Portrait / Finding “Oneness” Through Innovation

It has been said that if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. We caught up with Mr Wong Tze Chau, an alumnus from the Visual and Performing Arts Academic Group, to find out what drives his passion and creative process as an art teacher and an artist.

Mr Wong Tze Chau (MEd, Class of 2014) is an art practitioner, art educator and recipient of UOB’s Painting of the Year Award in 2019. His winning masterpiece titled “War and Peace” had been the focal point of his latest solo exhibition, themed “Infinite Oneness”, held in October 2020.

“Infinite What?” some of us might ask, as Tze Chau smiles at the chance to elaborate. “The universe is a manifestation of infinite forms. The concept of Oneness stems from the view that everything is united by a universal force, and that every being comes from atoms which are essentially the same.”

Probing further, we unravel his fascination with abstract ideas and how it had started while studying Aesthetics as a Philosophy undergraduate. “I remember learning Friedrich Schiller’s theory about how art can liberate the soul. That was a turning point in my approach to art, and I started to paint more freely with my subconscious mind. Before this, art was merely a process to create something nice and realistic,” he explained.

Not surprisingly too, it was the modules on Aesthetic Enquiry as well as Visual Arts and Creativity that Tze Chau enjoyed the most during his time at the National Institute of Education. “They taught me different aspects and possibilities when it comes to creating art, and I realised that everyone can be an artist as long as they find their niche and forte. For me, being innovative as an artist is about pushing boundaries and triggering paradigm shifts in my audience,” he reflected.

Yet, the creative process is not always smooth sailing, and Tze Chau admits that it is quite impossible for anyone to be constantly innovative every day. In practicing art, he often works in solitude at long stretches, without recognition or reward. At other times, it could be a struggle trying to find his own voice, as he seeks to make deep impressions.

“Nonetheless, I’m a firm believer that innovation is essential in every field. As an artist, I’ve learned to look at things from different perspectives, to engage in constant trial and error and to never give up. I’m sure that this determination has helped me to become a better teacher as well.

“Teaching is an art, and teachers need to be creative in the way that they tackle pedagogical problems or deal with different students. Learning to enjoy the journey and process is key. I constantly motivate myself by reading the stories of other artists and learning from them, and by finding inner peace through meditation,” he added.

When asked to share some helpful attributes that have seen him through challenging moments as an artist and an educator, Tze Chau replied: “The first is perseverance — you’ve got to believe that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Seek personal improvements through exposure — read widely, acquire good observation skills and learn from every single opportunity. Have the courage to explore and experiment with new concepts and approaches, and don’t be afraid to be yourself, and to make your voice heard — no matter how awful you think you might sound!”

Having achieved professional success, and with the benefit of hindsight, Tze Chau is keen to encourage other young and aspiring individuals with his personal experience. “Back in 2010, I stopped working for a year to focus on painting 40 canvases. When the paintings were completed, I contacted Singapore Art Museum to introduce myself as a new artist and to express my interest in putting up a solo show.

“Needless to say, I was rejected. It wasn’t funny back then, but I’ve learned to laugh at my own naivety. It wasn’t till after numerous attempts at knocking on doors before I finally got my first break through a group exhibition supported by a non-profit contemporary art society in Singapore.”

Tze Chau added: “The important thing is to never say never. I’ve been fortunate to have completed two solo shows since, and to have won that prestigious UOB competition after three attempts. In fact, if it is possible to turn back time, this is what I would like to tell my younger self: ‘Hey Tze Chau, you should have started way earlier!’”