tandem, I hope this generates excitement for the arts and allows fellow Singaporeans to be more supportive of local talent.

How would you say your art has shaped or changed you?
It has made me more patient when I’m not, and more impatient when I need to be. I love detail-oriented works and those take time. When I’m working with paper-cutting or when correcting lines of my drawings using AutoCAD software, I need to be in a calm state. [And] when [experiments] with materials are not going my way, I find myself pausing and reassessing before making another chaotic mess. There are also times where I feel I need to pursue ideas more relentlessly and not wait for things to happen.