Sparking visual interest

FOR some, artistic talent is something that they've always known to be within them from the beginning. For the others, it's something that they discover later in life – something that they learn to hone with the guidance from others.

Mark Tan falls into the latter category. He hadn't always known himself to be artistically inclined, but it was eventually developed when he delved into it during his university years.

To date, the 27-year-old has participated in art exhibitions and even did a print collaboration with local fashion designer Cassey Gan for Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week 2017. We spoke to him on finding his niche in the expansive art industry.

You call yourself a visual artist – can you tell us more on what that's all about?

A visual artist to me, is really all about communicating an idea or sparking conversations visually. It involves things like design, fine art drawings, illustrations, and so on. Basically, anything that really engages you visually. If you have to see it to perceive it, that's what a visual artist is.

What's your niche?
I specialise in prints. That was my major back in the UK when I studied it. Basically, any idea of transferring an image onto surfaces – that's my niche.

I've been doing it since I started my training in the UK and I continued developing it when I came back. I've been working on prints on paper, and at the same time developing it further to include other materials including acrylic sheets, plastic, and ceramics.

How did you get into the art industry?

Funnily enough, I never really intended to become an artist. I went through a period after my SPM not knowing what I wanted to do. My family owns a music school, hence my mother had the idea to try making musical instruments – particularly the violin. It gave me the idea to give something creative to try.

Then, when we went around education fairs, it made me think of what course I could do that would allow me to develop my own creativity.

One of the universities I stumbled across had a representative that suggested the course I eventually went on to pursue: Drawing and Applied Arts. She said that if I wanted to explore myself creatively, create things and try new techniques, this course would be good for me.

I gave it a try, went to the UK for three years, and developed my own art practice from thereon.

So, you didn't intend to become an artist. But once you got into it, you discovered that you really liked it?

Pretty much! It was a self-realisation – I never thought I could do it, or that the things I made were of actual value. Of course, I got plenty of guidance from my tutors and support from friends.

I realised that I really did quite enjoy it and eventually became really passionate about it. I was willing to dedicate time and effort into developing myself as an artist.

How did you make prints your niche?

It was something I gradually grew into. When I was studying, I was introduced to many different art techniques and print was one of them. It took time for me to grow into it because print is very technical. There are procedures that you need to follow – it's very structured and well-planned.

It's something that you need patience for. The more I did it, the more I learned and realised I quite liked it.

But to make it my own, I had to be creative with the process.

One of my techniques was produced by accident – I misplaced a paper and ran it through the printing machine. The resulting image was layered, almost similar to a double exposure. It was interesting! Hence, I tried using a different kind of paper and continued developing this effect onto other mediums and materials.

During your years of work, what sort of achievements have you gotten?

The most recent one was the collaboration I did with local fashion designer Cassey Gan during KL Fashion Week 2017. It was a real eye-opening experience.

Sometimes, you get so absorbed into your own world and process that you get comfortable with your work. It's not a bad thing, but when you get the chance to collaborate with say, a designer such as Cassey Gan, applying your work onto a different medium and have it transform into garments is really refreshing.

Did you personally find it an eye-opening experience?

Yes, because prints inherently have a close relationship with fashion anyway. Fashion designers have always worked with others to create interesting prints. It was also something that I wanted to do. It took me three months to hand-print and transfer my images onto the fabric. I was given a huge roll of cloth – approximately 20-metres. It was quite a challenge for me!