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Exclusive Interview with Ruben Pang


Exclusive Interview with Ruben Pang
“Stella Maris” (2015), Oil, alkyd, acrylic and retouching varnish on aluminum composite panel

The Artling interviewed Singapore artist Ruben Pang to find out more about his artistic practice and his stint as the inaugural participant in the Tiroche Deleon Collection’s Residency Program. 

Tell us more about how you got involved in the Tiroche DeLeon Collection residency program?

I first met Serge Tiroche at Art Stage Singapore 2014 and he’s been tracking my progress over sometime. He’s purchased some of my largest works, including Ophelia (2014), Auto-pilot(2014) and is the owner of the first triptych I’ve done. Over time, I familiarized myself with the artists collected by the Tiroche Deleon Collection and found several I could relate to. I took up Serge’s offer when he proposed the residency as it was clear that he sincerely wanted to connect with the artists he is involved in. Also, the dynamics between our aesthetic ideals could lead to something powerful.

Did you have any expectations or hopes for your residency? If so, what were they?

I expected it to be a challenge, and it was, both personally and in my creative practice. The purpose of this residency was to do things I wouldn’t otherwise have attempted. It was easier said than done – it’s not easy to switch into a completely different mode of thinking and painting, everything changes – the materials, technique and visualization. And although physically everything feels different, the work doesn’t necessary come out radically new. But I expected that of myself, and in my mind’s eye, I imagined becoming a completely different personality, successfully transforming myself within a few months into a polar opposite. Although mostly what happened in the studio was a falling short of expectations. The problem was that I didn’t want to be a gradually evolving artist or experience a metamorphosis in stages, not in terms of the ego, but that aesthetically, I wanted all traces of what I’ve fallen back on in terms of mark making and planning out the layers, to be completely wiped out, I wanted the shift to be violent. In hindsight, just the exercise created some new and interesting things that can be developed.

“Jacob and the Angel” (2015), Acrylic and retouching varnish on aluminum composite panel 


Jaffa is perhaps one of the most culturally and historically rich places in the world. Did your faith play into your experience?

I feel like my relationship with Israel, not just Jaffa, was just beginning to form and then I had to leave. I empathize now with religious people, and put in a bit more effort into understanding something which usually I cannot connect with at all. There’s no longer this invisible screen between me and someone devoted, it now feels like an energy that I can be on friendly terms with.
In a sense there’s so much history, that its violent even thinking about it, you can’t read anything about Israel and not have it being told through someone’s tinted memory or agenda, which when you think about it is really just an exaggeration of the same concept that can be applied to any other place. 
On a personal level, its also a place that surfaces things inside of you that you would rather hide, and so I experienced the worst in myself. In this sense, faith becomes so important.

“Purgation” (2015), Oil, alkyd, acrylic and retouching varnish on aluminum composite panel


What was the recurring theme in the body of work produced from your residency?

The proposed point of departure was to explore the miracles of the New Testament – healing, exorcisms and iconic moments. It was something practical, it gave the residency a focal point but allowed me to revisit so many scenes with the potential to become dramatic paintings. It led me on to the current body of work I’m developing, The scenes I’ve chosen were about faith, trauma, acceptance and alleviation. The job was to find ways of articulating that without falling back on historically iconic imagery too much and hopefully, find potency in unexpected places.

The house that you lived in in Jaffa was also used as the space for your exhibition. How did that affect, if at all, the living space versus work space dynamic for you?

It’s very similar to how I’ve been working for a while now. I think the change of space from a white cube gallery to an actual home was something that contributed to me wanting to paint in several different styles – it’s just so unsettling to see a home covered in similar looking art.

“Abstraction 1″ (2015), Oil, alkyd, acrylic and retouching varnish on aluminum composite panel 


Could you gives us some insight into your creative process?

Up until recently, it has always been a mix of techniques, personalities, systems of composition which I’ve adapted, from artists that I admire. Early on, David Reed’s finesse with the blade was what I wanted to add to the arsenal of painting techniques. Later on Glenn Brown’s ability to simulate speed and violence with almost pixel perfect control taught me a different way of constructing an image. These came in addition to the staples like Flemish and Italian old masters. 

First you have the color spectrum, then you have the texture spectrum, and lastly you have the personality spectrum (the most interesting bit), as if you could jump into different frames of mind – sometimes painting cautiously and deliberately, other times to replicate the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I think it’s particularly fascinating to challenge yourself to combine almost opposing frames of thinking. For example, Glenn Brown’s fidelity is really unmatched, and he mentions how he wishes he could be a “hack and slash” painter. I’d try to fit that frame of thought into an aggressively painted painting.

