Artist Interview: Mark Tan (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

Tell us more about how memory and personal experience serve as inspiration for your works.

To me, memory is the essence of identity. While the scientific aspect of memory is crucial, I am more interested in the poetics of memory. How memory conjures emotions, sparks imagination and shapes progressive ideas are some of the many ideas that I explore within my art practice. The idea of how one’s identity is constantly being constructed and deconstructed through the notion of remembering is what I’m interested in. It is sometimes clear and vivid, but at other times also ambiguous and mysterious. Which explains the utilisation of hard-edged geometric forms and abstract mark-makings within my work – the juxtaposition between these two elements creates a healthy tension between the abstract and the explicit.

How has working across other artistic mediums of photography and drawing contributed to your printmaking practice?

Photography acts as a vehicle for me to encompass my perception of the physical world. It also prompts awareness of the importance of composition, through the notion of selecting and editing specific subject matter that interests me – akin to how one selects specific memories to remember, derived from personal experiences.

Drawing on the other hand offers a more spontaneous and immediate response. Abstract mark-makings created from memory serve as an interesting and personal interpretation. It also allows me to explore different materials.

I feel printmaking bridges these two processes perfectly, as it allows me to combine both figurative (photography) and abstract (drawing) images. The outcome is always fascinating, and it constantly helps develop new visual languages within my art practice.

Is there a particular reason as to why you work in monochrome?

Monochrome inherently creates a sense of nostalgia, which I feel relates perfectly well to the element of memory. But in truth, monochrome basically reflects my investigative approach towards my practice. I am more interested in expressing ideas and concepts, rather than creating a purely emotional response (which the role of colour could effectively portray). Though at times, I must admit that the element of emotion does enter my work. However, generally speaking, my utilisation of monochrome is no different from that of a composer using black ink to create his compositions, or a poet writing down his thoughts.

Your work has been exhibited across Singapore, Indonesia, France, and the UK. Would you consider any of them in particular to be notable highlights?

I am truly grateful to have the opportunity to exhibit my works in these different countries. Each exhibition has offered me valuable lessons and experiences, that in turn challenge me and my growth as an artist. Hence I would say that each of them is a highlight in their own right.

How do you think your work challenges the traditional conventions of printmaking?

A multidisciplinary approach is always adopted within my practice. The starting point will be images captured through photography. It is then edited and reworked until a tonal balance to my liking is achieved.

With a set of images prepared, I often migrate and translate them to multiple print mediums – etching, lithography, screenprint and relief. An original print of the image will first be made to ensure the desired outcome is achieved, much like an artist’s proof. Multiple prints derived from that image will then be created through a series of combined processes.

Apart from migrating images to printmaking, I also create a concurrent body of work through drawing and painting. Once again, by referring to captured photographs, sketches in various scales will be created and explored. Sometimes the sketches will stand alone as a completed work while at other times, they will become foundational ideas for my painting.

As such, I’d say that I utilise printmaking holistically in my art practice as I view it as a progressive art form, and not just a lesser medium merely for reproduction purposes