On a recent trip to West Palm Beach, Florida, I happened to catch the annual Art Festival and outdoor art show at City Place downtown. One of the first booths my friend and I stumbled into belonged to mixed media artist, Sip Tshun Ng. The booth was swarming with people, all drawn to the eye-catching work. The artist told me that he was Chinese and he’d come to the United States from Indonesia seven years ago. He started out in the US as a chef and switched to art about three years ago. Since then, he’s been showing his work at art fairs and pop-up shops around the country. He’s now based in Florida.
Tshun’s art is really colorful, joyous, and so detailed. He paints faces and then he uses dozens of pencils, and pencil pieces (and some paint brushes, erasers, and other materials), to create texture in the hair and clothing. It generates a multidimensional effect, a sweeping narrative of pencil hair that moves in waves. Each expressive piece invites you to stare at it and then to return to it again and again because you see something new every time. In fact, each piece feels rediscovered or seen for the first time every time you look at it.
The tropical colors of Tshun’s childhood have influenced his art. Tshun also says his work is inspired by time and he uses the Indonesian word “waktu,” which is an expression of time, to describe it. Waktu can mean several things; it can be used to define specific quantities of time, time measurements, moments in time, or the inevitable passing of time.
I looked at Tshun’s work with waktu in mind, and I noticed that if I moved and looked at each piece from a different angle, it changed almost entirely, but the beautiful big eyes remained fixed in time, timeless, even at the center of passing pencil clouds and patterned wafts of wooden hair.
The way we interpret people evolves over time. They look and feel different to us as we get to know them. Each person is an infinite possibility and they can change and remain the same simultaneously, depending on how we’re looking at them and how we’re interacting with them or remembering them. Just like Tshun’s many painted faces.
The facial features in Tshun’s art are often overwhelmed by tsunami-sized waves of 3D pencil hair, pencils radiating from the head, zippers or scarves ripping through their necks, and a swirl of magnetic colors. It’s like the faces are a fixed expression of soul at the core of the piece and the large eyes remain steady, even when rocked by movement or material elements, emotion, or external change.
Walking through the booth last weekend, I thought of how things are not what they seem, how something vivid and smooth can also become jagged when I look closer. I thought of time and how it seems to flow, and how each of Tshun’s pieces is a celebration of that movement in time. His beautiful and eclectic impressions reminded me that looking is an interpretive art form and being is a conscious and joyful act of stillness in a storm of changing angles, color and light.