Printmaker pushing limits

STPI senior printer Chong Li Sze says being a printer, instead of an artist, allows her to make the most of her creative flair and artistic skills.
STPI senior printer Chong Li Sze says being a printer, instead of an artist, allows her to make the most of her creative flair and artistic skills.PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

CHONG LI SZE, 37

Senior printer at STPI

Chong Li Sze beams when she speaks about how works of art that bear her touch are seen by top collectors and curators at glamorous art fairs around the world.

"To have the stuff that I help make get into international art fairs and reach an international audience is very rewarding," she says.

It does not bother her that she is not recognised by name for having helped to realise the works of art.

She says: "I actually feel good that nobody knows I am behind the works, helping to make them. I am just happy to be able to support."

The Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa) alumna, who holds a diploma in printmaking, was introduced to the medium in secondary school, when she took art as an O-level subject. Its novelty appealed to her and she chose to specialise in the practice at Nafa.

After graduating, she worked freelance on various art projects for more than a year before she applied for a printer's job at STPI at the urging of her former art teacher Eng Joo Heng, who is now STPI's workshop manager.

She says: "I thought, 'Why not?', but I was totally clueless."

She honed her printmaking skills at STPI and specialises in etching, where the image to be printed is incised on a metal plate using acid.

She realised that being a printer, rather than an artist, allows her to make the most of her creative flair and artistic skills.

Chong, who is single, says: "As a printer here, I get to collaborate with artists of different backgrounds, learn from their experiences and exchange knowledge. If I became an artist working alone, I might end up hating what I do."

The motivation she gets from working with others has spurred her to push the limits of printmaking.

She recalls how renowned Buenos Aires-born Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija, a visiting artist at STPI in 2012, wanted to make metal plates that appeared mirror- smooth, but were actually etched with text.

The challenge was so daunting, she says, that "there was a moment when I didn't want to try any more". But she persisted and they achieved the desired result after a year of experiments and tedious labour.

She says: "When artists say we are the best collaboration they have had, I am on cloud nine. It is an honour."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2016, with the headline 'Printmaker pushing limits'. Print Edition | Subscribe