An interview with Singaporean illustrator-artist MessyMsxi by Chris Ong.
If clutter is a sign of creativity and genius, then Zi Xi must be Singapore’s best illustrator-artist, bar none, judging from her moniker, MessyMsxi, and her belief that the process of creation is a spontaneous, and yes, messy one. Her belief and her work are validated by the amount of accolades that she has received: “Best Illustrator 2010” award by JUICE Magazine Singapore, “Most Inspiring Award” in the Great Women of Our Time 2013 by The Singapore Women’s Weekly, Gold award from the Singapore Creative Circle Awards 2015… and the list goes on. We find out what goes on in the mind of this talented one as she prepares for her upcoming exhibit, Out of Hand, Out of Mind.
Chris Ong: The journey from studying as an illustrator to a full-fledged career as an artist: How would you describe the journey? Were there ever doubts in your head as you pursued your passion?
Zi Xi: Counting back, I have walked the path of an independent illustrator for almost 5 years. Like in any work, it is difficult to sustain a career without passion, and I think passion is the only factor that has kept me going this far. There were never any doubts in pursuing illustration, because I was constantly filled with excitement with every new brief and project I picked up. I enjoy solving briefs and trying out new mediums.
CO: What kinds of challenges did you face?
ZX: Finding the balance of time between commercial illustration and working on my personal projects has sometimes proved difficult, especially since my illustration jobs are funding the expenses of my art projects and exhibitions.
CO: What about inspirations and aspirations?
ZX: My inspiration mostly dwells in ‘misadventures’ and ‘the grotesque’. I have a fascination with dark humour and tend to have a strange slant to most of my work when I push to exaggerate some of these themes. I am always intrigued by unusual experiences and the oddballs of society. Sometimes I pick up on interesting news articles or I come across some strange documentaries that lead on to more research and then I build a thought around that. My personal mishaps help shape the quirky humour in my work.
CO: Were there artists that you look up to?
ZX: I am always so impressed to see how Yoshitomo Nara’s works translate from 2D to 3D sculptures. And I have a strong affinity for Louise Bourgeois’ work, her strong opinions and inventiveness that show through all her processes and works. Her passion and spirit were evident despite her fragility, having remained an extremely prolific artist till her passing.
CO: And are there milestones that you work towards to, like say, maybe a solo retrospective in a world renowned museum perhaps, somewhere down the road?
ZX: Not at the moment. Life is full of surprises, I would like to take things as they come.
CO: Time to pick favourites – from your many works, which ones are the ones you fawn over, or which ones hold a special significance in your heart?
ZX: I think that would be one of my latest commissioned projects, ‘dododo’ for UNTITLED, Japan, which was created through traditional analogue processes and painted frame by frame with watercolour. After clocking in a minimum of 13 hours daily for 4 consecutive months, I was exhausted at the end of it, but immensely satisfied. There’s nothing to complain about when I can be the author of the work. Of late, I have moved away from doing digital illustration toward creating works with traditional mediums as I increasingly enjoy seeing tactility in my work.
CO: At the time when oil painting, photography, graphic design and, of course, also illustration, are converging under the umbrella of visual arts, do you still think there is still the need to discern between all these forms of creative work, and to reconsider the roles and ambits of – and I broadly term so – the designer and the artist?
ZX: It can be both ambiguous and serendipitous, it’s all a matter of perspective.
CO: You have an upcoming exhibition in December this year at The Substation. We hear that there will be a surprise of Brobdingnahian proportions. Care to share some tidbits about the exhibition?
ZX: The exhibited works consist of a 142 meters sculpture, inspired from a previous illustration I did in 2012. This piece of work is very much an experiment in translating what has always been my most comfortable medium, 2-dimensional works, into a 3-dimensional sculpture. The sculpture came about when I was mulling over the idea of creating a work to denote the state of mind I was going through — a cluttered mind, fear, mess. Alongside, some previously unseen drawings, printed matter, hand-made artefacts, digital prints and animation will be exhibited.
Exhibition: Out of Hand, Out of Mind by MessyMsxi
Dates: 11 – 21 December 2015
Opening reception: 10 December 2015, 7.30pm-9.30pm
Venue: The Substation Gallery, 45 Armenian Street, Singapore 179936
Hours: Monday to Sunday, 12-8pm