The Last Chance

…to see the display that nearly was not to be

For almost the whole of last weekend, we thought that the most hyped exhibition on this island of the pandemic years was not happening. And then it was. Before we could caw KAWS, the blow-up doll basking in the blazing sun shall be no more. Today is the last day of the eight-day display, and a lie-down defiance against an injunction issued against it. If the organisers had taken the cross-eyed Companion and his look-alike companion down (the court order had initially demanded that the exhibition stop taking place), we may not be able to benefit from a re-installation. But Companion was destined to enjoying his spot on The Float @ Marina Bay. And we were able to watch him without further disturbance.

The wise would say great art challenges us. But who would have known that even the great Companion would be challenged? And of all places, on this little red dot, a barren land of art on a monumental scale; his first legal obstacle after having been to half a dozen or so places around the world, sometimes floating in the sea rather than lying on dry land. Hitherto, not many people know what truly happened last weekend that led to the initial closure of the seemingly harmless display. Was it an absolutely necessary action on the part of those who filed the court papers? What did it suggest about the future of staging world-class exhibitions here?

It is often said that the KAWS sculpture is a figure of our age, a personification of the Mickey in us all. Yet, to us, Companion does not appear to be jolly even if in other settings he seems to be clowning. Distressed? His eyes are a pair of Xs, as if crossed out, or cancelled. Is he hiding his unhappiness—even tears—from us, keeping us away from his eyes, the windows to his soul? When we did finally see him up-close, he quietly reminded us of the very surface-only world we are inhabiting; the artificial and the artifice. In both the physical and digital world, clever fakeness and artful contrivance come together to hold sway over us. Perhaps, Companion is an image of our modern selves: all plastic and hot air. Happy to have met him.

KAWS:Holiday Singapore opens at 2pm and closes at 9pm. Photo: Chin Boy Kay

KAWS:Holiday Singapore. Open!

Ordered to close on Saturday, the giant sculpture Companion is now viewable, up close

It is a sunny day, unlike most of the past two weeks. The sky is adequately clear, with wispy swirling clouds overwhelming the shy blue and the reserved sun. Way below, on the rectangular grass platform that is The Float @ Marina Bay, a very still KAWS sculpture, Companion, holding a smaller version himself, is lying on his back, seemingly enjoying the happy heavens. He and his charge are sun-bathing, taking up a substantial space on which the National Day parade is often staged, surrounded by some of the most expensive real estate on our island. Whether he knows what has happened these past four days, he isn’t letting on. The drama that unfolded last Saturday has ended, for now. The gloom cast over the anthropomorphic inflatable has lifted. The sunshine is a heavenly thumbs up.

Lying there for anyone who cares to see him IRL, Companion the colossus has brought the company of a rather curious case of alleged “breach of intellectual intellectual property rights and misuse of confidential information”. Last Saturday, during the unveiling and preview to special guests, the exhibition, officially named KAWS:Holiday Singapore, had to close. The organiser of the event AllRightsReserve (ARR), a Hong Kong company (described as a “creative studio” on their website), was served with a court order to immediately suspend the by-then-hyped-to-the-max solo exhibition of the artwork. According to a CNA report that afternoon, “an interim injunction” that Singaporean arts promoter The Ryan Foundation (TRF), applied for was granted in time. “It orders that the exhibition stop taking place, as it is in breach of the foundation’s intellectual property rights and confidentiality”. It was all rather vague, which unsurprisingly led to online speculations, as many waiting to go were disappointed that it would be a missed opportunity.

The timing of the injunction, for many, was rather odd. Some even thought it rather impertinent. Why on our scorched earth choose the launch day? The dramatic potential could not be dismissed. When it was revealed that there was an earlier failed negotiation that began in 2019 between ARR and TRF to bring KAWS:Holiday here, some suggested that the halting of the display was a “revenge” move, beautifully planned to gain maximum exposure. Did ARR do something sneaky to TRF, even if the former partnered with the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) to let Companion lie here in the sun for eight days? Was it payback time? Or, as many Netizens suggest, “a case of sour grapes”? One of the earliest to report on the halt was South China Morning Post (SCMP). It stated that “a large group of VIPs in Singapore were attending the official unveiling… but at 4.30, a court injunction ordering both the immediate suspension of the artwork’s display and the accompanying sale of merchandise was delivered to the event’s Hong Kong organisers” at the very site. In attendance was the American artist of the sculpture Brian Donnelly. SCMP added, “all this attention would be enough to give any public artwork an inflated sense of its own importance”.

