FROM STRIKINGLY DETAILED renditions of dragons to fictive alien creatures lurking in the depths of space, from Tolkienian fantasy forests to panoramic cityscapes, from intricately textured paintings of animals to water-colour portraits of the famous and beautiful, from the cartoonish to the macabre, Lai Yao Khuan, the Creative Director of SYK Design, astounds and dazzles art connoisseurs and the average Facebook user alike.
His work is not only an exercise in artistic precision and skill but also of an imagination rich and multi-faceted. He captures images from the realms of both fantasy and reality and expresses each of them in pieces both beautiful and provocative.
The mediums he utilises are varied, each method adding its own dimensions and nuances to each piece within his impressive body of work. Among the most popular are his celebrity portraits in watercolour such as the ones of Nina Dobrev and Lana Del Rey. Both feature interplay between light and skin, invoking the spotlight and stardom one associates with such personalities. In contrast, his pencil portrait of Liv Tyler communicates a depth of beauty, one that is both sensuous and timeless. This blending of medium into subject matter produces work that is both resonant and evocative.
Long gone are the days when inspiration rings only from our immediate realities. Yao Khuan’s art reflects a current strand of the postmodern zeitgeist of the creative industries, where the rise of fans and fandoms of and within Western popular culture intersect regularly with the energies and imaginations of artists, producing intertextual works that enrich and inform as much as they excite and entertain.
I LOVE PLAYING MMORP GAMES AS WELL AS WATCHING MOVIES. THEY ARE MY GREATEST SOURCES OF INSPIRATION. I HAVE ALWAYS BELIEVED THAT INSPIRATION CAN COME FROM ANYWHERE AROUND US. YOU JUST HAVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU’RE LOOKING FOR.
“Experimenting with different mediums is a way for me to get to know myself better as an artist,” he explains. “My preferred medium remains acrylic and watercolour paint but I’m always open to trying out new things. I believe we always have something to take away, always have room for improvement.”
This desire for constant exploration and improvement has manifested in the setting up of SYK Design in partnership with friend and creative entrepreneur Shane Ang. In envisioning a local creative industry focusing on content generation, both Yao Khuan and Shane hope to develop and further nurture talent among local artists and designers with the ultimate aim of elevating the local scene into an industry capable of distinguishing itself from other creative content generators such as those in the United States, Europe, and Japan. Shane and Yao Khuan both believe that Singaporeans do have the talent and drive. But outside of courses offered by local universities and private colleges, there is a dearth of opportunities and spaces for local artists to further hone their skills. SYK Design is an effort to address this lack.
But beyond than just art workshops and lessons in watercolours, SYK Design will differ from other similar initiatives through its focus on individual creative direction.
“Everyone has their own unique inner direction. Our job will be to unlock and develop this which will then set you on your path towards that ideal destination,” the two friends explain. “The emphasis will be on the needs of the artist over any general course objectives.”
In James Joyce’s A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, the narrator passionately declares his intention to “discover the mode of life or of art whereby [his] spirit could express itself in unfettered freedom”. It is this writer’s belief that Yao Khuan’s work is a manifestation of this sentiment and, together with Shane through SYK Design, it is no surprise that this has translated into an ardent desire to help others achieve this same end