Adeline Tan aka Mightyellow is an illustrator and visual artist based in Singapore. Taking inspiration from personal experiences, the environment and popular culture, Adeline imagines alternate realities to current situations. After pursuing a career in advertising, branding and technology she became a full-time illustrator, building up a clientele that includes Facebook, Sonos and Uniqlo. Adeline is currently represented by Mulan Gallery in Singapore.
1. Tell us how you got your big break?
I was a graphic designer. but I still wanted to draw so I’d go home after work and do my own illustrations. Around ten years ago, I started to get requests from friends of friends working in publishing and my first few jobs were for magazines. Occasionally advertising agencies came across my website and asked me. Over time there has been less agency jobs so now I get work directly from clients and their brands.
2. How would you describe your style in three words?
Funny, some pieces have a bit of humour in them. Colourful, because people tell me they are a bit twisted even though I don’t mean them to be like that. There is also something scary about them but I don’t think they are personally.
3. How did you come up with the name Mighty Yellow and why has that stuck?
Yellow was a character I came up with as a junior designer, fresh out of school. I was just executing and not creating and that wasn’t what I was taught in school so I felt a bit cheated. A lot of the exciting projects were self initiated. As a designer you want to do the work as well as possible and the studio wants you to come up with ideas but a lot of time they get rejected. After a while there was a build up of frustration and boredom so I came up with my own character called Yellow, he represented that feeling of helplessness. I think that because I looked young and I’m small, I wasn’t taken seriously so that was projected into him, the little man who is a grown adult. Yellow is small and ugly and everyone thinks he’s a muppet and no one cares about his real concerns so he does his own thing. He feels miserable most of the time and gets bullied. I wanted him to succeed because he was me but also represent the misery I felt then. As I tried to work out how to overcome his shortcomings (he is small and ugly), I realised that they were actually his strengths. He could see things from a different perspective so it forced me to come up with new ideas all the time. Then I found I wasn’t so bored because I had a problem to solve. Yellow is a helpless character so I thought it would be great to call him Mighty Yellow and give him that super power. Sometimes I would sneak him into illustrations. That was a bit of a turning point for me and it got rid of the boredom of mundane work and I started to put him into my commercial projects. I still do, mostly with permission. That willingness to look at things from an entirely new perspective or start over gave me avenues to overcome getting stuck on projects.
4. What do you want people to understand about your art?
I don’t have a social message. I’d just like people to enjoy it, or not.
5. Are there any colours or symbols that have particular significance in your work?
Apart from Mighty Yellow, there are always preferred colour routes. I used to be into lighter and brighter colours but then you are defined by that. I did go through a few phases where I really liked a certain palette tried to move away from it because I don’t think colours should limit you.
6. Fantasy and nature seem to be a recurring themes in your work. Why?
It has do with the new phase of my life as a mum. Not long after he was born we moved to a new house near a park. When I worked in an office in the city, I never left my desk but after I had my son, I had to walk past the park to get groceries at weird times of the day and the park was empty so the wildlife would come out, like woodpeckers and blue and brown heron – birds that I’d never seen before.
I noticed that the animals complimented the plants and looked alike. Then I started seeking them out after I got over my fear of them. Plants are living things so there are times when they are dried out and sometimes after the rain they are reflective and everything becomes multi-coloured. Children are very receptive to these things and so I started making up stories. My son loved them and I came up with more and more.
I was in contact with a friend who was into speculative zoology about whether there was an environment on another planet. I also started getting interested in the German artist and biologist Ernst Haeckel. There is a lot of symmetry in his work which amazed me. To entertain my son, I started thinking about what plants would look like in the future as they will outlive us and we don’t know what is coming.
Being a mum has freed up a lot of time and now I must be productive in that time. Have just watched this documentary on tattoos which inspired me to look closely to see something that other people don’t.
7. What are your preferred mediums? Why?
Paint. Liquid paint not spray. I like to use anything that is fluid – acrylic or watercolour.
8. Your work is so varied – fashion, paintings, furniture, sculpture etc. Why do you think your art appeals to people?
I don’t know, maybe they just like colourful things. Often brand’s ask me to do something botanical but I really don’t mind doing other things. I get commissions for specific purposes; like spring or creating something for women or the vegan movement so they will always go for nature and environmental themes. For children the designs often require colour.
9. What achievement are you most proud of?
Bringing my son into the world. I think he has made me a better version of myself. I became more conscious about how other people feel and I have a little more empathy now, not just for parents. I now have someone who is vulnerable and I want to protect him so you become more conscientious and you do less reckless things. You start to care.
