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Alvin Ong

Alvin Ong on drawing as an anchor through which to navigate other worlds, working at varying scales & locating the local within the global.

How did you get into making art?
I grew up in the suburbs in Singapore, which I found rather banal, so drawing became an anchor through which I could navigate other worlds.

What are you currently working on?
I am finishing up my work for a solo at Yavuz Gallery in Sydney, which might open end May if the epidemic situation improves. But having made quite a few large works for that show, I’ve recently decided to switch channels and go back into making works on a smaller scale. Small pieces are like interval training, while the big ones are like long distance running. I like to keep alternating and changing gears. It keeps the studio air from going stale. Very much like a breath; with contraction comes expansion.

What inspired you to get started on this body of work?
The Sydney show is titled “Long distance”, which stems from my experiences moving between London and Singapore, and the accompanying emotional longings which accentuated prolonged periods of distance. Many of my figurations are motivated by the idea of locating the local within the global, a reality of reattachment, multiple attachment, or attachment at a distance; a habitation that is complex and multiple but does not cease to be a mode of belonging. “Quarantine”, for example, was made just when I was supposed to fly back to the UK, and countries started locking down. I suppose its also about isolation. From the frame of my desktop to my window looking out into the world, the world suddenly felt really small.

My figurations are motivated by the idea of locating the local within the global.

Alvin Ong

Do you work on distinct projects or do you take a broader approach to your practice?
I’d say that although I work in figuration, I like to see my work as abstractions. They can stem from an idea, a mood, or a piece of music, or a drawing. The process is quite improvisatory. I like to keep things open, and also allow myself to be surprised. Painting a work is very much like having a conversation with a friend.

What’s a typical day like in your studio?
In the morning I will have my yogurt with fruits before heading in. And I often end up painting for hours. On days when I’m in a hardworking mood but not feeling it I will just stretch and prime canvases. But there are also days where I don’t go in at all. I catch an exhibition, swim, hike, or hang out with friends, and quite often these activities bleed into the work. There’s a work I made called, “Rempah”, which was inspired by my memories of preparing ayam buah beluak with my family. I wanted to make a work about an old fashioned dish but also see if I could also add my own voice into it. My social activities are all shelved now due to Co-vid. But it will be interesting to see what material this lockdown will bring into the studio. Some of my characters have already started donning face masks and isolating themselves in their canvas frames.

Who are your favorite artists?
Off the top of my head, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Christina Quarles and Dana Schutz. I also admire the work of my peers, Tay XiuChing, Antonia Showering, Francisco Rodriguez, Emma Fineman, Sofia Mitsola and Kostas Sklavenitis, amongst many others. We visit each others studios, hang out, like each other’s posts on instagram, gossip and exchange painting tips.

Where do you go to discover new artists?
Instagram (of course!) and sometimes through an exhibition or word of mouth.

Alvin Ong is an artist based in Singapore and London who was recently shortlisted for The Hopper Prize. To learn more about the artist:

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