Interview With Ripple Root
This month, we sat down with Liquan Liew and Estella Ng, the Singapore-based artists who make up the duo RIPPLE ROOT. Recognised for their carefree and positive artworks, Liquan and Estella talk about their shared artistic journey, and what it takes for them to produce a meaningful piece that speaks to its viewers.
What first sparked your interest in art?
Estella: I’ve always liked writing and the humanities, but I never thought that I was particularly good at drawing when I was young. When I saw everyone preparing for the A levels in school, I realised that was not for me. Out of rebellion, I started drawing, and aimed to go to the best art school. I found RISD (Rhode Island School of Design), and told myself I’m going to go there. It felt like it was meant to be, though it found me very late in life.
Liquan: I think it’s the opposite for me. I’ve always loved drawing, it was always my security blanket. I would draw comics and look at art. Early on I really wanted to go to art school, but I sort of stumbled into the whole graphic design and advertising industry.
E: He majored in Communications. And I majored in Fine Arts, painting. So that’s why we have different specialties that complement each other.
Why did you choose to take up art as a career?
E: There’s this quote by Kurt Vonnegurt – “The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable.” I wouldn’t say it is a career, but life. You do it because there’s something deep in your heart that says so. And for us, we are trying to make it viable.
How would you describe your individual and combined artistic styles?
L: We used to be figurative (Liquan) versus abstract (Estella). But I think now, it’s just, us. It’s always moving, never still nor static. Yet it is always rooted in a context. We always seek out that sense of meaning behind our paintings.
E: Increasingly, we only have one style – very distinctively Ripple Root. Something carefree. One of the things that is important to us is that art shouldn’t be taken too seriously. We want people to be able to connect with it from within and feel joyful and uplifted. For example, when someone recognises a mudskipper in one of our paintings, and laughs.
Do you have a favourite, or a memorable art piece you have done?
L: Two to three years after our first painting of the Mangrove Swamp, we decided to revisit that theme with the painting “Paradisimo”. When we painted it, it felt very different from the first painting. It felt a lot more abstract, more modern, and more contemporary. In a way, it wasn’t so figurative anymore. It started having the spirit of a mangrove swamp, kind of muddy, but also teeming with life.
E: For me, I love murals. Something special happens when you put paint on a wall, the art breathes life into it. Murals are a really good way to activate a space, and you don’t just see four sharp corners anymore. I love that transformation process.
Can you explain to us how you work together when it comes to producing a piece of work?
E: I would start a piece, he would start a piece, and then we swap. We keep swapping until it’s done. It is not split up into parts, but we address the canvas in its entirety. There is complete and absolute freedom. It is very organic, and based on a lot of trust.
L: We don’t discuss what we want to do beforehand much. We talk about it in a broad sense, but when it comes to making the actual work, we operate in silent intuition. Sometimes she surprises me with something totally unexpected, and I paint in reaction to it. We always try to make sure a new painting explores something different from the previous.
For commissioned pieces, we like to sit down with the client to get a sense of their energy, try to fuse it with ours, and then translate that onto the canvas. It’s not just about us, but a joint effort. The work is never the same after, and a new client always inspires us. We skew it towards a more specific narrative or context that I think that helps people to relate to it. If not, fine art can be very alienating.
Are there specific advantages/challenges to being an artistic duo, rather than individual artists?
E: For us it’s mostly all advantages. Everything is multiplied by two. Whenever we meet clients, we have two brains. Whenever we work, we are doubly fast. I think something really magical happens when you’re in such synchronicity.
What do you hope to achieve as artists in Singapore?
L: We always say that Singapore is in us, because we are here, and we paint what we are surrounded by (mangrove swamp for instance). But I don’t think that is our end goal. We want to be on an international platform, but our goal has always been to create art. The process keeps us going. To keep pushing as far as possible, to go where the art takes us.
Moving forward, where do you see yourself in the future?
L: We try to not plan too much. What feels organic, is what we do, to the best of our capacity.
E: For example, we never thought of murals as a viable trajectory, but we grabbed the opportunity and got so much from it. If you don’t limit yourself, there is so much you can do.
Do you have any suggestions of how to increase appreciation for the arts in Singapore?
L: It’s not about the skills or technique when it comes to art, but about nurturing The Art Spirit. It’s something deep in the essence of a person – you either have it, or you don’t. Recognising it and preserving it is what’s crucial. It is literally how you see Life.
E: Art is subjective, and it’s boils down to always trusting your instincts, sticking to your guns and knowing that it’s okay to be different. We don’t always have to follow the grain. An artist is someone who sees the structure of order and recognises them as arbitrary.
We'd like to once again thank Estella and Liquan for their time with us for this interview. If you are interested in what they do, take a look at their artist page for more of their works.