Yow Chee Hoe, a student from Malaysia, graduated from the Taipei National University of the Arts and now works in the Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts while he continues to work on his own artwork. His time studying and creating in Taiwan has been a critical part of his artistic development.
After completing his Diploma in Fine Art in three years at the Malaysian Institute of Art, Yow decided to go abroad to pursue a Bachelors in Fine Art. Factors including cost of tuition, cost of living, and quality of instruction led him to choose Taiwan. As a student in Malaysia, Yow had trouble obtaining art materials locally, and thus majored in oil painting. After coming to Taiwan, he intended to study sculpture, but time spent working in clay and plaster led him to change his mind and gravitate towards printmaking. The complexity of the printmaking process appealed to him, requiring highly precise alignment for the multiple layers that make up a complex print. It helped him develop deep attention and patience, coupled with the exhilaration of lifting the board to reveal the final print.
While studying in Taiwan, he applied to spend a semester at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague in the Czech Republic. This semester in Europe had a profound impact on his artistic development, soaking up the minimalist and naturalist themes of the Czech art environment. His classmates focused on original intent in their paintings, and sought to create art naturally, as opposed to the methods he’d learned in Taiwan that focused more on the context of the work, hoping to allow the viewer to better understand the artist’s intention. He brought these ideas of simplicity with him back to Taiwan where he recontextualized these concepts, focusing more on performance, content and detail.
After graduation, Yow considered his options for future career development, and opted to remain in Taiwan to work. He noted that, relative to other Asian countries, fine arts have developed vigorously in Taiwan, creating many opportunities. He currently works at the Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts and the Taipei National University of the Arts, helping other artists manage their business and administrative needs, including staging exhibitions. He conceives the overall concept of the exhibition, including means and timing of presentation, and facilitating communication between all stakeholders and participants. Working on his own art while also helping other artists has been a valuable experience for Yow, and his own status as an artist helps him better understand the needs of his clients and the others involved in the exhibition process. His own works feature bold, lively and highly saturated colors, with his use of shading evolving over time, creating a dreamlike visual feast. When he needs inspiration, he says he’ll wander Taiwan’s hypermarkets and hardware stores, soaking in the color and visual stimulation.
Yow’s early work was mostly based on his personal experience, and focused on issues such as nostalgia and identity, and these works made up his graduation portfolio. When he came to study in Taiwan, he was on his own and was often homesick, so his work from this time dwelt on themes including “home” and “distance”. These works incorporated objects and tools he associated with his mother’s work, including tape measures, scissors and sewing machines. The “identity” series was inspired from objects in his home, and involved a process of discovering the contextual identity of these objects in both Chinese and Nyonya culture, seeking to explore the hidden stories behind these objects and the meaning they had to his family. Objects in the works include utensils, bowls and Nyonya totem, each heavily laden with cultural and emotional meaning.
Transitioning away from these emotionally laden themes, Yow’s work over the past three years have focused on themes related to traditional Malaysian cuisine and children at play. Using his love of Malaysian food as an entry point, he explores the interplay of ethnicity and cuisine. His “Fun” series explores toys and games from childhood in a dynamic style that brings the two-dimensional depictions to life. The objects and life depicted in the two series are familiar to Taiwanese viewers, and intriguingly reflect the cultural ties between the two places.
Now in his 14th year in Taiwan, Yow is continually impressed by the human touch he encounters here. When he first applied to come as an exchange student, his family’s economic situation and his status as an overseas student limited his access to scholarships for his specific program of study, but the support and assistance from his professors and overseas Chinese associations not only helped him succeed in school, but also reflected the hospitality and kindness of Taiwan. We closed the interview with a question about what he would say to other international students thinking of coming to study or work in Taiwan. He thought for a few moments and then confidently replied, “You should come. Taiwan is a great place to grow.”