Bet you didn’t know the Singapore Tyler Print Institute houses one-of-a-kind print equipment and collaborates with famous artists the world over.
TEXT BY THERESA TAN
Published on 21 July 2015
TEXT BY THERESA TAN
41 Robertson Quay is home to arguably the best print institute on this planet, the Singapore Tyler Print Institute (STPI).
“This is the best place in the world for a printer to be,” states Eitaro Ogawa unequivocally. The 41 year-old has been the Institute’s master printer for the past 12 years. STPI specialises in major printmaking techniques: lithography, intaglio, relief and silkscreen.
Founded by world-famous master printer, publisher and arts educator Kenneth E Tyler and supported by the Singapore government, STPI was set up as a non-profit organisation in Singapore in 2002. Tyler is a world leader in fine-art limited-edition printmaking, and has worked with influential artists like David Hockney and Roy Lichtenstein. Upon his retirement from printing in 2000, the master printer set up STPI here. Today, the Singapore Art Museum houses one of Tyler’s major collections.
Perhaps more significantly, STPI is now home to all the original printing presses and equipment from Tyler’s workshops in America. The Institute’s 4,000-sq-m facility in a conservation warehouse includes a state-of-the-art printmaking workshop, paper mill, a contemporary art gallery, artist’s studio and fully-furnished artist’s apartments.
STPI has, in 13 years, become an internationally-recognised space for conceptualising and creating contemporary art in print and paper. Its Visiting Artists Programme consists of an artist residency that culminates in an exhibition. The team of printers and papermakers work with famous artists to conceptualise and create. Ogawa himself has worked with over 80 artists since STPI opened, including Cultural Medallion recipient Chua Ek Kay.
In celebration of SG50, STPI launched a new exhibition in June, As We Never Imagined: 50 Years of Art Making. The exhibition looks back on 50 years of printmaking and papermaking, showing over 70 collaborative works — sterling samples by Lichtenstein, Hockney and Frank Stella are seen alongside creations by contemporary artists birthed in the workshops of STPI.
The process of printmaking is unlike traditional art. “The artists mostly have no experience of printmaking and papermaking,” Ogawa explains. “They ask a lot of questions — how their ideas and concepts can be achieved. I’m just trying to create a starting point, and I ‘travel’ together with the artist to realise his idea.”
Each print, therefore, is highly unique as it is the embodiment of the artist’s concept on a platform that may be foreign to them. The initial one-to-two week process involves explanation, tests, research as artist and printer attempt making something that may or may not work, and continue till it is achieved. The result: barrier-breaking creations by artists including Singapore’s Han Sai Por and Tan Swie Hian, both Cultural Medallion recipients, as well as Suzann Victor. Han and Victor have also recently completed residency programmes at STPI.
Gordon Koh, STPI’s senior papermaker, has been with the Institute since its inception, working with artists and managing the papermaking team. For Koh, seeing the finished artwork up in the gallery is very gratifying. “The challenges raised by each artist, both in terms of concepts and technical skills, are also inspiring. These challenges make my role very fulfilling since I constantly need to research and work on new designs for each project we initiate.”
Ogawa names China artist Zhan Wang’s ‘My Universe’ (2012) as the most memorable work to date for him, “because this was a project for which every step needed hundreds of steps to complete”. For this reimagining of the Big Bang theory, Zhan used a sledgehammer to smash rocks, and up to 20,000 stone fragments — including tiny specks — were measured and reproduced in original likeness as synthetic rocks coated in metallic chrome. What was left of the rocks was pounded by hand into fine sediment and mixed with cotton pulp to produce a solid paper base. Zhan, with Ogawa, took two years to complete this work.
Ogawa is particularly proud of the fact that STPI has an educational aspect. “We select interns from local art schools, they get to have a dialogue with the artists, and see with their own eyes — real art-making is happening in front of them.” Visiting artists are invited to connect with the public through talks and STPI also hosts visits and workshops with visitors from primary and secondary schools, tertiary institutions and community groups. Ogawa says that this could only happen in Singapore because of its size.
“In Japan, if you are in primary school, there would be no chance for such exposure because there are so many prefectures,” he notes. “Here, every primary school is just minutes away!”
STPI’s greatest gift to Singapore is probably the benefits it offers to artists, both local and visiting, who are influenced by one another. As Sarah Suzuki, the curator for Prints and Illustrated Books at the Museum of Modern Art New York puts it, STPI provides “artists with technical expertise, a full-range of printmaking mediums, and a supportive and fostering environment, [so] they are able to push the creative boundaries of the medium forward.”
The treasure trove of art innovation that STPI is may currently be lost on most Singaporeans, Ogawa admits, but he hopes more will discover the remarkable, one-of-a-kind artworks that can only be created here.
The exhibition As We Never Imagined: 50 Years of Art Making is on till 30 Aug 2015. For more information, visit www.stpi.com.sg.