His parents might have had a career path in mind for him, but that did not stop Quinn Lum from pursuing his passion of being an artist. We speak to the university student on defying societal norms and taking the road less travelled.
“When you graduate, we are going to retire. Now we are feeding you, and in the future you have to do the same for us,” was what his parents told Quinn Lum, a student from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU). Like many traditional Asian households, such a “future” would look something like this: scoring straight As, getting into a good university, and eventually securing a stable job. But Quinn had his own plans.
Not one to comply to societal norms, the 23-year-old turned to art as a form of exploration; translating his desire for artistic freedom into bold colours and abstract silhouettes. And his perseverance paid off – Quinn’s recent works have been showcased in exhibitions including the China International Photo Festival 2015, and he was also awarded the Most Promising Young Artist Award at UOB Painting 2010 and Gold with Honours in the Singapore Youth Festival Arts and Crafts Exhibition 2012.
Sitting down with the NTU School Of Art, Design and Media undergraduate, we find out what it’s like growing up in a result-oriented environment, and how he is using his artworks to create conversations close to our hearts.
How did you first discover your love for the arts?
It started way back in kindergarten. I remember my teacher instructing us to colour a Donald Duck picture. And because I loved Power Rangers, especially the green ranger, I decided to colour the whole thing green. When I brought it home, my mum, was like “How can a Donald Duck be green?”. She ended up sending me to a community arts centre where I learned how to draw and paint, and the rest is history.
Fallen Crown by Quinn Lum
Where do you usually find inspiration for your works?
It varies from my daily experiences, but walking really helps. If I’m really stuck, I would set my phone and laptop aside, and just walk around to observe the things around me. In fact, that was how I got started on my latest work. I was walking along a path when I realised that it was brighter than usual. When I looked up, I realised the tree that once stood outside my former primary school was chopped off. Hence the name, Fallen Crown.
How would you describe your creative process?
Initially I would dig deep, and try to see what are the issues I should be addressing. If you go into the arts scene, people are interested in what they can learn from you, so finding that question really takes time. It might be painful because you’ll delve into portions of your life you don’t want to revisit. But because you face the issue head on, you’ll learn and grow [from it], and you move on.
Report Book by Quinn Lum
Growing up in a result-oriented family, in what way has it impacted your artworks?
I’ve touched on the topic but not in a conscious manner. I remember there was this assemblage I did in Secondary 2 – the teacher was trying to get us to convey what we felt, but somehow I felt trapped. Like as if there was a barrier around me and it was too clinical. It was only a few years back that I got to realise this was what I’ve always wanted to say. It was my voice; and finding that voice wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.
How did your parents react when you decided to pursue the arts?
It was a compromise. I told them that I was going to be an arts teacher. And they were thinking “Okay that’s not bad, there’s a stable paycheck and you can do what you like”. I was teaching at National Junior College after my national service, which really showed me how important the role of education played in with regards to the arts. And the best way to do so, I thought, was to be engaged in the arts scene before going back into teaching. So I decided on a full-time arts degree in NTU, and that brought me to where I am right now.
What are your thoughts on the local arts industry?
I feel that there needs to be a lot more fluidity – be it in terms of freedom or expression. I also think it’s important for different communities to bounce action-and-reaction off one another. With more collaboration, communication and understanding taking place, it can really spark off something different.
Looking back, what’s something you would say to your younger self?
Back then, I was too busy thinking about how to make it big; how I could hone my craft to reach the next level. But that was a very linear thought process. Like, “How am I going to take better pictures?” But in today’s society, everyone can do that – just look at Instagram. More than anything, I would like to ask myself: “Where would you want to bring this conversation to?”, and “What would you want to do for yourself?” rather than just trying to please others.
EXposé by Quinn Lum
What’s a piece of advice you have for aspiring artists?
Having a voice is very important. Talk about what’s next, and what can we do. You’ll definitely face pressure from your teachers and parents, but if you want to be in the arts, start doing it when you are young. Immerse yourself in the environment, meet likeminded friends, and get the conversation going.
All images: Quinn Lum/ This article was adapted from the September 2017 issue of Teenage
You can view Quinn Lum’s collection of artworks and photography series on www.quinnlum.myportfolio.com.
More related stories: How One Student Sailed Around The World On A Year-Long Internship, Local Artist Shares About Pursing His Passion Beyond Singapore, Millennial Lady Boss Spills On What It’s Like Being A Kopi Hawker