MEET THE ARTIST: DONNA ONG

by: Catalog

Can you tell us more about yourself and your journey so far as an artist?
Hi, my name is Donna Ong. My father was an artist so art was always present while growing up. However, I never thought of art as a career and decided to study architecture instead. It was only halfway during my degree that I had a change of heart and realised how much I loved art and wanted to do it for the rest of my life.  

I decided to change my degree and pursue art as a career. Since then, I never regretted my decision because my life as an artist has been one of constant surprise and delight. It forced me to walk down lesser travelled paths and open doors I wouldn’t have otherwise opened. It has given me the opportunity to meet amazing people and make things and environments that bring me great joy and pride. I am not sure what’s around the corner for me, but I’m definitely looking forward to maturing as an artist and making better work.

Your artworks, which are mostly installations, are visually arresting and thought provoking. What kind of emotions are you trying to draw from people who view your art and what message do you want them to convey? As a child, I used to read avidly. I loved being taken from the everyday world and brought into an unfamiliar environment that would trigger off different sensations, experiences and emotions. These storybook worlds allowed me to escape my mundane life and let me step out of myself into someone else’s shoes. They allowed me to comprehend and connect with concepts, people or situations that were alien to my upbringing, character or way of thinking and gave me insights that I was able to bring back and apply in my everyday life.  

I would like my artwork to work in a similar way, building a world for the audience to escape into and in which they can encounter different ideas, emotions and experiences. I want to seduce them with beauty, wonder and awe, so that they will tarry longer within my installations and be motivated to discover and contemplate the more subtle ideas and thoughts I have hidden behind the seductive facade. 

What subjects are you drawn to? Can you tell us more about them?
Thematically, I am drawn to concepts like dreams, hope, belief and escape. Subject-wise, I am interested in science, nature, childhood and fantasy. Aesthetically, I am fascinated by archetypal landscapes, such as forests, caves, etc., and attracted to materials like glass, light, old objects and furniture.

A lot of these interests stemmed from my childhood. I grew up in a house where every nook or cranny was stuffed with antiques and fascinating bric-a-brac. I read storybooks, explored the house and neighbourhood, and played make-believe games with the objects around me. I remember being really happy as a child and one day, making myself a promise, never to forget what it felt like to be a child — that sense of wonder, guileless hope and limitless imagination. My artwork is about trying to keep that promise as an adult.  

What is your biggest source of inspiration at the moment?
Growing up in a city, I never encountered the landscapes I read about in my books, until later in life when I started travelling. When I finally saw mountains, caves and forests for myself, I was fascinated by how they were similar and dissimilar to the landscapes I had conjured in my imagination. My current work explores various archetypal landscapes, asking if there can be landscapes that are, as Jung suggested, part of the human psyche that we instinctively know and identify with. Or is there a history to these landscapes — a collage of filmic images, drawings from books and descriptions that meld in our minds as a generic image of a forest/garden/cave/sea/mountain/desert? 

Currently, I am exploring the idea of the tropical forest, and researching the history of its aesthetics (from 18th and 19th century lithographs), as well as exploring and predicting the impact of these aesthetics on us today and for the future.

Walk us through your creative process. Do you follow any rituals before starting on a new piece?
I start each project by rewarding myself with a week of pure laziness where I indulge in guilty pleasure reading — in my case, fantasy and science fiction books. I then start doing research in anything that interests me. Usually, when I am producing an artwork, other unconnected ideas will crop up that I will not be able to follow up on because I need to be focused and finish whatever I’m currently doing. So during my research time, I take the opportunity to follow up on some of these ideas. Ideally, I aim for two to three months of pure research, but unfortunately this often depends on my current and future exhibition schedule. 

I try to keep a sketchbook for each project, and fill it up with my thoughts, relevant quotations, images cut from books and magazines, sketches and information. This helps me record and trace my creative process so that I can hone it for the next artwork or refine a formerly discarded idea. After researching, I buy different materials and explore making small models and experiments using these materials.

After that, I determine the best materials and the best configuration and way to produce the artwork and get outsiders involved in the process. Firstly by getting critique from friends and people I trust artistically and critically, then by bringing in craftsmen and assistants on the scene to produce the work. The last stage of the artwork is the installation of the artwork on site, which is often my favourite part of the project, as you get to work with lots of fun people and get to see the artwork finally coming together like magic!

As an artist, what do you think your role in the community is?
I think our role is to serve the community through the making, exhibiting and speaking of art. It is important that we observe and participate in the world carefully, reverentially, intelligently and truthfully. These observations and thoughts are then distilled and refined to become the gem of an idea that then grows into a fully-fledged project that will hopefully enlighten, illuminate and inspire the people who see and experience the work. 


Learn more about the artist at donnaong.com

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