Rebecca Lam: Art is where I discover myself

Rebecca Lam is an artist living in Bangkok who is in love with what she does. She took part in our Artists Q&A, and here are her insights into why she does her work, the role of the artist in society and why can’t watch Harry Potter films without squirming.

Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Rebecca Lam, and I’m a “not so young” 29-year-old aspiring artist.

Why do you do what you do?
I was unhappy with what’s been happening in my life, work, relationships, and many other factors – it was really weighing me down. I felt so lost, that I tried so many different things, from music to block out the noise of the world, to going to church. At one point I even went to an orientation of a self-help place where I almost joined a course.

Eventually I realized, I needed to find my passion again in life – and it was when I reconnected with drawing and painting. Art is how I can clear my mind – when I paint or draw, my mind is literally blank, and it is only then I can feel myself being at peace. Music helps me block out the world, but not my mind. Art is where I discover myself.

How do you work?
I can literally draw and sketch anywhere – from coffee shops to cars. I pop my earphones on and it gives me that quiet space, then I draw and the rest of the world/space/people – it’s covered.

Painting needs a little more space, but I do that in my room, my studio, I could be on my bed and in my PJs and I’ll get paint everywhere – I’m a mess when it comes to paint – but I LOVE IT! I think it’s not where you are or who you’re with but what you’re doing and do you enjoy it? and with art – I don’t just enjoy – I’m in love with what I do.Rebecca Lam black spots

What’s your background?
My Dad is Hongkie and my Mother is Thai. My parents were the orginal cross-culture lovebirds back then. My eldest brother is born in Thailand. My family then relocated back to Hong Kong when my eldest brother was one month old. I have two older brothers. Eight and seven years apart, I’m the baby of the family.

We migrated to Australia when I was five. I grew up in Brisbane and home was the suburbs just 30 minutes drive to the Goldcoast. My mom and I used to just drive out the two of us with our family red Toyota wagon. We’d cover the back with sheets and blankets and mom and I would paint in our wagon by the beach – it was beautiful.

Eventually my father and mother moved to the land of smiles for work. I moved here, Bangkok six years ago and have been calling this place “home ever since”.

What’s integral to the work of an artist?
That it speaks to its viewer. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I believe that. Whether it translates a feeling, an emotion, a memory, even a face. It’s supposed to, and it’s important to say something, and to mean something to the artist and its viewer – that saying, it doesn’t have to speak the same words/feelings/emotions to everyone. Everyone has a different story.

What role does the artist have in society?
I think artists give a voice to each culture and generation. Whether its fashion, street art, photography, design. It’s a voice in its viewers. People create art that speaks on all different levels of what’s important as society, as an individual, whether it’s gender, race, equality, democracy, violence, to dreams and goals we have. It’s a voice from the artist to the people. It’s like saying, we matter, you matter, I matter.

What has been a seminal experience?
I was in Hong Kong during the Umbrella movement this year 2014. Even though I have no stand for the current issue in Hong Kong, I must say the way people expressed themselves through art was unforgettable. I will always remember a walk through Mongkok (an area in Hong Kong). There were simple messages in the use of umbrellas, signs, protests, it was a phenomenal experience

Explain what you do in 100 words
I paint. I draw. I doodle. I scribble. I create stories from memories and experiences. I steal moments, capturing them in my art. I collect memories and feelings. And I share them through my writing and my art to its viewers.

How has your practice change over time?
I used to paint more abstract, and draw more cartoons as a child – mostly anime (as most teenage Asian girls do). But as the years went by, I incorporate zentangles in my artwork and my drawing has evolved to a more minimalistic approach. I believe in the saying “less in more” even in terms of art.

What art do you most identify with?
Minimalistic modern art.

What work do you most enjoying doing?
I enjoy painting, but I find that I am more successful with drawing since I tend to go overboard with painting and enjoy it too much to know when to stop.

What’s your strongest memory of your childhood?
My mother bought one of those sewing/art works for my brother and me. The ones you have to sew different colours by the number. I completely forgotten what I was doing, but I have a deep memory of my brother’s nature artwork – because it was only then my mother discovered my brother – who was almost 18 at the time, being colour blind.

What themes do you pursue?
Painting. I’m too shy for performance art.

