We sat down with artist Sam Yong to ask him a few questions in anticipation of his print release with us this coming Thursday, May 31st. We learn about Sam's artistic history, his view of social media, creating murals and much more:
Could you tell us where you born and where you live currently, as well as a bit about the art scene there?
I was born in Kota Kinabalu, borneo. My family immigrated to New Zealand when I was about 2 years old so I don't really remember it that well. I grew up in New Zealand and moved to Melbourne 6 years ago to pursue my career in art. The art scene in Melbourne is really taking off. It has always been a pretty creative city and is full of many established and emerging artists. I think it really is the hub for arts in the southern hemisphere.
What are your first artistic memories?
My first artistic memories are probably as a kid around 6-7 years old. My parents would buy me toys or comics and before I played with the toy I would try to replicate the box art. My favorite thing I ever drew was this huge drawing of the X-men, I copied the picture from a tiny thumbnail that was probably 2" tall, and I used my shitty home art set with all the felt markers and on the back of this 35" x 50" inch banking calendar I blew it up as best as I could. I still have a love of robots and superheroes even my art doesn't really reflect that at the moment.
How has your style evolved over the years?
From when I had drawing as an interest in high-school, I dreamed of doing comic book art for Marvel. So I would say in those early years it was very comic-book inspired. Fast forward to college and I started picking up magazines like Juxtapoz and Hi-Fructose. I visited Melbourne with some college friends and from then I had this huge obsession with street art and characters painted on walls, so my style became very cartoonish and urban. I realized at this point it wasn't really who I was but because I was young I was trying to fit in and become part of this scene.
I realized that this wasn't really my scene or style and I delved back into my sketchbooks and started working again on portraiture, making my technical skills better and then concentrating on my own style after that. So for a few years I only made pencil drawings in my sketchbook until I felt I was ready to move into painting. I've always been interested in classical painting and especially baroque and romantic paintings so my style has been heading closer to that in small steps ever since. I want to have a sense of the classical old world in my work but with a more modern subject matter and approach.
You travel quite a bit, what's the best place you've visited so far?
In terms of culture, Japan. The people are super lovely, transportation is easy, and you can get anything you are looking for in a holiday, be it nature, city, general weirdness, relaxation or a crazy time. If you're talking about sheer beauty, I would say Iceland. That place is surreal, 14 hours of daylight in summer and tons of waterfalls. It's almost impossible to take a bad photo there.
My best trip though was probably to America and Canada. I travelled solo for 4 months, met a lot of artists that I really admire, as well as people who like my work. I traded art for couches to sleep on, and made a whole bunch of new friends that I still keep in contact with. North America is crazy beautiful too. So after this huge ramble, I wanna say Yosemite Valley was really special for me. It is epic and beautiful, I remember feeling a bit emotional looking out at one of the vistas there.
Could you tell us a bit about your print release with us, "May Day," and the ideas behind it?
May Day is pretty much a piece about the wheels coming off, or should I say the wings? SOS! and feeling vulnerable, I guess. I think I was painting this just after my girlfriend and I got together, so it was mainly about falling hard and fast which was good but also terrifying.
What's a typical day in the studio for you?
I wake up, walk around half asleep for a bit, possibly grab a coffee and then sit down at my desk. Stare at the painting for a few minutes and then work out what needs to happen today. I then put on something shit to watch while I paint, it has to be shitty for me to be able to not pay too much attention but still follow along with everything. Favorites are cooking shows, shit reality shows, crappy movies, or good movies or shows I have seen before. I try to paint for 8-12 hours a day if I don't let myself get distracted. So when I paint for shows I have probably watched half of Netflix. Sometimes I have breaks to go for a walk or play the PS4.
How does mural creation differ from smaller scale works?
Murals are still really daunting for me, lucky I have my girlfriend Nicole to help me prepare stuff and even paint. Every time I have to do one, it's like I forget how to paint murals completely. It takes a day or two for me to remember that I'm not completely useless at them and I get back up to speed.
For me, I don't do a lot of preparation for my small scale works, everything is off the cuff, sometimes I don't even sketch out my paintings on paper or anything first. I just attack the canvas with the idea that's in my head and adjust things as I go along (I'm trying to get out of this habit). I don't premix any colors or sketch out what the lighting will be like. But with murals, you have to be somewhat more prepared so that your work doesn't come out out of proportion or your colors are all wrong. There's a lot of prep work that goes into murals that doesn't show up, the sketch, transferring it to the wall and premixing as many colors as possible so that painting it can be done in the limited days you have on a project.
What are your favorite parts of creating? And also, your least favorite?
I like doing the underpainting or the sketch, because it's rough and loose. After that I can see the idea completed as a finished painting in my head already and actually finishing it is the hardest part because I lose some of that motivation until the very end of the painting and I get to do those juicy ass highlights. Painting water droplets and glossy eyes are very satisfying. Painting feathers, fur and scales is painstaking, why did I choose this life? Who knows, maybe it's some sort of internalized self loathing coming out and making life as hard as possible for myself. It's working out good I guess.
What are your thoughts on social media and its effect on artists and artwork?
I mostly hate it, but I sometimes like it. I hate it because it gives people this skewed view on what's inherently good / bad / popular. But maybe it's what the market actually is like. I can't tell. I hate it because it dictates what people should make if you want to make money or get popular to the point where it all seems so formulaic to me. I don't want to see art that is being created because one post got more 'likes' so then you keep creating work that is similar to that really popular post. So there comes like an over saturated market of a similar styles of work and for a long time I haven't been foaming at the mouth for art. I would like to see some sort of social media blackout for a while and see what people really want to create without worrying about the audience. I am old and bitter because I grew up without smart-phones.
On the other hand, I love social media as an artist. It's helped me connect with a lot of artists that I have looked up to since I started studying and since then we have become friends. People who are followers of your work also can connect with you on a more personal level and I think that's great too, I've become friends with people that have bought my work as well.
Social media, it's good and bad. I used to be worried about it, now I don't care about it. A few years ago I used to try and post a drawing every day to build my following, but now I'm more worried about the quality of my work. I try not to check it too much so that it doesn't influence what I make too much. People will follow you if they're interested, people will unfollow if they're not. That's life, I just want to create good work that I am interested in making and hopefully other people will connect with.
What can we look forward to next from you?
I just quit my day job so that I can concentrate on making art full-time, that has probably been my biggest goal in life so far. The timing just felt kind of right so here I am, maybe I'll be homeless in a few months if it doesn't go so well. So please buy a print!
I have a group show with Thinkspace / Antler opening next month and another group show with my Temple Children family at First Amendment Gallery in August, then a solo show at BeinArt Gallery here in Melbourne in October. The future is uncertain between then!
"May Day" is a 12" x 12" edition of 30 and will be released at 1PM PST Thursday, May 31st, 2018.