EVER wondered what the Petronas Twin Towers would look like as a spaceship? What about if a giant bison tornado began attacking the suburbs? Photographer and digital imaging artist Tan Yong Lin, better known as YongL, has managed to turn such musings into captivating surrealist artworks which never fail to make viewers do a double-take.
The 25-year-old Penang native’s creations twist our perception of otherwise familiar landmarks, and have earned him numerous awards from art and photography competitions around the world. Currently based in Cyberjaya where he is a creative director, YongL shares his works on his Instagram (@yongl95) and his own website, www.yongl.my.
In an email interview, he shared how he first began his journey into digital art, and how he keeps the creative spark alive.
What initially drew you to photography?
“I began photographing when I was in Form Five, begging my mother to get me a camera despite the fact that we could hardly afford it; we must pay in three years' instalments. I was interested in photography since I've always had a fascination for drawing and art, which began when I was a child.
“I realised one day in high school that photography is a faster way to draw or bring my vision to reality, which prompted me to purchase a camera, and I'm really grateful to my mother for believing in my vision to this day.”
Of all your awards, which were particularly memorable?
“There were two that stood out as very profound. The first is when I won a small contest in a local Chinese newspaper, earning me RM30. It was essentially the start of my competition career.
“The [other] would be the Sony World photography awards in 2015, because it was the first time I travelled on an aeroplane and to a foreign city (London) all by myself. I had to convince my father that this is not a scam but a legitimate award in order for me to visit there (we had some heated arguments/fights). The rest is history!”
How would you describe your particular style, and how has it developed over the years?
“My current style is more surrealistic and conceptual, emphasising the concept or story behind the artwork; it can be bizarre, out of this world, or significant; it can be anything I want it to be, and [my] style has evolved significantly over the years.
“I began my creative adventure with traditional drawing and painting, progressed to digital art, and then discovered photography and film making. I use various skills and methods to create what I do now. I'm not interested in being defined by a certain style, and I wish to continue evolving and improving, adapting and thriving over time!”
What inspires you to come up with a visual?
“Malaysia! The space in which I was born and grew up; the time when I chose to take the leap of faith and pursue my dream full-time; my friends; my family; the people I admire, a teacher I despise, and so forth, [can] inspire me to create a visual.
“Occasionally, I am inspired by the stories of others. Our surroundings are constantly bombarded with ideas and inspirations. We simply need to listen more intently and pay more attention to them, particularly the overlooked small things around us.”
The Petronas Towers appear to be a favourite base for your work.
“I have no choice, [because] I am unable to travel due to the Movement Control Order and the increasing number of Covid cases. [The] closest and coolest or most relevant things to me geographically are the buildings and landmarks in and around Kuala Lumpur.
“The Petronas towers are just the beginning; my motivation is to creatively visualise Malaysia.”
What are the biggest differences between the works you create for fun, and the work you create as part of your day job?
“[The] works I create for my day job are far more plain and straightforward than the crazy work I create for enjoyment. I work with a variety of clients in a variety of industries, including real estate, automotive, and food and beverage. Although creative imaging art is not widely appreciated here, I am doing my best to advance the scene!”
Where do you hope to take your art next?
“I wish to continue taking my art to different parts of the world, essentially bringing Malaysia to the global stage; I'm not concerned with whether the local authorities recognise my efforts or not, and I'm doing it out of pure love for the country, environment, and culture in which I was born. I hope that my work inspires and uplifts others.”
How do you stay creative, and do you find it a challenge?
“Yes, at all times. It's not simple, especially when real life gets in the way, such as paying bills, rent, loans, and worrying about client projects, among other things. I'm aware that we occasionally need to take a break in order to remain creative.
“It's a whole new level of difficulty for me right now because of the Covid scenario and endless MCOs, but I'm thankful that I have a group of teammates and friends whom I can count on; we'll survive the bloodbath.”
Any advice for others who might want to try their hand at what you do?
“I'm going to be honest here. If you want to try, go all the way; otherwise, do not bother because the journey would be extremely hard, especially here in Malaysia.
“If you have the stomach for all the stress and judgement from others, go ahead and go full speed! Leave no regret, because life is short!”