Velvit Welcomes Amy Goh


Singapore born artist Amy Goh talks about the cycles of rebirth as an artist, finding her technique, and her recent obsession with birds. 

photography (I, II, III) by Val Winkl 

photography (I, II, III) by Val Winkl 

We chatted with Montreal based artist Amy Goh about her recent work and current series she is creating for Velvit. As a self-taught artist, Amy draws from many creative talents she has. Digging deeper, she talks to us about about pulling influences subconsciously from her childhood in Singapore, her years as a bookworm, and how her love for writing evolved her into an introspective being in which she was able to create an artistic world in images from her thoughts. 

Velvit: Can you tell us a little about yourself? where are you from and where do you currently create?
Amy Goh: I'm from Singapore but I moved to Vancouver Canada in 2006. I'm currently based in Montreal. Spiritually, I feel like I'm a conglomeration of different spaces and identities. I don't really have a 'home' except the world I carry inside of me.

V:  Were you always an artist from a young age?
AG: Yes and no. I drew obsessively from books in pencil. I had an obsession with 'feeling' the fur of animals or the edges of a horse's anatomy through my pencil. Drawing was more of a tactile way of feeling my way through the world rather than a way of self-expression. I was like a sponge that absorbed everything; not in terms of what was going on physically but more in an emotive, or impressionistic manner. I remember my childhood in vibrations and tones of colour. That being said, I have been a writer my entire life and I feel my writing does inspire my drawings --- while my drawings are more narrative, my writings tend to be more visceral and explore thought-feeling spaces.

V: Besides art, what were some of your other interests growing up?
AG: I read a lot. I was an obsessive bookworm. I think I read a book a day from the ages of 8 into my teenage years. As a teenager, I sought to experience or create my own adventures or reality so I wasn't making a lot of art. I think it was when I entered university that I became very introspective and started to really bathe in the world of thought- that was when I started drawing.


V: How did you learn your technique?
AG: I am entirely self-taught. I think it took me about two years of drawing and producing a piece every week to believe I could even draw, even though I had a show within my first month of drawing again. Before that, I had not really drawn anything I'd consider iconic of my style currently. It was mostly inky doodles on homework rather than anything cohesive.

V: What is your process like when creating a new series?
AG: Usually, I have a vague idea of what will happen like how you'd see the life path of someone, only this time I'm peering into my own mind. I try to feel where I am in that moment in time, in my life, on my path. My art is born out of that minutiae of moments, but then an image or an impression comes into my mind or into my life, and I create art out of that. Sometimes it's a vision in my head, other times it's an image I stumble across. I go with what feels right and the image creates itself. Usually I only discover the story or significance of what I have created in retrospect.

V: What do you look to for inspiration?
AG: That's a hard question because I don't actively look for inspiration. It's more accurate to say I look to things such as nature and natural processes but to the microcosm of it, not the macrocosm. Even now, the textures of natural surfaces or animals beg me to draw them. I also am very much inspired indirectly by books and films, or more directly by philosophy, spirituality or strong stylistic movements like German expressionism. Basically, I'm inspired by a mix of feelings, sensory impressions and intellectual concepts. Often I'm led by a predominant obsession of mine at any given time. For the past few years, this obsession has been with process of the body being absorbed into the landscape- cycles of birth, rebirth, transformation, decay. I like exploring how the self fits into the cosmos both physically and spiritually. I think my work deals mostly with that, as does my poetry. I'm always trying to uncover and delve into the depths of these processes to understand what it means to be alive.

V: You were raised in Singapore, do you pull any influences from your early years there in any of your work today?
AG: Definitely! My childhood was a whirlwind of sounds, tastes, colours, sensations. I can't tell you how growing up in an over-stimulating environment as an overly-sensitive child really does cement your imagination in some ways. I can't help drawing from my childhood, even though I often don't even realize that I am drawing upon certain religious iconography or symbology. It's very subliminal.

V: What are your favorite subject matters to work with?
AG: It changes, I think! I've been on an animal kick lately. But I've also been drawing a lot of bodies; the abstract forms of them and how they intertwine or divide. I had a phase where I was obsessed with anatomy and what was underneath the skin. Recently, I've been experimenting with introducing subtle colour and I think animals (or birds) are a good way to do that. Although my obsession with drawing birds lately is really due to the appearance of a cockatiel into me and my partner's life in an incidence of rather strange synchronicity.

photograph by Etienne Michel

V: Have you evolved much as an artist from your earlier years drawing 'til now?
AG: Subliminally yes, although I'm not aware of it because I rarely look back at pieces I've finished. In retrospect, my work has changed a lot as I have changed and evolved. I think I used to express rawer emotion in my drawings but nowadays the motifs in my drawings have more of a settled peace to them. I think of each series as an organic process- certain characters die and reborn, motifs cycle in and out, etc. Often one drawing leads to another for an entire season and I only realize it when I look back.

V: If you weren’t an illustrator today, what would you want to try or focus in?
AG: I'd probably be a writer or an academic. I'd absorb myself fully in the world of ideas and/or feelings. Or perhaps I'd be a healer of some sort, or teach. But I think I do those things regardless anyway. I don't think I could ever focus on one thing at a time. I feel like dancing between mediums/modes is really how I feel like I'm being the totality of myself, if that makes any sense.

V: As a writer how does music influence your work as an artist?
AG: I used to immerse myself in music in order to get into a certain state of mind in which I was 'astral' traveling (although awake), or daydreaming. But I find it doesn't affect my art directly. I cannot work in silence, though. I need to be listening to something, be it music or lately hundreds and hundreds of podcasts. I find that when my mind is distracted, it's actually easier for my hand to channel the images it needs to.

V: What is one thing that you think is often misunderstood about life as an illustrator or artist?
AG: That we know what we are doing! We're often required to stand testament or to explain what or why we do things but I can tell you that art is a channeling process. I draw to bring ideas into the world. I don't necessarily know or have control over what I create. In the reverse- drawing is a process of meditation and surrender, a route to inner peace because I'm actually quite restless in real life.

V: What have been your favorite successes or accomplishments you’ve had as an artist?
AG: Doing my installation show, definitely! I think that when you have video and music at hand, you have the tools to create the kind of immersive experience in which you forget the outside world and you're totally emerged in the confined space of the gallery. “Eden in Stasis”, to summarize, was my attempt at creating an Edenic space in the heart of winter wherein the arcane symbology of my mental landscape melded with a soundscape which mimicked the eternal repetition of the seasons in both tranquilizing and apocalyptic way. Over my greenhouse triptych, there were projections of a tropical forest in stasis but subtly moving. There was also a single room- 'the garden'- in which there was a moon rising, the ocean, a lashing snake, all projected over a girl I sacrificed during the autumn. It was exactly the kind of labyrinth I dream of creating again. It cemented my decision that my next show must be another mixed media collaboration with other artist.

V: How do you bring some of this fantasy of your installation show to real life. Does fashion play a part?
AG: I love how fashion is really a way of a form of acting in real life. I shop only through churches, garage sales, and thrift stores not so much because it's the thing to do right now, but because there is nothing like being surprised by the universe by that one marvelous article of clothing. Lately, I found an elaborate brocade dress that must be about a century old. I also prefer things with history: things that have a soul or story behind them sparks my imagination. In terms of go-to pieces, I love skirts of all types in any season, and lately my partner secretly bought me a chiffon top in old pink with black birds and a huge black bow... kind of fitting considering the theme of my upcoming series!

V: Black is....
AG: Birth, or all that is left when you peel away the colours.

For more information on Amy Goh, please visit her artist's page and shop our ANIMYSTIC curation.