And attention was inevitably cast on The Ryan Foundation too. Until then, few outside the business of art have heard of the non-profit. “Similai?” was repeatedly posed on social media. A YouTube video of a CNA interview of its founder Ryan Su started circulating. In a follow-up report yesterday, CNA wrote that TRF promotes “arts awareness in Singapore”, and that it was established nine years ago by Mr Su, “a lawyer and prominent art collector, who had studied Art Law in the UK. Mr Su is known for his art exhibitions” and, according to online publication High Net Worth (HNW), “no one holds an art exhibition like Ryan Su”. It began with 2016’s Andy Warhol: Social Circles at the Gillman Barracks, which reportedly saw over 2,000 visitors on opening night. The last exhibition in 2019, Unhomed Belongings, featured the works of American actress Lucy Liu and Singaporean artist Shubigi Rao. Mr Su was bestowed Patron of the Arts Award in 2017 by the National Arts Council. Two years later, he sat on the Asian Art Circle of the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum in New York.

On TRF’s birth in 2012, Mr Su told HNA, “I started it as a joke. I said, let’s donate $10 to something and just call it The Ryan Foundation, instead of all the art in the warehouse. We weren’t serious”. “We” include partner Adrian Chan, who is also the director of TRF. The “joke” turned into an entity that contributed noticeably to the art calendar of our city. But, following the stunning injunction, stories emerged of the unconventional working methods of the foundation, even as far as Kuala Lumpur, where the Andy Warhol exhibition travelled to after its SG debut eight months later. Those with less than desirable experiences with TRF are saying how not surprised they are by the way things turned out for the exhibition on The Float. Which makes the KAWS:Holiday stop here more notable since the travelling display has been to at least five other countries prior, without a hitch.

In an introduction on the Court for Arbitration website, Mr Su is described as “a mediator and arbitrator… a specialist in disputes involving galleries, artists, dealers, exhibitions… (in a list of more than 30 items)”. Curiosity was piqued: why did he not apply his many skills to his dealings with ARR? Was there no mediation before going to court? Yesterday, Mr Donnelly posted on Instagram Stories, “Ryan Su talk to us! Why did you do this lame action?” In a statement quoted by the media here, TRF said that the interim injunction was a “temporary court remedy”. What it was remedying, it did not say. But, according to Mr Chan, the spotlight isn’t just on TRF, it is also on the community of the self-employed. “This long case that will be fought for all freelancers and creatives whose ideas and pitches and work has been stolen or used without authorisation,” he maintained. It is not clear how long TRF intended to go with the matter. But, as announced yesterday evening, a court has lifted the injunction and TRF was ordered to pay the legal costs.

With KAWS:Holiday Singapore now allowed to open, ARR has said in a statement to the media: “The court further ordered that there will also be an inquiry into the damages sustained by AllRightsReserved by reason of the injunction.” It appears that we may not have heard the end of the case. ARR added that “When our exhibition at The Float @ Marina Bay was forced to shut its doors, we felt wronged and frustrated… This is not what our company, or the world, would like to see.” While the decision to halt the access of the display is reversed, some observers wondered how the entire episode involving an exhibition that has garnered international publicity would impact our city as a venue for large-scale installations or, indeed, any promotion of the arts, or the arts awareness that TRF is keen to advocate. Who, in the end, really gains?

