Artist of the Month: John Lai

Tell us an interesting story that occurred during art-making.

My business partner and I wanted to create some pixel-styled art work using Rubik’s cubes for our hipster cafe. I already had in mind a series of artwork ready to work on – Chairman Mao, Marilyn Monroe, Andy Warhol and the giant 2200 cubes Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’, just to name a few. 13 cartons with 10,000 Rubik’s cubes packed in it arrived from China. Both of us were happily opening up a carton and examining the quality of the cube.

There, at that instant, one cold, hard fact that had eluded us during our meticulous planning process struck us! None of us had ever played with a Rubik’s cube before! We had to turn specific colours to its specific position on one side and put all these cubes together to form a Rubik’s Cubes portrait.
We slummed onto the floor in slow-mo…silently staring at the 10,000 cubes in front of us.
We tried swapping the stickers by tearing it off but the stickers got ripped off even before fully tore it.
We tried dismantling the cubes and reassembling it with the specific colors in place. However, we broke more cubes than actually dismantling it due to its inferior quality.

“Good things don’t come cheap, cheap things don’t come good.”

Only one way out, we had no choice but to sit down and seriously started turning the cubes. 10,000 cubes and empty cafe walls were at stake.

Finally, after 10 straight days of nothing but grinding and smashing quite a few cubes, out of frustration (I was the culprit), my business partner had successfully turned one side of the cube. The rest was history.


Share an experience that helped to shape your perspective as an artist.

It wasn’t so much of an experience but rather curiosity that got me into doing art. It all started with Andy Warhol. I was so intrigued by this artistic vision and talent in making colourful pop art through silk screen printing when photoshop wasn’t in existence yet. Coupled that with all the street art I had seen and countless of modern art museums visit from the years of globetrotting as a trolley pusher, I finally decided to find out more on about the type of art and started to experiment with some simple art work.

Where do you draw inspiration from?

I don’t know! Hahaha…for real. I don’t have anything in particular to look to for inspiration. Most of the time it comes on its own. At times, Mr. Inspiration will take a long vacation and leave me with ‘creative brain block’…simply means ‘Brain Jam! No idea liao’. Well, I can tell you where and when most of the inspiration hits me…in the bathroom showering! Don’t know why but it had always been like that and still is.


How do you keep up with what’s happening in the art community today?

I just follow a lot of other artists from all over on Instagram!!! So many unbelievable, talented artists out there. Some of the work I have seen are insane! For me, the best way to know what’s happening outside my little lala land, is to see what other artists are doing and interact with them through different social media platforms.

I have done a small art collaboration (in digital format) with a fellow artist through Instagram. Also, did a small art exchange (like exchange of gifts) with another artist. I guess nothing beats interaction and a little bit of the human touch, even though it was through the Internet.

Words of wisdom, or a favourite quote you live by?

I don’t have any in particular but I do have one word…”perseverance”! Abundance of perseverance! Anyone who had started out on their own, be it an entrepreneur or an artist, will know that. We are our own greatest enemies. Nobody can beat us down with their criticisms or negative comments or their zero support. However, the moment we stop persevering in what we so strongly believe in, we have given up hope on ourselves.

What are you currently reading, watching, listening to or looking at that inspires and fuels your love for art?

I just finished Dan Brown’s “Inferno” and just started on “I am Malala: The girl who stood up for education and shot by Taliban”. I am a movie and series junkies so I watch pretty much everything that I can understand from listening and not reading the subtitles. So Korean drama. I am a Techno/house music head. Ohhh not those EDM that’s on the airwave that claimed to be in the genre of house music. So yeah…the answer is nothing…I guess.


What are you trying to communicate with your art?

I had created a few pieces of art work portraying the current socio-political issues the world is facing now. Yes, strong influence there by Banksy and Shepard Fairey (Obey). No, I am not trying to be an activist for human rights or world peace (I am not that noble..hahaha) but rather a reflection or a reminder to issues that we turn a blind eye to. “Every picture tells a story”.

My constant liking of exploring and using different mediums and, at times, mixing few different mediums to create an art piece, perhaps, is to show art is not just water color/oil/ acrylic paint and brushes.

At the end of the day, I hope people are able to see the hard work, passion and patience ingredients beyond the colors and images. Without it, the art is soulless.

What’s the best advice you can give on how to be more creative?

No limit, no boundaries. I strongly believe having a ‘invisible mental limitation’ will hinder any creative juice in a person. ‘Invisible’ because it’s in your head and you don’t even know it. Keep exploring, think out of the box, constantly exploring new mediums to create art work other than the usual art materials we used. Thread spool.. *hint hint*.


What is your dream project?

I think for any artist – be it performing artist or visual artist – the ultimate dream is to have their own solo exhibition. My vision: a make shift staircase, which is about 5m above ground, over looking a mammoth ‘the last supper’ made up of 110,000 dice. Giving it a ‘aerial view’ of the (W) 5m x (H) 2m creation. A ultra fast time lapse video, play in loop, being projected onto the wall. Creating a kind of visual art to the audiences. Of course, along with my collection of spray paint-stencil art and mixed media art installation. Dreaming away now….


What is in store for 2016?

Setting up my own studio. To really be able to create my art properly, without having to run to-and-fro from the stairway will be a big plus! Staying up late into the night just so I could stencil-spray my work without being caught by the neighbours is quite a tedious affair. Having space to recycle unwanted tables and chair, adding some fun, colours and art on to it to give it a new lease of life. Or up-cycling unwanted wood pallets as my canvas for my art work and turn it into a table. Yes, I think I am quite a carpenter myself.

Well, 2016 is coming to an end in couple of months time, so hopefully it will materialised. Only one obstacle left…anyone reading this willing to fund my studio start-up?? Hahaha!!


For more information and more artwork from this artist,
click on the link to view the artist profile.


Leave a Reply