Joyce Loo’s love of clay began in 1998 but she didn’t start her creative career until 2008 when she gave up a lucrative job as a stock broker, to pursue her passion for the arts. She now works as a ceramic artist in her studio (and gallery) on the beautiful Wessex Estate in Singapore and has a deep affinity to nature and the earth, reflected in her clay sculptural forms. Joyce is a self-taught artist of great ingenuity and her works are a visual harmony of colour, texture and her appreciation for flora and fauna.
Since 2005, Joyce’s work has been represented in several local and international exhibitions in Japan, Turkey, New York, Taiwan, China and New Delhi, India. Her first solo exhibitions, My Eden and Embrace were both held in Singapore. Joyce’s work has been bought and collected by museums in Singapore and China and by government agencies and corporate and private collectors.
How long have you been a full time artist?
About ten years full time but part time for about twenty. I was a broker before, dealing stocks and shares. I really loved to do ceramic art but when I was still working I didn’t have enough time. My works take me a lot of time. I originally became a stock broker to buy myself time to pursue my own interests. At that time, I wasn’t so passionate about ceramic art but in my twenties, I had already decided that I wanted to buy myself time. I had to pay all my own bills so I planned how to settle them and still be able to pursue my passion.
In the beginning, I started creating ceramics as a hobby but I loved it so much – I really enjoy crafting it with my hands much more than painting. Beforehand, I did create things with paper but I love to experiment and with ceramics, there is a lot of room to explore. When I do something I like, I go full force. I don’t like to do things by halves and I always want to try my very best. I think that ceramics has a lot of potential to move beyond functional ware. Initially, I used my kitchen to do all my work and even when I was part time I would spend a lot of my free time in the evenings and weekends doing it.
How have you changed since you became an artist?
I love the change because I was looking for this kind of freedom. Now, I feel as if I am free from a prison and I finally get to work in my own time to do my own thing. I have to actually stop myself from making art. When I began ceramic art full time, I would work from morning till night but after the first few years of being independent, I had to learn how to stop. It makes me feel really contented and I feel more relaxed. My father was a landscape architect and my brother has previously done some design work so my family support and admire me because I am enjoying my life. Ex colleagues of mine have asked me if I plan to go back to stock broking and I am shocked because I would never think of going back. Ever.
What do you like about the medium of clay to make ceramics?
The shape can change very fast and it is easy to explore. I am trying to work with glass a bit too because I’d like to combine it with ceramics but the temperature is very different so it is a challenge. I don’t mean to mix them together but put together the two solid forms. I learned some glass making in New York but I don’t like to step into something halfway. If I move into glass work, then I’ll do it one hundred percent and full time but I think there is still room for me to explore ceramics first.
Two years ago, I went to New York for two months to a summer school for adults to look at unconventional materials for sculpture and on the weekends I learned how to make glass. Personal development and exploring new techniques is important for me. I chose New York, because I wanted to do something unusual and contemporary. It is so vibrant there and full of new ideas so I think I’ll go back there for glass making. I love UrbanGlass, they are an excellent glass making studio. It is so different from ceramics so I would need to start from scratch because you are working with a liquid.
Nature is a recurring theme in your work, what is your relationship with it?
I love nature so I like taking walks in the countryside and go trekking and my husband loves photography. I have never really liked city life. I love the natural landscape a lot – the mountains and natural forms of somewhere like Xinjiang, China, near Pakistan and Kazakhstan and also parts of Mongolia. I am fascinated by the shapes of a landscape made by the rocks, the hills and the sandy domes as well as the forest and other natural places, like waterfalls.
What do you want your audience to understand about your work?
I want every series to have that interactive feel. I create work that represents my feelings at the time so I want people to appreciate and understand how I express them. Like my Embrace series, which I created when I met my husband. At that time, I already wanted to do something human and natural so I visited a museum and saw some very simple sculpture with no features but somehow I could feel the softness and relaxed nature of the piece. It inspired me to create something with no features but the body language and form showed that they were very loving.
Through my Fungi series, I hope that my audience can feel the uniqueness of the deep forest. I want to send a message out there that there is a lot of incredible wild plants, beyond our imaginations that can be found buried in the forest that they might not have seen before. I feel sad about the environment being destroyed. I used to have very strong feelings about things but now, I think what happens is beyond my control. I can have my opinions but I am too small to really influence change on my own. Hopefully, by creating nature in my ceramic work, it will last longer. Maybe it is more durable than the actual nature that is being destroyed.
How would you describe your work?
My style is fluid and soft. I like people to feel the flow of my work. Straight away, they make you feel relaxed and calm. Unfortunately, some see my orchid series as too sensual but people react to art in different ways.
Who inspires and influences you?
Locally, the late Ng Eng Teng, is a very famous Singaporean artist who has a lot of big sculptures displayed around Singapore. I also admire Han Sai Por, even though her art has a very different feel to mine, a lot of her work is inspired by nature too. Henry Moore has influenced my style too because I like his forms. However, for new ideas, I love to read books and magazines and even look at fashion design. Sometimes jewellery, the print of a handbag or a dress can ignite my inspiration.