Ironically, the news has aroused tremendous public interest in the project. It is an hour before the 2pm opening. Many passers-by and cyclists are converging on the Raffles Avenue side of The Float, taking snapshots of the companionable 42-metre long installation, as well as wefies with the inanimate object. According to AccuWeather, the temperature is 32℃ and humidity 95%. There is no breeze. It would take some fortitude to bear with the searing heat. Yet, behind the barrier that surrounds one side of The Float, under no shelter nor shade, the KAWS sculpture has lured the young and the old, locals and foreigners, fans (at least two wearing the KAWS X Uniqlo tee) and the simply-there. The gathering seems to meet what Mr Connelly had hoped for: “to give more people access to art” and to allow the installation to be “a door to inclusiveness”. Across the sea, on the Helix bridge, a man has set a drone, ready to take an areal view of the exhibit. The small flying machine eventually takes off, its small body soon becomes too tiny to see from a distance. But Companion and his small self, held close to the bosom of the larger are totally visible and occupy a large part of the platform. Amazing how a sole object can make you forget, for a moment, that The Float does, in fact, accommodate all the participants of the National Day parade.

KAWS:Holiday Singapore opens daily from 2pm to 9pm, until 21 November. Photos: Chin Boh Kay

Plushie For Posterity

A comic artist made a little toy in the likeness of one MBS woman. This could be the best-seller of a pandemic year, but it seems it isn’t for sale

It’s heartening to know that there are those who do not shine a light on the bad side of people. Although the now-famous “MBS woman” is (still) derided by Netizens for her refusal to wear a mask in public, repeatedly, and has been sent to court for the violation (to which she is asking the charges to be dropped), she is now depicted as a somewhat harmless mini-plushie, with the sweetness of Ang Ku Kueh Girl. The unknown comic artist, who goes by the handle Toast Comics, has made the recalcitrant no-masker—in what appears to be felt (but not Louis Vuitton’s ‘eco felt’)—approachable, likeable and squeezable, something you might like hanging from the corner of your bag. And there’s no mistaking her—she comes with a hang tag that is printed with her famous and quotable retort, “Do you have a badge?”

Toast Comics, despite his anonymity (his gender is known!), is a rather buzzy artist online. He has 6.1k followers on Facebook, which makes him a ‘nano’ influencer. He is known to beef-up ordinary-looking guys to give them near-superhero stature, if not status. He famously buffed up the Kopitiam Uncle mascot, complete with a new singlet that sports a gaping armhole, so large, it opens to the hip, calling the makeover the “sexy version”. He did the same to the Singapore Police Force’s avatar, Inspector Clif, reimagined as a strapping officer with muscles too big for his uniform. Even Workers’ Party’s Jamus Lim isn’t spared: his cartoon-self is a bare-chested, hammer-wielding, cockle-loving stud-politician! In fact, Toast Comics—also “a place where there is no such thing as ‘safe spaces’”—is the more PG-version of the artist’s true talent and obsession: drawing Asian men with the bodies of Greek gods, some with little left to the imagination. As his other alter ego Toastwire, he populates his illustrated world with men of extreme musculature and endowments, all against settings of fantastical colour, rather Gengoroh Tagame meets Tom of Finland meets Pierre et Gilles.

In contrast, MBS-woman-as-toy/caricature is all cuddly-adorable. As one FB follower said, “way too cute” (while others wonder if it’s a voodoo doll!). She is, of course, not anatomically correct, but her Mochi Peach Cat face is similar and her hair is especially spot on. Her recognisable Klein-blue shirt is precise, too, but at MBS that fateful afternoon, she wore knee-length bermudas. Toast Comics has graciously made her more feminine by dressing her in a skirt (admittedly, miniature shorts are harder to make). We’re surprised that he didn’t give her the physique of Joan Liew the bodybuilder!

Photo: Toast Comics/Facebook

Holding Out For A Hero

Is Uniqlo’s message sent by Superman and Louis Lane?


Uniqlo on FB

This appeared on Facebook some time today, the start of what is called Circuit Breaker, in response to the increasingly critical situation brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak. The Circuit Breaker (unlike most, we will not use the abbreviated form, so as to edge to the side of propriety) will change the entire local retail landscape, and Japan’s Uniqlo, which, in 2019, ranks 8th in terms of retail sales worldwide, won’t escape the clutches of the business havoc the coronavirus will wreak. Despite the closure of all physical stores on the island, Uniqlo saw it necessary to send a positive message to its customers and followers: “Our stores may be closed for now, but our support for you, our staff and the entire Uniqlo community has not.”

