UOB Painting of the Year gold award winner Aaron Gan holds solo show

TV 2015, watercolour on paper (above), is one of the watercolour works from the Calligraphy Series featured in the solo exhibition of Aaron Gan.
TV 2015, watercolour on paper (above), is one of the watercolour works from the Calligraphy Series featured in the solo exhibition of Aaron Gan.PHOTO: UTTERLY ART
TV 2015, watercolour on paper, is one of the watercolour works from the Calligraphy Series featured in the solo exhibition of Aaron Gan (above).
TV 2015, watercolour on paper, is one of the watercolour works from the Calligraphy Series featured in the solo exhibition of Aaron Gan (above).PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN

Aaron Gan's two bodies of work in his solo show are a contrast in style

Fresh from his success at the 34th UOB Painting of the Year Competition, where he won a Gold Award, artist Aaron Gan starts the new year with two series of water colours.

These are part of his solo show, titled Dichotomy Of An Artist, which opens on Thursday at Utterly Art gallery in Mosque Street.

More than 20 new works from Starry Night and Calligraphy Series offer a look at the 36-year-old artist's fresh, quirky and experimental style.

This solo outing is much lighter and fun compared to last year's show, which had a more austere and spiritual tone. The current show, Gan adds, is about "finding light during our darkest nights".

  • VIEW IT /DICHOTOMY OF AN ARTIST: AARON GAN

  • WHERE: Utterly Art Exhibition Space, Level 3, 20-BMosque Street

    WHEN: Thursday to Jan 25, 2 to 8 pm (Monday to Saturday).Noonto 5.30pm (Sunday). Call 9487-2006 for viewings at other times

    ADMISSION: Free

    INFO: Call 9487-2006 or go to www.utterlyart.com.sg

In Starry Night, much-loved cartoon characters such as Snoopy and Calvin And Hobbes peek out of largely grey artworks.

The mild-mannered artist talks about how he sought comfort in comics whenever he felt down as a child. Like most other children, he started doodling when he was in primary school.

He says as he grew older, he was drawn to cartoon characters such as Calvin And Hobbes, Doraemon and Peanuts, largely because of their reflective humour and deep philosophical takes on life. Including them in his artworks is, he says, a way of "paying homage" to the comics that have been a part of his life.

The characters he picks have allowed him to look on the bright side, even during dark moments. These include facing rejection after rejection when he gave up his job to become an artist.

He had been experimenting with calligraphy before he became a full-time artist. Works in the calligraphy series feature words that are stretched, sheared and which sometimes meander off into spidery trails on paper.

"It is a series I escaped to over the years whenever I wanted to meditate and go through the teachings of philosophy books I had read," he says. "The words in the paintings are often illegible and a reminder to myself not to hang on to the words of the teaching, but to look at the deeper meaning."

When asked about his rather unusual calligraphic strokes, which may not appeal to purists, he says: "I was interested in stretching the boundaries of a traditional form of expression while exploring ways of making it contemporary."

Since his first solo outing in 2013, the themes he has picked and his growing experimentation and control of brushstrokes show how he is progressively exploring the possibilities of his chosen media.

He gave up his migration consultancy business, which made him $5,000 to $6,000 a month, about five years ago to become a full-time watercolourist.

Apart from winning the Gold Award in the UOB competition's Established Artist category for Singapore, he was also Utterly Art's best-selling artist at the last edition of the Affordable Art Fair in November.

His work is also in several private and public collections, including that of Swiss private Bank Julius Baer.

The Victoria School and Tampines Junior College alumnus learnt from watercolourist Cheng Yoke Kion, 73, whom he met through "sheer luck" when he was visiting a gallery in 2011.

It was the luminosity and fluidity of the medium which drew him to watercolours instead of oils.

He decided to live out his childhood dream of being an artist after the birth of his daughter, Charmaine, who is now five. He says he started thinking about what he always wanted to do and did not "want to spend the rest of my life in regret".

His wife, Wendy, 35, an executive in a data solutions firm, has backed his artistic dream from the start. The couple also have a 15-month-old boy.

At a time when artists exhibit their work with different galleries, he has stuck with the one that gave him his first break.

Without support from Utterly Art, he says, he would not have been able to achieve what he has or even received some of the corporate commissions he is working on.

He went to Utterly Art with his portfolio in 2012 after several rejections and gallerist Pwee Keng Hock says what struck him about Gan's work was the "spontaneity".

"While watercolours here remain rather ossified in countless depictions of Chinatown and the Singapore River, Aaron breathes fresh air into them through his expressive and rapidly executed works. His deft strokes arise from a confidence borne out of his technical facility," he says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2016, with the headline 'Finding light on dark nights'. Print Edition | Subscribe