Tai Oi Yee

When did you first become interested in art?

I have always been interested in beautiful and colourful things in life – art by nature or by man.

What style of art do you use most?

There are two sides of me…

My sumi paintings are essentially monochromatic. I find boundless freedom in expressing myself through different shades of black, white and grey. I love to use minimal strokes capturing the essence while leaving enough white space for the viewer’s imagination. This stems from Zhuangzi’s Taoist line of thinking – sometimes not doing anything is action in itself. I would say my art style is that of “follow the heart” and “go with the natural flow”, which also reflects the way I live.

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Has your style changed from when you first began as an artist?

Then…there is the other side of me…

Lately I have been experimenting with acrylic, oil and watercolour. It has opened a whole new colourful world to me. I feel like a 4 year old child rolling on the floor coating myself with all the different colours I love. Unlike my monochromatic chinese ink paintings, I fill the canvas with so much colour that it might be suffocating for some but I am having so much fun I just want to share it with the world. This journey into the wonderful world of colours started after my spinal cord injury. Being cooped up at home, recovering from the injury, I found painting a healing process. Not only does it kill time, it also makes me feel productive instead of wasting away. While Chinese inkwash painting brings a sense of calm, painting with acrylic, oil and watercolour offers me a way to wander into a whimsical world filled with joy, hope and boundless movement.

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What medium do you use?

I used to work with Chinese ink only but now I love to alternate it with acrylic, oil and watercolour, depending on my mood. Once in a while, I would dabble with digital painting as well.

What made you choose that medium?

Chinese ink is a must for sumi paintings. I use Chinese ink on xuan paper (also called rice paper though it is not made of rice). The difference between xuan paper and watercolour paper is that it is very thin, and absorbs water right away. With this unforgiving type of paper, the brush strokes have to be very fast, and mistakes cannot be masked. I have wasted a lot of xuan paper along the way but it’s fun and challenging.

I also wanted to introduce colour to brighten up my life and try painting on different types of paper and canvas. So I started to use acrylic, oil and watercolour, and I have enjoyed working with them for different reasons. I love painting vibrant colours with acrylic, but I find blending is easier with oil paint. Watercolour has a life of its own and is more versatile. When I feel lazy, I would make a digital painting since there is nothing to clean up and I can incorporate any colour in the spectrum.

Do your ideas come from life or imagination?

My ideas originate from life and then I trail off into my own imaginary world. In my art, I can do things that I cannot do in real life. I can be my betta fish in my paintings, leaping and having fun; I can be the bird in my sumi art, soaring high…

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How do you choose your images and colours?

I just follow my heart and do what I feel like at the time.

Do you work in a studio?

No, I don’t have a studio. I paint in my kitchen usually. Sometimes I sketch in bed or I find myself painting over my bathroom sink, holding a small canvas in one hand, and painting with the other.

Who is your favourite artist?

Xu Gu (1823-1896). He was a Chinese army general who retired into the mountains to be a monk and painter in the Qing dynasty. I love his whimsical style which is ahead of his time.

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What is your favourite piece of work by yourself?

My favourite would be my betta fish series, mainly because painting them brought me a lot of joy.

How much time (on average) does it take to complete a work?

For my sumi paintings, the brush strokes have to be accurate and fast or else the ink would become a messy blob on the thin xuan paper. So it might just take 15 minutes and the artwork is completed. But then that does not include the time and xuan paper wasted along the way when one stroke is made that I don’t like and I have to discard the work.

For my acrylic and watercolour paintings, the brush strokes are more elaborate, and I usually finish them in a day or two.

As for oil, it depends on the size and number of colours I use. It takes the longest because of the drying time.

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How well do you take criticism?

I welcome criticism since that’s one way to improve my art. I think comments from my friends and loved ones are all biased in a way since they all would be naturally supportive. Critique from a third source would be the most helpful.

What do you do to overcome a ‘block’?

Follow the natural flow, and don’t force it.

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How do you know something is ‘finished’? Is it easy to walk away?

I know something is finished when I have this very good feeling.

Have you had exhibits in galleries?

Not in galleries, but I have exhibited at the University of Hong Kong.

Have you any exhibits in galleries planned for the future?

Yes, my works will be exhibited at the Anshan Museum, in the city of Anshan, province of Liaoning in China from September 19 to October 3, 2011

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What are you currently working on?

My betta fish series.

What are your plans for the future?

Follow my heart and go with the flow.

What was the best advice given to you as an artist?

I was so touched and encouraged by this comment and advice from a fellow artist whose paintings I truly admire:

” I’ve always felt that your drawings are self-portraits. It is easy, even tempting, to get lost in the smiles of your works, in all their whimsy and joy; yet, in truth, I’ve always felt that the stories you tell so beautifully with your brushes are far deeper than the surface suggests, and that there is in them a real and very human struggle. Your betta fish, their bubbles, the impossible way your brushes trail off into a place of pure imagining — all of these have their poignant and, I think, very private aspects, too. I want to say that if you ever choose to make some of these things more evident in your drawings, I think you will easily be counted among the most accomplished of artists.”

What advice would you give new artists?

I would consider myself a new and evolving artist too, so I don’t think I can offer much except to advise new artists to ”dare to try”.

Have you done any courses to help you?

I have taken Chinese brush art lessons from Master Lai Yuk Hay, who himself was trained by the great masters of Chinese painting, Lin Feng Mian and Pan Tian Shou.

What do you do to market your work?

I do mostly online marketing.

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Do you use social networking in your day to day life?

Not really, except on
And Fineartamerica

Are you available for work (commissions)?

I don’t think I will excel in working on commissions since I paint whatever and whenever I feel like.

Have you got hobbies?

I used to spend a lot of time golfing, fishing and travelling before my injury. Thankfully I am well on my way to recovery and hopefully I can resume these activities soon.

Where are you based?

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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