The succinct and optimistic message is accompanied by an illustration of a couple in a classic nan zuo nu you (男左女右 or man on the left, woman on the right) positioning, with their backs facing the viewer. Together with the caption, “We’re Here For You”, it is not unreasonable to assume that Uniqlo is telling us they’ve got our backs covered, but what caught our eyes is the red cape of the male. Could this be the Man of Steel (the blue, skin-tight sleeve also corresponds to the Krptonian’s crime-fighting costume), and if so, is Superman’s arm protectively around his “primary” love interest, Lois Lane, the Daily Planet journalist who married the superhero in 1996?

There is something comforting about this image. Curiously named Secret 7s, it made an earlier appearance: on the cover of Uniqlo’s debut in-house magazine LifeWork (Fall/Winter 2019), and is drawn by Copenhagen-based British illustrator, Adrian Johnson (not, to our knowledge, related to Boris). In fact, it was seen even earlier, as part of the sleeve artwork of the catchy Beck-ish 2015 single The Less I Know the Better by Tame Impala, a psychedelic-pop project of Australian musician Kevin Parker, whose stylo-retro-ish music and videos are a neat fit with the artist’s Procreate-rendered picture. Mr Johnson’s simple yet striking, colour-blockish pieces have appeared in The New Yorker and Monocle,and in the marketing communications of brands such as Stussy, Norse Project, and the Japanese fashion label and retail store Tomorrowland.

As much as we are aware, Mr Johnson has not identified the two individuals of his art. Named or not, a superhero is a symbol of hope, beacon of strength; a graspable certainty that we will triumph over evil, which COVID-19, as the most destructive villains go, definitely is.

Photo: Uniqlo/Facebook

Running Stitch: From Fashion To Art

This is an entry for the UOB Painting Of The Year 2019. And it was submitted by former fashion designer Tan Woon Choor, who was awarded the Bronze prize in the Emerging Talent category, which proves that, in art, thread can be a serious medium, and as imaginatively used as oil or acrylic


TYC UOB POTY 2019.jpgSweet Dots: Another by Tan Woon Chor. Photo: artist

It might be safe to say that the annual UOB Painting of the Year prize, in its 38th year and is the longest-running art competition in Singapore, has rarely (or never?) received a piece of work to judge that is painted with thread. This year, there are two entries in the Emerging Talent category that employ the material associated with sewing, with one of them a portraiture delineated entirely by thread, or, to be more specific, composed of embroidered discs. This textually unusual art, not quite in the same vein as needlepoint (or the cutesy pieces of custom embroiderer Deer Folks) or fabric-based patchwork, such as those by Lee Suet-Fern, the award-winning quilter who happens to be the wife of Lee Hsien Yang, is the stylish and compelling handicraft of erstwhile clothing designer Tan Woon Choor.

Last Wednesday, Mr Tan won the Bronze prize in the Emerging Talent category of the UOB competition (the other thread user, winner Vanessa Liem’s Frankenstein of an entry is primarily in the more traditional medium of oil on canvas, with squares stitched to form two parallel oblong wholes, with loose threads as curlicues), a place that the new, soft-spoken artist considers a privileged placing. “I was already very happy to be in the final,” he told SOTD the day after his triumph, “getting a third prize just makes me happier”. His winning work, simply titled ‘Another’ (not linked to or inspired by AnOther magazine, as some might assume), is a culmination of two-and-half months of work, and is one in “a series of four (so far) that is dedicated to the women who have inspired, motivated and helped me throughout my life,” Mr Tan let on. ‘Another’ is also “another journey” that he has embarked as he explores art; it’s also another person in his life (after many), and “another stitch after another” of the eye-straining embroidery he now does.

