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Kelly Ser's "Not Just a Little Red Dot" collection features her vivid takes on Singapore's history and culture. | IMAGE: NICHOLAS YONG Images: Nicholas Yong

Artist Behind The Art: She Pays Kaleidoscopic Tributes To Singapore Icons

Ever wondered what goes on in the mind of an artist during the creative process? According to Kelly Ser, it’s a wild ride: “When I first start working on a piece of art, I actually have no idea what the final colour palette will eventually be. I trust the process of creation, and it is a journey on its own. I tap on my emotions and mental state at that moment to freely create the art that I’m working on.”

The former civil servant turned full-time artist draws inspiration from her Singaporean roots and life adventures to create contemporary works that showcase local culture and our heritage. What sets her apart is her combination of bright, kaleidoscopic colours like pinks, greens, and yellows, with interesting finishes.

"Growing up, I’ve always been a very tactile person, and so I like to incorporate textures within my artwork, which helps to draw the viewer closer and make them want to touch the art," says the 37-year-old. "I find textures very useful in arousing the sense of touch by the viewers, and that helps make my artwork more engaging.”

We sat down with Kelly to spill the tea paint on how she picks which Singapore icon gets the artistic treatment, and how she balances mommy duties with her booming career as an artist.

How do you choose which traditional architecture or local icon to transform into your contemporary creation? 

I embark on a pretty intensive research process to identify the icons and landmarks to feature in my artworks. I tend to pick subjects that have an appeal to both a local Singaporean and an international audience to ensure that the art can resonate with a wide audience.

During the research process, I typically come across very interesting historical stories about these icons and landmarks, and I try to incorporate them in my artwork so as to generate interesting conversations when people see the art.

Speaking of historical stories, we notice the subtle addition of a year in your “Not Just a Little Red Dot” collection, such as “1956” in your durian artwork. What do these figures mean?

During my research process to identify subjects for my artwork, I often come across interesting and sometimes unexpected historical fun facts. I try to pick little-known facts about the subject that I’m painting to incorporate within the artwork as I find that these unexpected stories spark the most interesting conversations when the viewer sees my art.

I use my art as a way to inspire discussions about the history of Singapore, which is really interesting when you go beyond stories included in the history textbook. For example, do you know why I included the year 1956 in my durian artwork? [Lorong Lew Lian in Upper Serangoon Road was named in 1956; “Lew Lian” is "durian" in Hokkien].

We caught up with Kelly at her "Singapore E.volution" exhibition at Design Orchard. | IMAGE: NICHOLAS YONG

Your use of bold colours really stands out. What inspired you to develop your kaleidoscopic style in the "Not Just a Little Red Dot" series?

My current kaleidoscopic style that has defined my recent body of work was actually experimental. I love colours, and I always wanted to use them boldly and freely in my works. When I first started on the “Not Just a Little Red Dot” collection, I knew I wanted to make familiar Singaporean icons and landmarks fun, and so I tried to experiment with a plethora of colours to define each subject. For me, it was very bold as no one else had tried it before, and if I failed, the artwork could look really horrific and unrecognisable.

Thankfully, the first piece turned out pretty well, and from then on, I continued to create my art freely and in my own unique way. I’m glad that my freedom of expression on canvas became so appealing to my audience that I could make it my signature style.

Not everyone will appreciate my style, and I am fine with it because art is very subjective. I find that I learn a lot from discussions with patrons of my exhibitions who give interesting feedback on what they enjoy about my works and areas or subjects that they would like to see, which have not been included yet.

We really loved your artwork showcased on EZ-Link cards last year! Besides this, what have been your most memorable partnerships, and what made them so awesome?

One of my most significant and memorable partnerships is my existing collaboration with Design Orchard. Design Orchard provides a platform for local businesses and artists, including myself, with access to retail audience and exposure to an international crowd.

Having the support of the team on site really helps with profiling and sharing of my artwork with clients who are in the store. And having my art and merchandise be made available in the heart of Orchard Road is something that is not easy to come by for small local brands like mine. This is why the partnership is extremely awesome and significant for the growth of my brand.

In addition, the support of the Singapore government in profiling my artworks when there is an opportunity to do so has allowed me to gain access to a very international market through telling the story of Singapore in a contemporary way. I am very thankful for the support of the Singapore Tourism Board and other ministries for always thinking of my brand when it comes to gifting and telling the story of Singapore.

Kelly's home essentials can be purchased at her website or at Design Orchard. | IMAGE: NICHOLAS YONG

Your art has found its way onto everyday items like coasters and grocery bags. Can you share the inspiration behind transforming your original pieces into home essentials?

I always wanted my art to be accessible. I believe that art should not be enjoyed only by people who can afford it or have a space on their wall to hang art.

I offer merchandise ranging from grocery bags starting from $6 all the way to limited-edition prints at $290. I also ensure that I create products that people can use and see daily, and I hope to add a touch of flair and a pop of colour into their daily lives. I believe that when art is integrated into a person's daily experience, it truly improves their quality of life and makes the day that much brighter - just like my art.

Is there a particular piece that holds a special place in your heart or has a unique story behind its creation?

During my pregnancy, I took inspiration from decorating my daughter’s nursery, and created an art collection titled "Renewal" that was inspired by toys within a child’s playroom.

After she was born, I also created a piece together with her, which features her handprints and footprints, and I hope to continue creating more pieces with her in this ongoing collection as she goes through different milestones in her life.

I have also extended this creation process to include clients who are parents of newborns and young children. I work with parents on commissioned pieces that are inspired by their child’s personality and preferences, and feature their handprints and footprints within. This makes the collection truly personalised, and etches a moment in time forever on canvas.

Being a mother is a full-time role. How do you navigate the delicate balance between motherhood and the demands of your career as an artist and entrepreneur, or rather, an "art-repreneur"?

I am very thankful that I am an art-repreneur because it allows me the flexibility to manage my schedule, and to balance my time building my art business with my role as a mother. The flexibility allows me to spend enough time with my daughter to watch her grow; time is something that, once you lose it, you cannot take back.

I must admit that it is very challenging, having to wear multiple hats and juggle my time between various roles. However, I see this as a blessing to be able to pursue my passion as a career, and I hope to instil this sense of resilience, creativity and determination in my daughter as she watches me build my art business while raising her.

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