10. Who are your biggest influences?
I like the Glaswegian artist, David Shrigley, because he was very funny. I don’t know him personally but the humour is all there in each image. I discovered him through animation when I was volunteering for a digital film festival and there was a lot of work from MTV. I volunteered so that I could get the collateral by the artists running it – Kozyndan, who are well known for their LA panoramics. It was for Blur and it was animated by Shynola Collective and David Shrigley.
I love The Garden of Earthly Delights, by Hieronymus Bosch because it is so strange. At first glance it looks fine but there is so much more under the surface. I like that you can keep discovering things and see and feel different things in it on different days.
11. Can you recommend an art book or a documentary we should all read or see?
I like Wong Kar Wai films which are very different. They are quite poetic with a simple plot but his mastery is in how he captures moods and feelings. His films are really romantic, weirdly romantic in the extreme. My favourite is the Chungking Express. I also like Stanley Kubrick’s, A Clockwork Orange. They didn’t have special effects in those days so he used a comic graphic element. They are both great storytellers because there provide elements of surprise. It showed me that you have to look closely. I really enjoy watching how ideas are translated even though I don’t necessarily use them myself but it’s really interesting to see. I like how Requiem for a Dream used a lot of music and I loved Pulp Fiction but some of Tarantino’s films are too violent for me.
Dogtown and Zboys is a documentary following a group of surfers who skateboard, called the Zephyr skateboard team and is all about the evolution of sport. Beautifully made with a great soundtrack.
12. Where do you find inspiration and new ideas?
The trigger is always when I’m about to give up and feel I’ve exhausted all avenues. Then, suddenly it is delivered up on a plate when I’m not thinking about it. My son stops me from working and gives me a chance to change my focus. He can tell if I am not 100% thinking about him so that gives my mind a rest.
13. Can you think of a brand or artist that you would love to collaborate with and why?
There are so many I want to work with like the World Wildlife Fund projects around conservation and the protection animals. That would be really meaningful. I would also like to do something education based, that encourages learning curiosity to help underprivileged children. However, I’m a little afraid of that kind of project because I find it difficult to talk to children. I almost volunteered once but I pulled out because of that fear.
14. Whose work in Singapore do you think is the most interesting?
The Artground for children at Goodman Arts Centre. It’s a whole space that is transformed with installations for children. The artist, Nur Aida Binte Sa’ad has a sister with autism and she helps her communicate through art and with colour. Kids are always the most creative, maybe they just haven’t grown out of it yet. Her sister was obsessed with rainbows for awhile and used to classify everything into colours and they inspire each other. Aida made her entire installation about her sister and the show is entirely rainbow coloured. The Lien Foundation has a project for children called Superhero Me (link – http://www.superherome.sg/), I’d really like to work with them because they make art inclusive for all children.
15. Which spaces in Singapore do you love to go to to work in or for some quiet time?
I go to the Botanic Gardens.
16. What do you think of Singapore’s current art scene?
I don’t really know much about it. I don’t have time to go to exhibitions unless it’s something I’m really interested in. Afternoons are my free time. I am not part of the fine art scene here – I don’t understand it. I just work on my own at home. My audience is my child.
17. What do you think is your biggest challenge as an artist?
To always do something different from the work I’ve done previously – I worry that I’m repeating things. I also have no real space to work in and having no stable income which are also challenges.
18. How important is audience engagement in understanding and appreciating art?
The main aim for me is for people to just enjoy it. If it interests you, that is good enough for me. If it makes you happy in some way and that’s different from what I’d planned, I don’t mind. I have thought a lot about making stuff that people can touch. There is this rule in galleries about no touching. However, that would probably also mean that I couldn’t sell the pieces.
19. What direction do you want to go in in the future?
I’d like to use more technology and create virtual art and not a physical project, that would be a nice thing to explore.
20. What’s the best advice you could give someone who wants to do what you do?
Usually the solution comes right when you are about to give up. Also, be sure of what you really want because the process is hard work when you’ve exhausted everything so make sure that being involved with idea creation is what you want. I know an idea is right when it surprises me like the Japanese Cultural Center’s (JCC’s) collaboration with Mulan Gallery on pottery . There were a lot of pieces that were beautiful and intricate but there was one that just looked like nothing – just a piece of stone. However, when you looked really closely, on the top were tiny miniature cups and the rock was just the base for them to stand. Straight away there was that unexpected element of surprise, that demonstrated a simple but new idea.
For more information about her artwork you can follow her on social media handles – through the links on her website here.
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