WHAT INFLUENCES GILLIAN TOH, a final year Visual Communications student from the School of Arts, Design and Media, Nanyang Technological University, might not come as a surprise to many. Her artworks depict an influence by women and the portrayal of women through media. Well, not just women in general, but how female bodies are represented, and as she explains, ‘how that fits into the psychology of girlhood’. She explores the notion of the body being an object, a territory and the vulnerability of growing up in a world of media scrutiny. Gillian cites her other influences to be Japanese artists like Yamamoto Takato, Obata Takeshi and Tajima Sho-u.
Gillian’s latest piece is an impressive 3.5 metre illustrated banner. Unlike her conventional illustrative works, Gillian decided to explore a more colourful approach to her banner. Her unexpected change was influenced by Japanese pop sensation, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, whose artistic intent was to “show cuteness in a traumatic way”. She describes this as “an altogether noble aim”. As a way of getting out of her comfort zone, Gillian began exploring digital media beyond her traditional methods of using pen and copic markers which she dubs as “manga influenced”.
Crediting her introverted nature to be inhibiting her self-promotion and networking, Gillian has not been exhibiting much. She hopes that she can gain more artistic value and exposure through creative collaborations.
Gillian feels that the local design market has gotten rather saturated. She believes that in order for the local art and design scene to progress, artists and designers, would have to demonstrate publicly with great exposure to the masses, how great design will create an impact on our lives, boosting the demand for design in its entirety.
Gillian admits that the art scene in Singapore though vibrant, is rather niche and small. Despite many live drawing sessions and initiatives like the Organisation of Illustrators Council’s Portraits in the Dark, Singaporeans still hesitate to purchase artworks, judging their prices as commodities as opposed to the value of artistic quality.
Some might deliberate if she, as a 24 year old undergrad, had ever felt stifled by the environment of an institution. Gillian recollects that there is only so much influence an institution can have on you. Ultimately, artworks produced are determined by the student’s attitude and skill set. While pursuing her Degree in Visual Communications, Gillian had to strike a balance between creativity and functionality in producing her works.
She encourages all aspiring artists and designers enrolled into institutions to prepare for and accept the control that schools will inevitably impose. Even if you were to hate it, she asks that you continue to be yourself and to work your way around the system.
So what’s in store for Gillian in 5 years time? Well, she is currently keeping her options open. Even after 3 years of graphic design practice in school, she confesses that attending design school primarily to do art and that graphic design has not been fulfilling for her. She harbours the idea of being a travelling tattoo artist, producing many intricate designs for people. Though before that, graduation will have to come first!