If you look at the UOB Painting of the Year microsite where a grid of this year’s entries is shown (scroll all the way down), Mr Tan’s organised collage of hand-embroidered circles—each with different stitches and unique textures and patterns, all of such deftly handled stitch densities—opaque and net-like, coming together to form a vaguely-Cubist and exaggeratedly pointillist portraiture of Mr Tan’s older sister Joyce, has the unmistakable distinction of looking strikingly modern, the way Serbian collagist Laslo Antal’s work is spiritedly urban. That the visage in Another requires some scrutiny before it can be discerned adds to the painting’s power and mystery. If you visit the UOB Art Gallery (a lift/escalator foyer, really) to view the work of the participants of the competition up-close (and are not too bothered by the lamentable, inappropriately glassed-up framing of Another), you may sense that Mr Tan’s affecting work does not really belong. And the professional judgement on it may have escaped scholarship or even a knowing eye.

Tan Woon Choor.jpgArtist Tan Woon Choor, November 2019. Photo: Jim Sim

Tan Woon Choor has always been somewhat of an outsider. As a fashion designer, he was not a media darling as the style-setters of the day were, such as Heng Juit Leng (formerly of Future State, now retired), Yang Derong (now a CNA stylist/presenter) and David Wang (now VP of education and training at TAFF). He had a taste of fashion early, when he participated, as a teenager, in the 1986 Her World Young Designers Award (the only competition of its kind then, and given a coveted standing as past winners included the late Tan Yoong), for which he was awarded the second prize. Neither was Mr Tan standing with striking visibility alongside other rising stars of a few years later, such as Alfie Leong, designer of MU (now morphed into BSYM) and AWOL, and brand gatherer behind the serial pop-up store Workshop Elements, and a friend, with whom Mr Tan found support—mid-career—in the now defunct, pioneering streetwear store 77th Street.

Mr Tan’s biggest break, he recalled, was being selected by Dick Lee as a participating designer (with his first label, PR Individual) in the ’80s hipster hotspot, Hemispheres, during a time local media consider to be Singaporean fashion’s “golden age”. But his encounters with those willing to give him a chance, despite clearly being a newbie, went even further back: to his ACS schoolboy days, including one when he showed up—even now surprised by his gumption (“I just walked in, no appointment, nothing”)—at presently-retired Celia Loe’s retail store, First Stop, in the old Plaza Singapura (when Yaohan was an anchor) to show her a few of his sketches. To his surprise, she was sufficiently impressed with them to buy the lot at S$8 a piece. He would, years later, join Mrs Loe as a designer of Editions, the “young career line”, not once, but twice.

In the annals of Singaporean fashion, it requires study and scrutiny to specifically place Mr Tan’s earmark contributions. He clearly didn’t belong to the Pioneer Generation of createurs such as Thomas Wee and Peter Kor, nor those who came after him—the fortunate ones who were able to have commercial representation in stores, such as Taro Chan (now a consultant) Peter Teo (ProjectShop-turned-PS Café) and, even later, Leslie Chia (first Haberdasher, then Haber and PIMABS, and now Closeknip). Mr Tan had always followed his own stitches, not totally affected by the pressures of the evolving fashion scene. In that way, he could be seen as part of the sandwiched generationthe in-betweens, so to speak, who worked quietly on their own, just below the radar, such as Vik Lim (a designer/stylist, who, in 2014, co-led the successful Kimono Kollab) and Tan Khee Gek (of the label Khee). These were a diligent few who modestly existed between the SODA designers of the ’80s and the digital-native brands of the Noughties. In that sense, Mr Tan could be considered to be part of the almost-veiled fringe.

Woon Choor SS 2012.jpgA dramatically simple sheath from Mr Tan Woon Choor’s last collection, retailed at the first Workshop Elements in 2012. Photo: designer

Yet, as a fashion professional, Mr Tan’s career had been impressive. He designed for others, such as the now-folded Hong Kong brand Theme; the streetwear/club clothes of Tattoo by the late Andy Ng; the Red and White Lines of 77th Street and for his own collections—“clubbing clothes” of T-shirts and printed mesh tops (“I was in my Gaultier phase!”) for the Zouk Shop, during the dance club’s early years at Jiak Kim Street; 12B (pronounced one-two-B), which was initially conceived for the former Tangs Studio; and an eponymous label, which finally debuted in 2012 for, regrettably, half a year. He was also a buyer at one time for labels such as Gaultier Junior, Luciano Soprani, Canali, and the French mass l’étiquette Kookai in a stint with Hong Leong Fashion. And, a retailer when he started the multi-label store Plan B (two of them—in Bugis, as well as Wisma Atria, which “nearly killed” him) to promote young Singaporean designers and labels, such as Mian (Han), Tattoo (by Andy Ng), Gog Meng Hee, and just-out-of-schoolers Joey Khoo and Alfie Leong.