Over time I start to see where in this spectrum I tend to fall into, for example, its hard for me to paint without adding in some details, even if its a flat expanse of color, I start obsessing over the consistency. I think this exercise is just another step in getting to know yourself. I’ve always heeded Bacon’s advice for young artists: “a painter must paint, even if only out of imitation.” And I regard myself primarily as a student of art and music.

Right now I’m obsessed with finding new ways to operate on the human figure, or to be more accurate, the character. One of the questions I’m dealing with now is: How do we paint so that the empathy is for the character in the painting and less so for the artist painting it? It’s tricky for me because I think once you start stylizing, distorting and adding yourself into the picture, the megalomania, the narcissism, the self portrait forced onto something else, these things become more prominent. I’m trying to paint these new works in a way where people forget about the creator for a moment–like in the movies. 

“Abstraction 3″ (2015), Oil, alkyd, acrylic and retouching varnish on aluminum composite panel


Who are some of your major influences?

These are the paintings that first I first fell in love with before growing to appreciate the entirety of the artists’ works. John Martin’s The Great Day of His Wrath, Peter Paul Ruben’s Fall of the Damned, Gerhard Richter’s Portrait of Dieter Kreutz (the 1971 blurry version), Glenn Brown’s Nausea, David Reed’s #617 and #442 and Nigel Cooke’s Sing the Pumpkin Song.

”Unseeing” (2015), Oil, alkyd, acrylic and retouching varnish on aluminum composite panel


Did you face any obstacles/challenges producing works given the context and specific political environment in Israel?

My work is semi-abstract and generally not political, if at all, its barely noticeable, so I had no problems. Israeli artists face a lot of challenges getting their work shown elsewhere due to boycotts. It’s ironic because the boycott targets the very artists standing up against persecution.

“Heatwave” (2015), Oil, alkyd, acrylic and retouching varnish on aluminum composite panel


Many of your works contain forms and figures derived from literature; were you inspired by any of the biblical and mythological characters associated with Jaffa?

Not exactly Jaffa, but the general location of Israel. Heatwave for example took inspiration from Masada, its environment and the stories associated with it. With regards to the characters, I think they were more about the scenes, and so identities wren’t as important as the physical movements in the frame. Jacob and the Angel was clearly biblical and because these stories are so iconic, I think its more accessible for the audience in general. 

Unseeing was more of an interpretation of the notion of the blind being healed, in the bible its being healed by Jesus, but I didn’t want to have to keep painting Jesus over and over again in every exciting scene. Purgation is an interpretation of the experience of exorcism, again, with Jesus cropped out. It focuses solely on the figure undergoing the ritual. It was also one of the paintings where I think I was more successful in the simulation of painting from “the character’s” perspective, I was trying to imagine myself as a person who never painted before, just experienced an exorcism and had to illustrate it. So it comes out less three dimensional, the strokes are frantic but done in detail, I wanted it to be as if someone was in a hurry to get his story out. 

“Raising Lazarus” (2015), Oil, alkyd, acrylic and retouching varnish on aluminum composite panel   

How has this residency impacted you and helped you as an artist and what can we look forward to with your next body of works?

Its changed something in me, that’s for sure. I took some time off after because it was incredibly intense. Coming back to the studio two days ago, I have no idea what is going on. All I can say is, time spent away from painting reminds me of how important it is to me. 

“Graduation Night” (2015), Oil, alkyd, acrylic and retouching varnish on aluminum composite panel 


About the artist

Born in 1990, Ruben Pang is an emerging Singaporean artist known for his stunning ethereal works painted on aluminium. After graduating from Lasalle College of the Arts, Faculty of Fine Art in 2010, the young artist has already had five solo exhibitions, the latest called Ataraxy at Chan Hampe Galleries. Pang made headlines in 2014 when nine of his paintings were sold within the short span of 60 minutes at ArtStage Singapore. He is also represented by two galleries, which include Chan Hampe Galleries in Singapore and Primo Marella Gallery in Milan, Italy.

Most recently, Ruben Pang completed his three-month residency in Jaffa, Israel. He was the first participant selected in a joint venture residency program by Trioche DeLeon Collection and START- Serge Tiroche’s artist incubator project in Israel.

About the Tiroche DeLeon Collection Residency Program in Israel

The Tiroche DeLeon Collection residency program in Israel was launched this year, with Singaporean artist, Ruben Pang as their first participant. The residency program gives emerging artists the opportunity to work and live at Serve Tiroche’s waterfront home in the historical port city of Jaffa for up to three months. All living expenses are covered, along with flights, accommodation and working materials, enabling the artist to experiment and create works of art inspired by their experience. The body of work created during the artist’s residency will then be exhibited in Tiroche’s Jaffa house and following that, enter the Tiroche DeLeon and START collections and in local Israeli as well as international collections. 



Images courtesy of Chan Hampe Galleries

Any views or opinions in the interview are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.


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