Alvin Ong is a graduate of the Royal College of Art, living and working in London and Singapore. His paintings playfully combine diverse visual vocabularies, culminating in surreal bodily configurations suspended between moments of pleasure and pain.
Ong has exhibited internationally, in cities including Jakarta, Hong Kong, Palermo, London and Signapore. He has been the recipient of numerous awards and residencies including the 2018 Chadwell Award, which is what brought him to Bow Arts.
We caught up with Alvin a year after he first took a studio with us, to see how his practice has developed and what it’s like making work during a worldwide pandemic.
Can you tell us a bit about your practice and how you work as a painter?
Most days in the studio are shit. But then you get these seasonal monsoons, arriving unannounced as compressed moments of feverish energy, which I try to seize. Momentum is really important for me. For this reason, I often find myself working in bouts of intensive spurts and my paintings are often made in quick succession.
You first got your studio with Bow Arts in early 2019, how do you feel you’ve progressed since then?
This space at Bow Arts was my first real studio ever, after leaving art school. It was here that I first experienced the real privilege of being offered a space – one that was both physical and emotional – to find my voice in my own terms, and in my own time. I also had a lot of fun hanging out with my peers outside the studio. We gossip, exchange ideas and go to openings together. These experiences keep the studio air from going stale.
Your new series ‘Long Distance’, recently exhibited in the Yavuz Gallery, Sydney, includes some pieces that were painted whilst on lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic. How did it feel to paint these challenging moments of isolation?
The oddest part of living in these purgatorial times is the strange mix of emergency and normalcy. It’s surreal receiving updates from a world in chaos, even as we struggle to continue living our lives as normally as we can in our domestic little bubbles. Planes are shifting, boundaries are changing. The world will emerge from all of this radically changed, and so must we.
Some common themes in your paintings are ideas of rootlessness and displacement. Do you think this could be attributed to your split between London and Singapore?
I do think that this comes from my experience of otherness living between Singapore and London these last 6 years. And each return has made me view each “home” in a different light.
Maybe that is why my figures live in perpetual jet lag. The skies they inhabit belong to neither night nor day. They manifest their desires and longings in familiar objects that momentarily ground them somewhat – bubble tea, durian, smartphones and laptops – but they remain satisfied and dissatisfied.
Perhaps these objects also have something to do with connectivity, since both the food and our screens, ever more so, have become the objects through which we are reminded of our interconnectedness, at this moment in time.
Where do you think your work will take you next and what message would you like to share with people?
I don’t really know for certain, and the beauty lies in not knowing. As a maker of things, I’m just really happy to continue experimenting and discovering myself and others anew. Through this process, I hope to emerge as a purer, and more generous human being.