Photos by Albert Tan and Jeremy Sharma
A trending name in Singapore’s increasingly vibrant art scene, Jeremy Sharma’s work encompasses a myriad of mediums such as video, photography, drawing and installation. The common denominator is how he incorporates mechanical, industrial and digital reproduction with unconventional themes that usually have the subject of time and space as a main focus.
More recently, his use of polystyrene foam to create his ‘foam paintings’ really got audiences and collectors to sit up and take special notice he believes he can make something really desirable and provoking with a cheap everyday material. According to him, this is his personal stand against established notions of art.
Possessing a visual simplicity derived from complex origins, Sharma collects electro-magnetic signals emitted from stars that die, translating them into landscapes for his works. “I trawl the internet for data, anything useful, which otherwise might be used for scientific or statistical reasons, will be converted into 3D visualisations. We carve off a ready-made block with a robotic arm drill or we cast a polyurethane one with coloured dye and then carve it. For the Terra Sensa series, it feels like you are looking at two objects in a single foam painting – a collection of signals from a dead star and the material used to make it, which is a long-lasting product of direct human manufacture. Both objects are massively but relatively distributed in time and space,” explains Sharma. His paintings usually are in a solid colour, as he feels there is so much going on in the work and already so much noise in the world. “A monochrome calms you down like a mango in hot weather.”
Sharma admits that he thinks of his works as sculptures, but people started calling them ‘foam paintings’, and for some reason the term stuck. He reckons that audiences still relate it to the act of looking and contemplating, which is what you would do to a painting. Starting his residency at Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, Sharma has been working non-stop in preparation for his upcoming solo exhibition entitled Orbiter and Sonata, which will be held in Berlin next year with Michael Janssen Gallery. The pieces at this show will feature some new surface treatments, which is an extension of what he was doing before but with new ideas referencing extra-terrestrial landscapes and human interventions in space. “I like looking at extra-terrestrial landscapes from different perspectives; from the science view, mythological view and philosophical view. These give me inspiration for a unique take on my work.”
Embarking on this path as an artist was very straightforward. A science student during his school days, Sharma took up fine art and found his calling, combining his love for science fiction with philosophy to create. Doing figurative stuff in the beginning, Sharma tried abstract and realised that he was very interested in the ideas that were presented. It was a tough climb to make this a full-time career, but Sharma insists that he is not here to entertain people. “Maybe not everyone might appreciate what I’m doing, but to have some that can appreciate, it’s the most fulfilling part about being an artist. You’re not here to please everyone,” he says. When asked about his recent success, he confided that selling is important, and it’s important to work with all these networks. Sharma stresses on the fact that art making is not glamorous at all; it requires a lot of work, and socialising seems to be a thing of the past as all his time is spent working. “You have to realise that being an artist is not only about creating and painting all the time; it encompasses many different parts like marketing and sales as well as creating more awareness for your work, if you want to make it into a career.”
Apart from focusing on his art, Sharma takes time to share his knowledge and experience by teaching classes to fine art students at Lasalle College of the Arts. “There are a lot of youngsters who want to be artists. There are many matured students as well, people who have a second calling, people who have retired, and some who have always wanted to do art but chose to walk the practical path instead. I think that’s great as it’s never too late to pursue your passion; if you have the talent, you have the talent.” With the increase in support from the government for the art scene in Singapore, Sharma thinks that it’s a good time to be an artist now. “We are one of the lucky few nations to have government funding in the art world. We just need more artists who are willing to get out there and try,” says Sharma. He thinks that what we need is more patrons of artists and a larger collector base. “Often collectors go for big names. Singapore collectors are more conservative and are less willing to take a chance with a smaller-name artist. Collecting is like gambling; there is an element of risk involved.”
Advising younger artists, he urges them to think very carefully before embarking on such a creative career. “You have to know that what you do is something that you can do and no one else can. The one trait that keeps you going is to be resilient, which apply to everything actually, but helps as you have to take rejections and years of not selling. It might not be a good thing to get successful too fast, as the journey is what makes you grow as an artist.”