“These are little beads – it’s very tiny, but you can see them over there,” says artist, textile designer and creative director Deborah McKellar, as she gestures to the area just above the bright, beaded Peranakan slippers peeking up from the bottom of her silk screen painting Baba Nyonya.
“Those are hand-stitched into the canvas,” she continues of the beads, then points to the vibrant flowers at the bottom right of the piece. “This is batik fabric that’s been hand-cut and sewn onto the canvas with a machine.”
We are at Deborah’s black-and-white bungalow on the East Coast of Singapore, and she is explaining the many fascinating details of this piece – the one that graces the cover and inside pages of The Finder Directory 2020 (shown below). The house is where Deborah lives with her adorable cat, Shnuu Nuu, and works at Talking Textiles, her art and design studio. All around, you can see her intricately layered paintings and art prints, silk-screened tea towels and pillow covers, decorative glass tiles, coasters, crates and other items on offer.
Baba Nyonya, in particular, depicts an iconic shophouse on Koon Send Road located in the heritage neighbourhood of Joo Chiat, and features Peranakan tile motifs of various scales, fabric prints of Chinese silk and lace from a traditional Peranakan kebaya (woman’s embroidered blouse worn with a batik sarong) plus hand-painted gold embellishments.
“The whole process of creating Baba Nyonya took about a month, though in reality I had created some of the silkscreens – such as the Peranakan lace – about eight years ago.” (Scroll down to the bottom to see the complete painting.)
Deborah, who is South African and has lived in Singapore since 2002, says she has long been drawn to the unique culture here, including its heritage homes and other “exotic” aspects.
These days, her signature style is sought out by art lovers, corporations, high-end hotels, kitchen manufacturers and other buyers. And, it’s no surprise that she was asked to create an original artwork in the Presidential Suite of the newly renovated Raffles Hotel Singapore.
“The moment I see any completed artwork is the reward of all the hours put into creating it,” shares Deborah, who was recently commissioned to create a rose-themed collection set in London – a first for this Lion City-centric artist. “It also gives me the motivation to create the next piece.” (Tip: You can purchase her work at the studio, on her site as well as at pop-ups such as the Affordable Art Fair.)
Watch the video here to see more from Deborah, and then read the Q&A below to find out even more interesting insights from this popular artist!
Why did you first move to Singapore?
“My parents were moving to Singapore, and at the time I was still in my first year of university in South Africa. I thought it would be an interesting experience to continue with University in Singapore. I’ve been here since then , besides a short time to further my studies in Sydney.”
When and why did you start Talking Textiles?
“I started Talking Textiles shortly after returning from my final year of study in Australia. In Sydney, there were many interesting art and design studios, and I thought that there was little of this in Singapore, at the time. From a business perspective I saw a gap in the market. I also knew what kind of job I wanted, and decided the best way to go about this was to create my own position.”
Tell us about the style of your artwork as well as your creative process.
“My artworks are mixed-media pieces, which basically means they are made up of many different techniques and different surface applications. I take photographs and create hand drawings that are then made into silk screen blocks. I use these silk screens to print and transfer the images onto the canvas. Over these printed layers I add layers of hand painting to give details to the artwork.
Finally, layers of fabric such as batik or Chinese silk are cut out and incorporated into the piece, and stitched onto the canvas. Some of the artworks also contain other textures such as gold leaf and velvet flock. Overall the result is an artwork which is rich in both colour and texture.”
Where do you get your inspiration?
“My inspiration would come from my surroundings. I find I am always drawn to patterns and decorative elements. I can find a beautiful piece of Chinese silk which speaks to me, and from there I can create a story for an artwork. Likewise, I often start an artwork just with a particular colour palette, discovered in an interior magazine and take it from there.”
What do you love most about living in Singapore?
“I love the safety and ease of living. Most things function really well and it’s an easy city to navigate. I, of course, also love the visual stimulation that inspires my artworks.”
How do you feel when you get positive feedback from customers?
“It is always very rewarding to hear back from excited customers who have just had new artworks installed in their homes. In fact, we’ve created a section on my website called Testimonials where you can read some of these positive comments.”
Image courtesy Deborah McKellar
How do you feel about your artwork being featured on the cover of The Finder’s Directory 2020?
“Super excited, of course! There is something really special about a hard copy publication that is circulating all over the island.”
By Sara Lyle Bow, December 2019; photos by Phyllicia Wang, SPH Magazines (unless otherwise noted)
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