Exhibition Of Yip Yew Chong’s 60m-Long Painting Moves The Artist To Tears
Singapore artist Yip Yew Chong started 2023 strong when, in the middle of January, he completed his 60m long painting (that’s the length of five double-decker buses!), which he began in August 2021.
The 54-year-old accountant-turned-artist’s magnum opus entitled “I Paint My Singapore” comprises 27 panels portraying his impressions of Singapore growing up in the 1970s and 1980s.
"Kreta Ayer by Day, 1970s" is the last scene that Yew Chong painted; he completed it in January 2023. | IMAGE SIM DING EN
Yew Chong began the 60m work in August 2021 with this scene, "Kreta Ayer by Night, 1970s". | IMAGE SIM DING EN
One could spend hours – days! – taking in and appreciating detailed scenes of Haw Par Villa, Chinatown Ang Mo Kio, Little India, Singapore’s CBD, and the Northern Islands, among many other locations, and myriad characters going about their daily lives.
Well, you can now do just that, as the artist ends 2023 on an equally high note with an exhibition of his masterpiece at Raffles City Convention Centre, L4 Bencoolen Foyer, which runs 10am to 8pm daily until 1 Jan 2024. Entry is free.
We pop by on the first day of the exhibition (on 30 Nov), and believe us when we say without hyperbole that this must-see work is truly a wonder to behold in person. A visual feast it may be, but the sounds – and in some cases, smells – of the hubbub depicted on the canvases is almost palpable.
We spot Yew Chong, who seems to have no break from being constantly greeted by a steady stream of visitors enamoured of his work. They have countless questions for him – but so do we! We manage to steal him away to talk about the culmination of this project, and what he plans to do with the painting at the end of the exhibition.
This exhibition marks the first time Yew Chong himself has seen the complete painting pieced together. | IMAGE: SIM DING EN
Congratulations Yew Chong! So, how does it feel to finally have your labour of love on display?
Very, very, very happy. I feel very emotional too, because this is also the first time I’m seeing this whole thing pieced together. So, it is like the first time for everyone, including myself! Finally – after two years.
Was it difficult finding a location that could properly display the work?
Actually, I found various locations, but this location is really a godsend. Just look at the setting, look at the centrality of this place. Yeah. And the kind of support that I’ve been given by Fairmont Singapore and Raffles City Convention Centre has been unbelievable!
IMAGE: SIM DING EN
At the launch of your book “Art of Joy: The Journey of Yip Yew Chong” on 18 Nov, we read that you almost cried when the family of the late Souran Singh (a recurring character in “I Paint My Singapore”) turned up to show their support. Today is the first day of the exhibition – any memorable moments so far?
Yesterday [at the opening by Professor Tommy Koh], I cried. Even today, I cried. People cry. A gentleman came, he was crying, it made me cry also. And today, Mr Souran Singh’s family came. I was so emotional – and we both cried!
Happy tears, surely!
Yah yah yah!
What sort of visitors have popped by?
From very young to old; people from all races and nationalities.
IMAGE: SIM DING EN
How do overseas visitors respond to the painting?
Well, as you can see, I hardly have a chance to interact with people for longer than a meet-and-greet, but from what I've heard from people I know, [foreign visitors] can relate to the painting even though they are from far away, or even if it’s their first time coming to Singapore. There must be something that they can feel is quite familiar with their own home. It’s quite similar to how they react to my murals. Some of my murals, for example, are in Tiong Bahru, but some foreigners will say, “Hey, this looks very familiar!” It just makes people feel comfortable.
"Collyer Quay & Raffles Place, 1980s". | IMAGE: SIM DING EN
"Singapore River, 1970s". | IMAGE: SIM DING EN
What's going to happen to the painting after the exhibition is over?
Oh, it’ll go back to the warehouse! (laughs) And of course, I’ll see if there’s a potential buyer who will buy the whole piece, not in fragments. I cannot sell this panel by panel! (laughs)
Are you painting anything right now?
No. I'm working on trying to be here [at the exhibition] most of the time, so that I can meet every guest. I know I will not be able to tahan the whole month like this, but I will try – ’cause I really want to meet everyone! I will try as best as I can, and as much as my mind and body can take it! (laughs)
A picture book of “I Paint My Singapore” featuring 27 double-page spreads, and published by Landmark Books ($27.50) will be available at the exhibition. “I’ll be most honoured to autograph your books if you catch me there!” says Yew Chong.
You can purchase "Art of Joy - The Journey of Yip Yew Chong" ($32) at major bookstores in Singapore including Popular, Kinokuniya and WHSmith.