Profile: John Clang

Published on 27 October 2015

Visual artist John Clang has his feet in the Big Apple, his heart in Singapore and his eye behind the camera.

BY DAPHNE ONG

Photographer and visual artist John Clang may hang up his hat in New York City, but his heart remains in his home country of Singapore. The in-demand artist not only boasts a high-profile commercial portfolio that includes international brands like Hermés, Adidas and IBM, his artistic work has also been exhibited around the world.

The accomplished fortysomething has certainly made an indelible mark on the Singapore art scene. In 2009, the Singapore Art Museum acquired some of his works as part of its permanent collection. The year after, he was named Designer of the Year at the President’s Design Awards, the most prestigious design accolade in Singapore. Incidentally, Clang was the first photographer to receive the honour.

The celebrated artist we see today started out as a misunderstood adolescent. At 15 years old, he bought his first camera and it soon became his first expressive vehicle. “Photography allowed me to feel that everything would be okay,” Clang reminisces.

His chosen moniker is a reflection of others’ preconceived notions of him. Born Ang Choon Leng, the one-time budding artist found it difficult to secure meetings and present his work when he went by the name John Ang. Taking the cue from his army name tag, which read C L Ang and earned him the nickname Clang, he started introducing himself as John Clang. People assumed he was from overseas and were more willing to meet him.

What stands out most about Clang’s work is the staunch infusion of his heart and life into his images. His favourite subjects are his family, friends and surroundings. “These three inform my mental state,” he explains. “Many works require time and my self-awareness to manifest into something I’m emotionally attached to and believe in.”

Creating work so close to one’s heart can have consequences, as Clang discovered. “Once, when I was conducting a tour of my art work with a group of museum curators, I started crying uncontrollably while looking at my own work. It was very embarrassing.”

Distance from family is another dominant theme with Clang. Based in New York City with his wife Elin, he harbours a deep longing for his family who remain in Singapore. ‘Being Together’, one of his most acclaimed collections, revolves around the idea of families divided by distance. The result? One-of-a-kind family portraits created with the use of Skype and projectors.

“We moved to New York at a time when we needed to feel ‘hungry’ again and challenge ourselves, but I’m very Singaporean at heart,” reveals Clang. “Nothing much has changed except that I am able to look at Singapore from the outside perspective at times.

You can view John Clang’s work at the Singapore Art Museum and FOST Gallery. His solo show at FOST Gallery is scheduled for mid-2016.

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