From a young age, Arthur P. Y. Ting’s (71) love for art was never in doubt. We spoke with him as he shared with us the eventful journey he has undertaken to becoming the mixed-media artist he is today.
“Artists are usually poor.” That was the word of caution from Arthur’s mother when he informed his parents of his decision to pursue a career in the arts. Knowing his parents had his best interests in mind, Arthur nevertheless sought to prove her wrong. Speaking with him about his artistic journey, it was clear to us that it was this determination to succeed that has led him to become the artist he is today.
Arthur’s love affair with art began at an early age when he was just seven years old. He was fond of tracing pictures that he saw on pieces of old newspapers. What began as mere tracings soon morphed into something much bigger when he took part in a competition organised by the Malaysian Young Artist Association.
An assortment of some of Arthur’s earlier sketches. Photo by Lynette Lee
“When I was 14, I participated and won third place in the competition organised by the Malaysian Young Artist Association for my painting of a Malay kampong,” gushed a proud Arthur.
After this, school took a backseat to art. When he was in Form 4 (the equivalent of Upper Secondary in the Malaysian Education System), he heard of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) and decided to drop his studies in Malaysia to attend the school in Singapore.
“I asked my father for RM50 to come over to Singapore to study. My father was a little taken aback as I was leaving on the same day. I just packed a few items of clothing in a wooden case and came to Singapore,” recalled Arthur. RM50 was quite a fair bit of money back then. It was a gutsy move by Arthur and it was a similar story when he decided to pursue further education in London.
After he graduated from NAFA, Arthur bought a one-way ticket to London with money from the sale of an oil painting, despite the fact that he had yet to enrol in any school then.
“It was quite daring of me, I had no friends and I didn’t even have a school to enrol in when I went. Most would have received a letter of acceptance when they go overseas for their studies.” He was also ill prepared for winter, not having an overcoat when he arrived.
With dogged persistence, Arthur went from school to school looking for a course to enrol in. His perseverance eventually paid off when he was offered a part-time course in interior design at the London Polytechnic. Due to his excellent results, he was eventually promoted to a fulltime student in his second year of studies.
Recounting the hardship he went through during the four years in London when he had to scrimp and save at every occasion, Arthur was eager to return to Malaysia when he graduated with a degree in art and design. With his aging parents in mind, he revealed that he had to turn down several career opportunities.
“I went home and my mother was ecstatic to see me after all those years away. I had an offer to work in Hong Kong for the Transport Department, but I rejected it. I also had job offers from London, but I rejected them all to come home.”
“My parents were about 60-plus. If they had been younger, I might have considered taking up those offers,” admitted Arthur.
Luckily for him, he had several opportunities from companies in Singapore. Arthur became an interior designer in an architectural firm in 1973, before establishing his own interior design company in 1979 to further apply his training and experience gained. And that was how he met his future wife, who was an employee of the company that supplied materials for his building projects.
It was in 1983 when Arthur began feeling uninspired in the interior design field, and was toying with the idea of returning to his artistic endeavours. “I was feeling very tired from having to face the contractors’ demands. My wife advised me to refocus on my art since it has always been my interest. But it depended on whether I still had the passion and guts to follow it through,” recalled Arthur. Realising his urge to create art had never left him, Arthur took up his wife’s advice and the rest was history.
Referring to himself as a mixed-media artist, we asked Arthur what was the difference between mixed-media artists and other more traditional artists.
“Mixed-media art consists of a few elements and materials like metal or wood, colours and canvas,” explained Arthur.
As to why he chose this medium, Arthur revealed that mixed-media art affords him more freedom with his artistic creations.
Having been an artist for the past 33 years, how does Arthur feel about the perception that art isn’t a viable career path – a belief his parents had also once held.
“It depends on an artist’s discipline. There are some artists that just stand around waiting for people to buy their art. They don’t have the drive to create new and better art pieces. You must have a responsibility to yourself as an artist. You must challenge yourself to try and be the best.”
He also credited his wife’s encouragement and support to his success as an artist. However, he acknowledged that more could be done to support local artists and the local art scene.
An installation named “Flying Colours” that Arthur did for Changi Airport in the 1990s. Photo courtesy of Arthur P.Y. Ting
“I feel that more can be done to encourage artists and to cultivate an environment for those aspiring artists to thrive. I will say the artistic culture of Singapore is still quite shallow, unlike other countries where kids are nurtured to appreciate art from a young age. Art can be about preserving culture and history. Art is beautiful. If we don’t learn to appreciate it, we would lose a vital piece of our culture.”
A piece done by Arthur titled ‘Windows – Green’. This is part of his ‘Singapore Mini Window series in which he reimagines some of Singapore’s shophouse windows in elaborate three-dimensional detail. Photo Source: sceneshang.com
Speaking with Arthur was an illuminating experience into the insights of an artist. Hopefully his bold journey can serve as an inspiration to fellow aspiring artists in Singapore.
Written by: Shaun Chew
This blogpost is part of the Red Dot Stories campaign