Like many of his peers, Yeo Tze Yang was hesitant about pursuing a full-time career in the arts.

“As Singaporeans, we always worry. Can I make a living out of this? Can I support a family out of this?

“I was motivated not by passion, but fear,” the 25-year-old self-taught painter told The UrbanWire.

“People say it’s not practical to pursue art and it’s true. It’s difficult,” the young artist said. “But I felt that if I wanted to do it, start very early and let’s not have any regrets.”

His determination has shown results. Having held a number of solo and group exhibitions, Tze Yang is now known for his collection of paintings on sentimental objects and forgotten places in Singapore and other parts of Southeast Asia. One of his best-known works, Ah Ma’s Kitchen, is the Silver prize winner (Established Artist category) at UOB Painting of the Year 2016, a long-running annual award that recognizes painters in the region.

UOB Painting of the Year 2016 (Silver): Ah Ma’s Kitchen
Credit: Yeo Tze Yang

Tze Yang’s paintings have found homes in Singapore as well as other countries like the Philippines and Australia. He also earns his keep through commissioned works, exhibitions and conducting painting workshops in secondary schools.

Desk, 2019, Oil on canvas, 90 x 120cm
Collected in the Philippines
Credit: Yeo Tze Yang

Tze Yang was born in a family of artists. His father is a commercial illustrator and his mother also works in the creative industry.

“Paper, pens and colors were always available at home.

“Drawing and Photoshop were quite present in my everyday life. This can’t be said for most kids,” he said.

Tze Yang now rents a small art studio with his friend at MacTaggart building, where he typically works 5 days a week, from around 1pm to 11pm.

Although his penchant for painting was evident from a young age, it wasn’t until his time in junior college, where he joined the Arts Elective Program, that he started thinking of it as a career choice.

Despite that, he didn’t major in the arts when he went to the National University of Singapore as he felt that he didn’t need an arts degree to hone his craft.

He also didn’t feel a connection with “what the art schools were advocating”, particularly the kind of art and their methods of practice.

Instead, he majored in Southeast Asian studies, and he believes his exposure to anthropology in the region has helped him as an artist.

He said: “I found myself questioning issues about identity, what I consider local or not.

“The world is very nationalistic. I make art to counter that. I make paintings of an abandoned door and someone can feel something, even though that’s not Singapore.”

Tze Yang’s career is thriving now, although he admits he can’t be sure if this will be the case for many years to come.

His only advice to aspiring artists is to hustle hard, make connections with the people in the industry, and strive for a well-publicized exhibition.

Tze Yang’s solo exhibition, A Lack of Significance, is held at iPreciation, HPL House until Aug 24.