Tales & Trust in the Art World: A Conversation between Ruben Pang, John Philips, Michelle Ho and Nadya Wang
A feature written by Nur’ain Bte Noor Bani, LASALLE College of The Arts.
Art World Forum recently hosted its second annual Singapore event titled “Creating Markets: Opportunities, Challenges and the Mainstream” on 27 September at One Farrer Hotel and Spa. The engaging discussion between Ruben Pang, artist, Mr John Philips, Associate Professor at the National University of Singapore, Miss Michelle Ho, curator and ADM Gallery and Assistant Director at the Nanyang Technological University Singapore and moderator Nadya Wang, Managing Editor at Art Republik, concluded the event with several thinking points surrounding the multiplicities within the art ecosystem and how it could be cultivated further, with personal insights being laced into the discussion.
Ruben began sharing stories of his artistic practice and how the beginnings were never stable, from earning $200 for a painting he had spent 3 months working on to incurring losses amounting to a few hundreds a year in the first 3 years of his artistic practice.
“Like any business it’s not going to be a return of investment immediately, it’s patience, that was clear from the start. You can live as an artist in a fantasy world or you can live as an artist in the real world. The real world meant that I needed people to support me, and I should stop sitting in the studio waiting for people to support me.”
Grit and patience strongly influenced Ruben and gave him the drive he needed to gain the trust of many. According to Ruben, luck played a huge role as well. After his graduation show, he received lots of support financially. These people took a leap of faith with him, and he emphasised the deep-rooted trust that both ends had, and that they were willing to make sacrifices for each other. The trust allowed Ruben to grow significantly. He has since had his works exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, The Substation, Chan + Hori Contemporary, Chan Hampe Galleries and the Primo Marella Gallery in Milan, Italy. Ruben is also a recipient of the Georgette Chen Arts Scholarship from 2009 to 2010, the Winston Oh Travelogue Award in 2010, the LASALLE Award for Academic Excellence and was also a finalist for the Sovereign Asian Art Prize in 2010 and 2011.
When asked about what it means to be a successful artist, Ruben answers that rather than external validation, reaching your own potential was far more thrilling. He recalled his enthusiasm for music at the age of seventeen, and his love for the electric guitar and rock and roll, adding that he did not develop an ambition for art then. He had focused more on recording music in his online home recording studio that he had set up. He would occasionally look at paintings by renowned artists and tell himself that he could do better, and with this ignorance and delusion that he carried, he found himself capable.
“In music I constantly disappointed myself, but in art where I didn’t have much of an ambition, I kept surprising myself. One of the best things about luck or blessings is that I didn’t see what was right under my nose, which was painting. I took it for granted. Now I know and I make sure I don’t sigh in the studio or I don’t complain. And one of the things about luck is being able to recognise it when it’s there, and the question goes on to what you do with your luck.”
John Philips, Associate Professor at the National University of Singapore also articulated the importance of the attitude that an artist should have towards the luck that they can find or the luck that they make. He stretched the discussion by touching on the tensions that arise for artists, posing questions for them to think about and prioritise while cultivating their artistic practice. What should an artist focus on? He raised significant questions for artists to linger on – whether they should be thinking about what people want at the moment, what kinds of works are selling at the moment, what curators want you to be making, how your work should be, how your work evolves, even the possibility of spiraling into the black hole, or if you chose to develop further, and the kinds of relationships you would like to foster with the people who are going to matter, not limiting it to curators, but the people in universities, and art schools as well.
Michelle Ho, curator and ADM Gallery and Assistant Director at the Nanyang Technological University Singapore added her insight on how one’s creativity as an artist could be expanded, adopting Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as a reference. She believes that if self-actualisation were to be introduced at a younger age in our society, it could possibly benefit one’s artistic practice.
In light of such views, it brings us to think that the art market does not exist for a singular reason. There are always several ways of thinking and seeing, in communicating bold ideas and in coming together from differing perspectives. The magic moments happen when we trust each other and are competent to coalesce the different ideas and opportunities to form a firm and vibrant handshake between artists and businesses. Here’s to new ways of thinking and experimenting, and hopefully producing new creative breakthroughs, with Ruben Pang as one very charming example.