Although Mr Tan had chalked up a remarkable résumé by the time he veered from fashion design for embroidery-as-art, he has been totally self-taught. “I love looking at clothes,” he said, when we sat him down for a breakfast chat recently. By that, he didn’t mean he glances at garments the way social media habitués scroll down IG pages, clicking the heart-shaped icon to like and approve what they see, but registering little or nothing of what the images might elucidate, if at all. “I look at the inside of clothes as much as the outside; I lay then down and try to understand how they’re all done.”

He isn’t reticent about his own abilities or the limitations they impose. “I always try to do the best with whatever I have. I’m more an improvising kind of designer. Whatever I can’t do, I improvise. So I try to achieve the effect with what I know. I know the patterns, but if you ask me to alter, I can’t because I can’t get the calculations right. In that sense, you can say I’m not a technical designer.” Even with admitting to a lack of technical finesse, Mr Tan’s approach to designing can be considered rather technical: he prefers the specificity of cut than the distraction of embellishments, the manipulation of shapes than the mere meeting of seams. Some saw his work as avant-garde. A school mate recalls Mr Tan’s dogged determination to understand the foundational aspects of garments. “Back in the early days, I remember watching him—in his home—cut a top, and he would try it on paper repeatedly until he got the shape exactly the way he wanted it. I didn’t know then if he did it the right way. That he could cut and sew was impressive enough. The result always looked smashing to me. Meanwhile, Grace Jones’s Nightclubbing would be played on the turntable as soundtrack to an imaginary fashion show in which that top would be featured.”

Tan Woon Choor Another Nov 2019To see the hidden portraiture, Another (left) is best viewed from afar. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

Mr Tan’s last stint as a fashion designer was in 2012, when he put together a collection for the opening of the first Workshop Elements (WE) in Wisma Atria, set up by his friend and former colleague Alfie Leong. He had, by then, shifted gears, developing home furnishings/decor items, and was working with Como Hotel and Resorts on products for their gift shops and for room use. (Aside: Mr Tan remembered his first audience with the head of Como Group, Christina Ong, during the job interview to be “like a meeting with Anna Wintour”.) At WE, he finally launched a collection that bore his name, some thirty odd years after his debut in Hemispheres. And it was, as a former editor stated, “smart, well-conceived and well-made; clothes that captured the spirit of unhindered creativity and were deserving of a designer name”.

The WE months for him, although a mere six, marked a career high for Tan Woon Chor: the clothes sold so well that he could not keep up to meet the demand. Still cut and sewn by him alone, they showed an aesthetical maturity that industry watchers noted and his customers—some new, some followers—appreciated. The designs could stand on their own without the hype that had, by then (thanks to the advent of social media and the feverish adoption of it), became crucial for brand recognition, never mind if the clothes held up to scrutiny. Although at the beginning of WE, the idea was to present a “curated” mix of merchandise, it was obvious the organiser did not have enough brands with notable design value to fill the space, which, ironically allowed Woonchoor the label to stand out and reach a captive audience.

Unable to cope with the production and unwilling to see the rack that he, too, designed stand with insufficient merchandise, Mr Tan decided to stop just as things went well for him. There was, however, another reason too, one that had, in fact, presented itself earlier, but seemed more pertinent in post-blog-shop 2012. By now, fashion has been adopted by many, or, for a lack of a better phrase, the denizen. “I didn’t like to see fashion so mass,” he recalled. “When I was working (for fashion companies), I thought the exposure was good for me because I wanted to see what really went on behind the scenes. But after seeing it all, after knowing how things are done, how the buying houses actually got their accounts. I was a little disappointed with the whole system—ethically, it was not me. And now that fashion has changed so much, I feel that if I can’t really contribute or add to the conversation, maybe I should stop. I’m up to here with fashion;  I don’t want to do it for the sake of doing it.”

