A giveaway to a Michael Tan painting - apart from the signature of course - is the cat. Michael always puts in a cat not because he likes them (In fact, Michael’s not particularly fond of them at all), but because he feels that cats identify so well with the folkish genre of his paintings. And in a manner as deft and surreptitious as his cats, Michael has pussyfooted his way into the Singapore art scene.
Michael’s works, richly detailed and coloured, are set in the realm of the rustic. The buyers are discerning collectors who, unbothered by the relative obscurity of the artist, pay top dollars for the fastidiously executed paintings. Michael, who is in his 50s, produces on average two paintings a month. He scrutinises his subject with the eye of a microbiologist, then gives a glittering brocade-like quality to the minutiae of kampung life - and an explanation for his lack of prolifically.
Michael recalls that in school, the only subject in which he avoided failure was art. From 1982 - 1987, Michael ran an advertising agency which, due to single marginal performance sensibly folded up. Michael, who describes himself as a patient - and obviously level-headed - guy, then turned full-time artist - Michael's early experimentation with style ran the gamut of abstraction, caricature and surrealism. He eventually found his metier in the depiction of folk, and particularly kampung life.
However, Michael's fondness for stylised human figures; still formal composition; flat colours and abstract; sharply receding perspectives and a certain unsettling mood to his paintings, betray traces of his artistic roots.
Michael's works depict the culture and spirit of the Malay kampong which continues to enthral him with its earthiness simplicity and harmony. The artist counts many Malays among his circle of friends. And while his paintings are hot in Singapore, none of his works is yet available in Malaysia. Not in the least piqued by this, Michael laughs readily and often at the situation whose quirkiness he finds, in some ways parallels his own work and career.
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