In the life of Malaysian abstract artist Michelle Yap, the truth of her genuine talent was founded on an extraordinary journey. Her fascination with art began at three to four years of age, witnessing how an artist using Chinese ink could materialise two goldfish on paper with the economy of two simple brushstrokes. “It was like magic,” she remembers.
Fast forward to today, and you find Yap’s large-scale art adorning top hotel spaces, corporate lobbies and the homes of Hollywood moguls. Her works are also exhibited alongside Jeff Koons at the Shanghai International Art Fair, as well as being represented by Saatchi Art in the United States, Singulart in France and Singapore’s Fiidaa Art In Malaysia, she is represented by US Artbank International whose Group Executive Director Serena Chiam says they were eager to represent Michelle Yap for her, “developed style of expression, that being bold strokes, experimental style and technique, with hints of oriental Chinese calligraphic painting. She has combined the character of traditional Chinese ink and the textural qualities of modern acrylic, painted in her stylized heavy brush strokes. Michelle’s works matched well with our company’s mission to challenge and push the boundaries of art.”
We now hear Michelle Yap, in own words, on her transformational journey from a precocious child fascinated by art into one of the brightest mid-career artists in the region.
“I’ve always loved art from young, and remember having my works on the bulletin board almost every week, so I always felt I was destined for the Arts. When I was faced with the dilemma of choosing to further my studies – with my parents suggesting a degree in engineering – I took the blank cheque my father gave me to pay for my admission fee into an arts course at Limkokwing instead.
I was blessed to then be accepted into London’s Central St Martins College of Arts where their alumni included Terrence Conran, Wang Su Ling, Frank Helmut and Alexander McQueen. The school literally changed my perception of what art is. I owe my career to my tutor Clive Chalis. He kept failing me in my first semester until the day I decided to confront him, thinking he was nitpicking on me. He told me this; “If I asked you to paint an apple, and you paint an apple, then why bother to come to an art school. You even painted 10 different versions of that. It means you failed to even convince yourself which was the best to show me. I am going to fail you until you wake up from this dream.” From that point on, I accepted that art has no rules or boundaries.
Now, when I paint, it’s always about the feeling that I have. Not doing it to please others or, in the words of my tutor, “trying to get an A”. When I work on large formats, it’s like a discharge of energy, and that feeling is amazing. Appreciating art isn’t just with our eyes, but also with our hearts.
In the same way, the Bentley Continental GT V8 has a real visceral sound that hits you deep – it’s a sound that emanates with firmness, agility and confidence. This is what I understood in creating the piece for Bentley Kuala Lumpur, to fully grasp at the car’s soul and show that in my work.”
Michelle Yap created a special piece for Bentley Kuala Lumpur entitled ‘Embrace Extraordinary’ The artwork is an 82” x 65” acrylic on canvas depicting two phoenixes flying high above the clouds. The mythical birds are a manifestation of the Bentley Continental GT V8 with its doors open, which forms a seamless pair of wings. On the canvas, these twin phoenixes spread their graceful wings and fly with speed to feel the freedom of life, over the beautiful world beneath. And embracing that precise and extraordinary moment.