Studio Curio early works.jpgMr Tan’s early hand-embroidered works. Photo: Studiocuriosg/Instagram

The dabbling with embroidery began last year. Mr Tan had, by then, left Como and was considering slowing down or doing something that allowed him to appreciate processes that they can’t be rushed. “I had the time and I wanted to use the time to really enjoy the things that needed time to do,” he said, “and even more time to do well”. As with fashion design, Mr Tan taught himself how to embroider, gleaning mostly from YouTube videos, like millennials are wont to do when they need animated instructional guidance. But unlike many of the young viewers, Mr Tan applied what he took in seriously and, quickly, found that he could be creative with embroidery, but more importantly infuse his work with modern simplicity.

When contributing editor of Her World Brides Steve Thio saw Mr Tan’s initial output last year, the former was so impressed with the work that he immediately commissioned special pieces that he would use as gifts. In no time, Studio Curio started (“I just needed a name at the time to register an IG account; I thought what I did could be considered ‘curios’.”) and Mr Tan came to the confident conclusion that thread can be as valid and serious a medium as the more traditional used in fine art, such as acrylic, oil, or ink.

He began to seriously consider working on larger pieces that could be destined for walls (opposed to those suitable-for-desk/dresser/beside-table he had, until then, produced). But the work turn out to be more time-consuming than he had thought. Contrary to what it might appear to be, each piece of Mr Tan’s embroidered work is stitched directly onto the canvas, not individually completed pieces appliquéd onto the artist’s base. The long process, which eventually led to the idea of designs that are slow to execute and complete, allowed him to slip into snatches of calming reverie. It became a reflective time. He thought, in particular, a lot about the women who had been instrumental in prodding him along in this journey: his mother, his sister, his aunt (who gave him a box-ful of embroidery threads), even his one-time employer Celia Loe.

19-11-14-18-18-43-890_deco.jpgThe exhibition Favourite Things at the Arts House, featuring the works of Tan Woon Choor. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

When he showed Another to his friend, former designer and present senior lecturer at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts’ School of Fashion Studies, Gary Goh (himself an alumnus of the Her World Young Designers Award), there was no doubt in Mr Goh’s mind that Another should have a shot at the UOB prize. He encouraged the budding artist to join. When we saw it just before submission, we were struck by the polished and sensitively rendered delineation that tacitly tried to convey to us Man Ray, expressed by the Japanese illustrator Macoto Takahashi, disguised as embroidery swatches in circles!

This evening, Mr Tan and two of his also just-turned-artist friends—art directors Patrick Sin and Sherli Chong—open Favourite Things, a three-day exhibition at the Arts House, featuring their recent works. Unfortunately, Another would not be on display as it now belongs to UOB, and the bank has installed it in the above-mentioned exhibition. In keeping with the theme of taking time to do something well, the exhibits from the three artists have a common conceptual idea, if not a common theme: the quality that would emerge in embracing ‘slow’.

Despite an exhibition he can be proud of and a prize-winning work, Mr Tan is still treading (and threading) with trepidation. “It’s quite scary, this transition to an artist. You know it’s…,” he hesitated and then continued, “an unstable career.” When it was suggested to him that it need not be a shaky career choice, he added, “Usually if you want to be an artist, you’d have to be very commercial in order to sell.”

The sense of disquietude is understandable: even as a fashion designer, Mr Tan had never submitted to the demands or vagaries of the commercially advantageous. “Career-wise, there’s still a question mark,” he said, “but I’ll still go on. I’ll see where it takes me.” Back to fashion? “If there’s anything next for me in fashion, it’d probably be something to do with taking all my old clothes and make something new.” That sounds like a line out of the DBS Sparks online mini-series, but this is no fiction—Tan Woon Choor will make it happen, stitch after another stitch.

Favourite Things is on at the Arts House at the Old Parliament from today to 16 November. Another is available to view at UOB Art Gallery, UOB Plaza 1 at 80 Raffles Place from Nov 9 to Feb 20, 2020