No Paint, No Gain

Published on 26 April 2017

Meet Yip Yew Chong, the artistic accountant behind Singapore’s most Instagrammable walls.

BY PAMELA HO

Photo: Yip Yew Chong

“I was born in Sago Lane in Chinatown, home to funeral parlours and death houses in the old days. That was my life. When I paint, it’s my memories and experiences that are expressed through art,” reveals Singaporean mural artist, Yip Yew Chong. “My late dad used to draw with chalk on the street in Chinatown. People would crowd around him and appreciate his drawings on the ground.”

In spite of the attention Yip himself is getting for his heritage murals that grace spaces like Everton Road, Tiong Bahru, Sultan Gate and Amoy Street, this down-to-earth father of two says he has no plans to quit his full-time job. “I’m an accountant. I spend 71.42 per cent of my week on finance work. I’ve stayed in this industry for 22 years because I enjoy it.”

In those two decades, he took two breaks: in 2005, he enrolled in a film-making course at Objectifs Centre for Photography and Film; and in 2015, he started mural painting. “I was walking along Victoria Street when I chanced upon the work of Penang-based mural artist, Ernest Zacharevic. Even though I had no experience or training, I said to myself, I can do it too!”

His first break happened in August 2015, when he discovered a house for rent at Everton Road on his daily walks and approached the owner with a proposal to paint him a mural, for free. “I eventually convinced him by saying, ‘If you don’t like it, I will whitewash the wall after,’ ” he recounts.

The owner turned out to be the great-grandson of Chua Kim Keat (whom Kim Keat Road is named after). His consent came tagged with a request to have a Peranakan-themed mural, as his family is Straits Chinese. Since then, Yip has completed over 20 murals across the island, with one in Hong Kong. He no longer does it for free.

What he chooses to paint is site-specific. “I observe the wall and its environment, feel its mood, and research its history. I paint based on my memories and archived photos,” he shares, adding that his murals are painted with acrylic and drawn to human scale. “When passersby interact with them and learn about — and appreciate — our heritage, it makes it all worthwhile.”

While he cites time and bureaucracy as challenges he faces, Yip is undeterred. Rain or shine, you’ll find him working on his murals somewhere in Singapore over the weekends. His hope is to publish a book documenting his murals before they fade away, as well as to one day be granted permission to paint in his childhood neighbourhood of Chinatown,

Catch Yip’s latest exhibition “Moving Memories” at National Museum. Details HERE OR visit www.yipyc.com

Photo: Yip Yew Chong
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