Profile: Mike Tay

Published on 10 May 2016

Media professional- turned-gallery owner Mike Tay looks for art in the everyday.

BY DAPHNE ONG

As a young boy, Mike Tay noticed a rangoli at the doorstep of his Indian neighbour. The beautiful arrangement of coloured powder was to ignite a lifelong appreciation of design and visual beauty.

“I love things that are attractive to my eyes, whether you label them design or art or nature,” says Tay. Although he has no formal training in design or art, this has not stopped Tay from churning out designs for wallpaper and fabric for his brand Onlewo. He also co-owns Flaneur Gallery, a space dedicated to contemporary art.

Tay’s creations for Onlewo are inspired by fond memories and sights around him. His designs also feature Peranakan tiles and windows — a hat tip to his Nyonya grandmother — and visuals reminiscent of the Tiong Bahru of his childhood years. You can take home a piece of Singapore from Onlewo’s range of unique furniture, wallpaper and other fabric-based home décor.

Today, Tay’s passions Onlewo and Flaneur Gallery sit side by side in a shophouse along Jalan Besar, right in the thick of the arts district with arts schools and museums all within spitting distance. “Both art and design should cross,” says Tay. “That way, they are much more interesting.”

Flaneur Gallery was started in December 2014 after Tay left his 13-year career in the media. ‘Flâneur’ refers to someone who strolls or saunters. This “unhurried way of seeing the world and appreciating the present moment” reflects Tay’s appreciation for art inspired by the artist’s connection with his or her environment.

“I have always been more focused on the social environment, reflecting upon and questioning what’s going on. Art should be a communication between artist and public. When a family looks to buy a piece of art and put it in their home because it stands for certain values, then art would have fulfilled its role. Anything can decorate a home, but I’d rather educate and inform with art.”

Tay also seeks to help young talents with strong artistic statements show their works and gain visibility among art collectors. Tay, together with gallery co-founder Vincent Chow, are always on the lookout for up-and-coming artists. To date, Flaneur Gallery has sold artists’ works to various collectors, including the Singapore Art Museum and British Airways.

Tay admits to his fair share of challenges. “Art collectors are very selective; they tend to buy from more established artists and view their purchases as investments. Moreover, an influx of international fairs and new galleries make it more difficult to run back-to-back curated shows.”

He remains optimistic, though. “Ultimately, the works we display must go along with what the gallery upholds — works that speak strongly about what the young local artists stand for.”

For more on Flaneur Gallery and Onlewo, visit www.flaneur.sg and www.onlewo.com.

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