Home Is Where The Art Is – Chatting with Melissa and Jia Xian

Melissa and Jia Xian

When the two architects got married, they designed their breezy HDB apartment in Marine Terrace with a focus on space and storage. The warm lighting and wooden elements of the living room is contrasted against the cool uplight and tiles of the kitchen area. To create a spacious environment and sense of continuum for their guests, the couple extended the living and dining area into an adjoining bedroom. A continuous wall of shelves frames one side of the extended space and on the other side, a continuous line of paintings adorn their walls.

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What was the very first piece you bought?

M: We bought our first piece for just 50 SGD! It was a few years ago at an event organised by Alan Oei, where we paid 50 bucks for a ballot ticket, and depending on ballot numbers which were randomly drawn, we then got to choose from the available artworks. We picked this piece “Strictly No Peeping” which was painted by Angella, a graduating artist from NAFA (Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore). We liked the subdued hues of the piece, and the fact that it was painted on wood panels.

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How has your collection grown?

M: Over time, we’ve started to explore different types and mediums of painting – right now there is oil, acrylic, line drawings, wood, Chinese ink and etching. As we started to fill our walls, we also made a conscious effort to introduce more colour. For instance, we purchased a Korean ink on rice paper painting from the Affordable Art Fair – it was a simple and powerful painting, and the green matches the colour of the backing of our cabinet shelves!

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Does your collection have a theme or principle?

JX: I like to know the story behind the piece – it could be the meaning, subject matter, message of the artist, or the artist’s personal story or development. I enjoy pieces which can be appreciated through multiple levels of meaning.

Because we buy art as a couple, we tend to look for pieces which we both like. Budget is of course an important practical factor which narrows our choices, and ultimately, buying art has to be a shared decision.

M: We definitely take into consideration the titles of the art pieces as it not only contributes to the overall feel of the piece, but we also look out for titles with meanings or messages that we can relate to or appreciate. For instance, the Korean ink on rice paper painting is titled “The Pursuit of Happiness” which rounds up the visual concept of the piece. This other painting is titled “Pure”, adding another element to the overall visual and emotional experience of the artwork which employs a clean and controlled technique of Chinese ink.

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Do you travel overseas to buy art?

M: We don’t actively seek out galleries when we travel, but if we stumble upon galleries, we will take a look at what’s available, exposing us to different ideas and styles.

JX: Perhaps the one trip where we made a conscious effort to check out galleries and art studios was in Bali, where we stayed in Ubud and were surrounded by art. On that trip, we bought a piece by Master Soki, a very colorful work that uses the ‘Dutch technique’ of painting the everyday life of Balinese against the local landscape. From afar it looks like a pattern, but up close there is so much detail that goes into each and every figure.

We also came across the works of Suputra in Bali. We especially liked his ikan bilis (small fish, similar to anchovies) series where the artist likened the everyday ikan bilis to the multiplicity of Indonesian culture. From afar, the fish look like a pattern laid out horizontally on a white background, but up close, you realise that every single fish is different-the shape, the lines, the position of the tails.

For me, when I look to buy art overseas, I am looking to collect memories of that place. I liked the padi harvesting scene in a particular piece which reminded me of my stay in Ubud, surrounded by vast rice terraces.

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Where do you buy art in Singapore?

JX: We do attend certain art fairs and exhibitions to see what’s out there. Some works that are exhibited in fairs are not suitable for us, as the paintings or sculptures are too big and pricey. We have only purchased art from the Affordable Art Fair which has accessible prices.

Other than that, we tend to stumble across the other pieces that we have purchased. For instance we bought “Pure” by Cheah Thien Soong from Heng Artland while strolling around in Paragon Shopping Centre.

How do you afford to buy art?

JX: I guess people value art and affordability differently. Some of our friends are taken aback when they learn of the cost for each painting. As for us, we value the paintings which we like and don’t see them as mere wall decorations.

As we have a few friends that are artists, we appreciate the effort and thought process that goes behind each artwork. We also tend to support young, emerging artists as we can relate to their aspirations, thinking back on the days where we had just completed architecture school and were always hopeful for opportunities.

We set a budget and stick to it, including framing costs which can be quite substantial. The Pursuit of Happiness cost us 500 SGD, but we had to spend a couple of hundred more on framing it.

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Any practical concerns/considerations in selecting artworks?

M: I like objects and small sculptures a lot but they are harder to upkeep. As we do have a fair number of kids visiting our place, we were concerned over breakage. To date, we only have one small blue ceramic receptacle by local sculptor Ng Eng Teng.

We picked up good tips from the art framers. Because we stay in Marine Parade which is near the sea, it adds to the humidity levels in the flat, which can cause mould. The framers use archival framing methods to preserve our pieces, and we also bought a dehumidifier to reduce the moisture in the apartment.

We also learnt about the practicalities of displaying art at home through rookie mistakes. We started off by using 3M hooks to hang the paintings! Strangely enough the paintings had a habit of falling to the ground in the middle of the night jolting us awake. We finally bought a drill and invested in a hanging system!


Photography by Attilio Rapisarda

Attilio Rapisarda is a 42-year-old Singapore Permanent Resident, originally from Sicily, Italy. Attilio has been living in Singapore for seven years, working in psychiatric research and, more recently, teaching medical students. He trained in both digital and film photography at the Photographic Society of Singapore and Objectifs Centre for Photography and Filmmaking. His main photographic interests lie in the area of performance art but he has also published in the domains of food and architecture photography, on websites and magazines distributed locally and overseas.


About Gladys Teo

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A freelance art writer currently based in Singapore, I was a regular features contributor to The Pocket Arts Guide covering contemporary trends in Asia. With a background concentration in economic development and social anthropology, my special interest is in the different mediums of sociopolitical art as a tool, genre, expression.

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