Singapore Painter Ruben Pang On How Personal Growth Fuels His Art

By Karen Tee

The artist and musician reflects on how art pushes him to explore the world—and the deepest parts of his psyche

Tatler Asia
Photo: Ruben Pang
Cover  Photo: Ruben Pang

As an artist whose work delves deeply into philosophical concepts such as life, death and reincarnation, it is perhaps natural that Ruben Pang lives his own life to the fullest.

“If I have an opportunity to do something that I haven’t done before, that feels vaguely appealing or compelling, I tend to do it,” says Pang via a Zoom call from Sardinia, Italy.

This quest to seek personal growth is what compelled Pang to relocate to the Mediterranean island in 2020, smack in the middle of the pandemic, at a time when most people would rather not cross borders. He muses: “I think you should choose to do the things that scare you a little bit. That’s how it has always been for me.”

See also: Award-Winning Taiwanese Designer Yen Po-Chun On Finding His Own Path And Seeing The Value Of Setbacks

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Above  'Cloud Leather', exhibited in 2021 at Primo Marella Gallery (left); 'Head Cleaner', shown in 2021 at Yavuz Gallery (right). (Photos: Ruben Pang)

After all, this is a painter who has, over the years, consistently pushed his practice to the limits to critical acclaim, whether it is by painting on aluminium panels instead of canvas or by travelling to different corners of the planet to seek inspiration.

For instance, his 2015 solo show Transfiguration in Israel was the culmination of an artist residency that he did in the country. In 2018, he was commissioned to create a triptych called The Totalitarian Sun for the Italian exhibition La Meccanica delle Meraviglie, where he exhibited alongside influential artists Gabriele Picco and Laura Renna.

“I think of painting as a kind of travel, a heightened state of sensitivity. I like epic themes and I think my work has to do with the body and mind as a sort of unstable vessel,” says Pang of his evocative paintings, which often brim with energy and intensity.

See also: Artist Isabel Santos On The Importance of Introspection

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Above  Pang created an exclusive self-portrait for Tatler's March 2022 issue. Reminiscent of a Promethean mud human gazing back into its creator’s eyes, the creation began with Pang shaping his likeness with white clay, a familiar medium, using his passport photo as a guide for the facial structure and proportions. He spotted dried spiny flowers during a walk and liked the penetrative attitude they would impart as eyes, and his wife, Laura, added twigs, which worked to integrate the head with the background. (Photo: Ruben Pang)
I think of painting as a kind of travel, a heightened state of sensitivity
Ruben Pang

Over the past two years, he admits that he did face moments of worry that Covid‐19 would impact his practice and his livelihood. “In my paranoia, I imagined I would not have any more shows,” he shares. But instead of dwelling on the unknown, he chose to “double down and live inside the painting”, focusing his energies on his art. “I loved it,” says Pang. “I feel alive when I’m painting and I think if you live this way, sometimes, you are able to articulate this vitality in paint.”

His artistic efforts resulted in several solo exhibitions last year, including Amphibian at Yavuz Gallery in Singapore and True Solarization at Primo Marella Gallery in Milan.

While his career is on a stable trajectory, he says that he does have his share of haters—but prefers to take this in his stride. “I look forward to it every now and then,” says Pang, as he scrolls through his email to locate a recent piece of “hate mail”. “It is kind of a sign that your work is getting out there if it pisses some people off.”

To paraphrase the idiom about sticks and stones, words will not hurt Pang, who derives his raison d’être through his practice. “I found a world through painting,” he says. “It transports me and when I paint, I experience tunnel vision, flow and immersion.”

This interview was first featured in the March 2022 issue of Tatler Singapore. See more honourees from The Arts category of the Gen.T List.

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