What’s your scariest experience?
When I was in grade three, my cousin who was a huge “weird” animal/pet fan, put a snake in my bed, when he tried to wake me up in my late afternoon sleep fest. I woke up to a nasty sensation of the snake slithering up my body, by the time I opened my eyes, it was practically at my face – it haunts me to this day I can’t even watch Harry Potter without squirming and causing a scene.

What’s your favourite art work?
Slope 2004 by Carl Andre.

Describe a real-life situation that inspired you?
I was at the airport recently when a heavily pregnant woman’s water broke, it was the craziest moment where everyone was panicking and I was calmly documenting the moment writing a poem and then going on to draw sitting a couple seats near the panicking group

What’s your most embarrassing moment?
Getting praised for an artwork piece and an offer to buy the that was not mine on Instagram – how I wished I painted as well.

What jobs have you done other than being an artist?
Wow, This one will go on forever, since I started waiting tables to writing assignments for rich kids back in uni days when I was 17. Let’s say my other job was working in public relations for a movie distribution company (unnamed) in Bangkok.

Rebecca Lam naked beautyWhy art?
Because I love it. Art makes me express myself to others without annoyingly telling people my latest heartbreak or conquest over and over again. I can kiss and paint instead without being vulgar.

What is an artistic outlook on life?
Okay I’m going to be odd and cliche’. There’s beauty in everything – even broken-ness, you just have to feel it, paint it, and see the beauty in it.

What memorable responses have you had to your work?
I love it – is it finished?

What food, drink, song inspires you?
I love anything cheesy – whether is food or music. Does it inspire me… hmm maybe not so much on the food, but really cheesy love songs or sad songs do. Oh and I’m a huge fan of beer and painting. I paint much better when I’m a little more loosen up.

Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
Yes and no. It’s not lonely – but usually I’m more inspired when I am (laughs) – so naturally I document it – whether its writing, painting or drawing (when I’m lonely).

What do you dislike about the art world?
The term Struggling Starving Artist – it’s so true!

What do you dislike about your work?
I’m terrible at finishing my work. I always take it out and correct it even if it’s a tiny spot or line.

What do you like about your work?
It lets me express myself without a need for words.

Should art be funded?
Yes to a certain extend. I don’t believe in funding for those who use art as an opportunity to be a free loader. But at the same time I do believe in the term “Struggling Artist”. I mean look at Vincent Van Gogh, that man was a genius. But not everyone can have a wealthy art dealer brother who fully supports our dreams, now can we?

What role does arts funding have?
The role of arts have been questioned for years, but I believe art gains a huge part of tourist attraction not just in Thailand but all over the world. For example the MOCA museum draws a lot of tourist (mainly) as visitors. Art plays a huge role in many countries, and we have many fabulously talented artist here in Thailand also – we can take the same approach to increase the country’s capital.

Also art plays a huge role in the education and medical system. It is a well known fact that art is used by many of the rehabilitation centres and in anger management and by counselling practitioners. It is found that art aids one to open up and encourages one to communicate and be willing to learn.

What makes you angry?
Communication breakdown.

What research to you do?
I don’t really research. I tend to look for inspiration if I feel stuck. Sometimes I pop my ear phones on and take a walk in the crowded markets, other times I go to the bookstore (again popping on earphones) and I just sit on the floor and read poetry.

What superpower would you have and why?
Telepathy. The mind is fascinating. To be able to be a telepath can mean no more communication barriers, no more language barriers. It could be a memory manipulation, a feeling emotion sensor, so many things can be done on that level. It’s pure evil (laughs)

Name something you love, and why.
My cat. He’s like my son. He has temper tantrums but sometimes he’ll grovel, he’ll act overly protective, he’s like the perfect man – only a cat.

Name something you don’t love, and why.
Numbers – I’m terrible with it.

What is your dream project?
I’ve yet to think of one.

Name three artists you’d like to be compared to.
Cecily Brown, Joan Miro, Marten Jansen.

Rebecca Lam bye bye blackbird

Favourite or most inspirational place (in Devon)?
I’ve never been to Devon. I’ve only been to London. But I hope to one day go visit South Devon, I hear that there’s lots of music festivals and galleries and it seems like a laid back quiet part of the country.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Find your passion.

Professionally, what’s your goal?
Gain recognition for my art. Have my own solo exhibition.

What wouldn’t you do without?
My iPod. No music no life.

Rebecca Lam, thank you.

You can find more of Rebecca’s work on her website.