What other mediums do you use or experiment with?
My main medium is clay but I have tried stainless steel before with my Ant series and I‘m also considering how to use wire. Other materials like fabric, glass and metal are interesting but I also don’t want anything to overtake. If I’m not satisfied with the changes then I won’t change.
When I notice something is not right, I will keep trying to change it. I will also take time to look at things properly. Sometimes, if I’m frustrated with a piece of work, then I have to do that. I have very high standards and expectations of myself. They get higher and higher the longer I’m doing this.
What has been your favourite body of work so far and why?
I like the latest series, My National Flower, the most. Every time I have a new collection, I feel it is my best. If it is not better than the last in my mind, then I will recycle it. I always strive to produce something that looks good from all four angles. Of course some I just don’t like but that’s acceptable.
What is your creative process?
I usually have an idea which takes some time to form. If I don’t have any strong ideas, then I don’t do anything and rest but my mind is always active.
I usually start experimenting from scratch. First, I make a base shape from the wheel and then before it is hardened I will push it around, join pieces and cut it to get the form I want. I usually experiment a lot because all my works are hollow so once I’ve overdone it, I cannot change it. I have to start again. If I like the form, then I will continue to go further by twisting and turning it to fine tune the shape. Some have two or three parts so I just join them together.
Then I will bisque (fire) it and then glaze it. I usually like to use a mineral glaze as the colours look so natural, then glaze again and use compressor sprays, trying to keep the colours within the limits of nature. I will also experiment with glazes several times – I love a powder glaze which is my own creation.
It can be hard to get feedback on something you have created. Nowadays in Singapore, the focus for art is on the use of technology. Even though I realise that, I still know what I want to do. I find that westerners love sculpture a lot but I think that there is a market for my work in China because it has a strong culture of ceramic ware. They also want to show their cultural side so they are more willing to have sculpture at home. However the market is tough because people don’t easily commit to lesser known sculptors and I hate to do the marketing side to promote my work.
What is an average day for you like in your studio?
When I first became a full time artist, I used to work and live here. Sometimes, when I try for a whole day, I cannot produce anything that satisfies me so I feel like I’ve wasted a day. The next day I will still try to work out how to do something and solve the problem, spending a lot of time here but not full time like before. Almost everyday, I try to think about how to change and do something. Now I’ve learned how to switch off and spend more time reading and socialising etc.
What skills does a ceramic artist need that are different from those needed by other types of artists?
You need to be quite physical with recycling to rework the clay and work out the bubbles and you really need to be patient. Firing, up to a thousand degrees, creates a chemical reaction with the clay. If there are any weaknesses or if any of the clay has been overworked, it will tear in the process and you will get it back with cracks so you have to start again. I have got better at managing that but sometimes when we want to change the shape of something we forget about the limits of the clay.
How important is the environment in your art practice and processes?
I hope my works can influence people to discover, appreciate and realise that there is a lot of species of plant and animal that are in the forests that we should treasure and protect.
What challenges do you think artists face in Singapore at the moment?
Advances in technology and 3D printing have meant that everyone expects everything to be done fast. When everything moves quickly, you lose that calm and slow appreciation of art. People don’t understand why I don’t want to use a machine to produce my work. It is because the hands have soul and machines cannot get that kind of emotion into the work. Copying is easy but there is no soul in the work. Young people have lost their patience to look for their own ideas and learn their craft properly. You need to be slow to appreciate something and they cannot see the soul. Even sculpture now can be done with 3D equipment. If you don’t take the time to create something properly, then there is no value in it. Sadly, the audience has lost their ability to differentiate and recognise value in craft. Maybe one day people won’t compare everything to machines all the time.
Is it important for you to reinvent your art and keep coming up with new concepts?
Yes. If you only produce the same things, then you will lose your passion. You create new bodies of work to satisfy yourself. Your signature style is normally still evident when you create something new but some artists break away too far because they want to follow new trends and they end up losing their own identifying style. I think that artists need that spark of inspiration for your audience but also for yourself.
What role does education play in your work?
I teach people how to produce basic ceramics on the weekends and I encourage them to use them. Ceramic classes are popular these days and students like to post their work online. I want to make them proud of their work and promote traditional ceramic culture. It is important to maintain that. After the glazing, their work tends to look nicer and I teach them how to appreciate the work they have produced. It is important to have a little magic touch in your work and to think about shapes and forms as well as the functional areas and angles and how to coordinate and match certain shapes.
If you were not an artist, what would you be?
If I could start my life again and with a good education, I would like to be an architect. It is a very long path though and I love landscapes more than buildings and have not yet lost my passion for my art either. My father used to design huge projects like fibre glass waterfalls but he also liked to explore new things and didn’t worry about money. When he lost interest, he stopped and tried new things but I am completely different and I enjoy going into a lot of detail and refining my work. Unfortunately my father has already passed away but I think that we could have done something together and had a great business.
You can find out more about Joyce Loo’s incredible work as a ceramic artist here and follow her latest work on Instagram and Facebook. If you’d like to read more of our artist interviews, look here and more of our blogposts here.
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