Singapore-based artist Michelle Ma’s works can be recognised by her use of evocative colours. Where it’s a portrait, the eyes of the subject take on an emotional allure. She works with a palette knife to create beautifully textured pieces. But the China-born artist’s journey to the world of art is one of twists and turns that began with learning traditional Chinese ink painting as a child.
“I must have been around eight years old when I first started under a traditional Chinese Xieyi master. The Xieyi master was apprenticed to Qi Bai Shi,” she says, referring to the influential Chinese painter renowned for his lively, whimsical watercolour paintings. Many hours of her youth were spent painting on traditional Chinese rice paper – until it was time to focus on her studies to secure a spot at the university.
From the Corporate World to Art
Equipped with an English degree from LiaoNing University, she worked at a start-up in Beijing and then joined multinational company Shell. Shell subsequently relocated her to Singapore where she rose quickly in the corporate world. Living on foreign land was often lonely and she got herself re-acquainted with her childhood passion. Practising her craft was the backdrop to life events. She met her Australian husband, gave birth to two children and then quit her job to nurture them. She also honed her style, developing a love of the palette knife for her oil paintings.
“I feel the palette knife complements the freedom of my hand strokes, and this gives me greater opportunity to express my vision. Not only that, the palette knife offers a vintage effect because there are several under layers,” she says.
A Client-Centric Approach
Much of her time is also dedicated to commissioned pieces, working with individual collectors and corporate clients. Her corporate background held her in good stead in her art journey. She is generous with the time spent sussing out the clients’ desires and needs in their pieces. “I want to be able to feel the energy and passion they have for the artwork. I want to be able to walk away from the consultation with a firm understanding of the research I need to undertake to present a formal proposal,” she says. Ever the professional, once the commission is confirmed, she gives the clients a list of milestones. They will also have the option to view progress pictures of the artwork.
Her pieces, whether commissioned or sold on her website, can be shipped worldwide. Each is an opportunity to share with her client her love for China’s rich history. She would typically send a note about her inspirations for the painting and, at times, how it ties in with her personal history.
Discovering One’s Heritage
When asked about the theme in her work, she emphasised her Oriental heritage, to which she connects in a modern way by using strong colours and bold strokes. “Quite simply, my personal vision is to bridge diverse cultures such as the East and West,” she says. “I am currently exploring prominent female figures that have lived extraordinary lives. I paint portraits of these women from the late 19th to the mid-20th century, to show that what happened over a century ago is still prevalent today.”
Before starting on the next piece, she asks herself pertinent questions to determine if the piece would align with her personal vision. She explains, “For example, I ask whether the subject that I am painting would appreciate me sharing their extraordinary life through my painting.”
“I love painting portraits. I was an only child born in a relatively conservative environment. I have experienced the traditional ritual of being the only female child and that can often translate to the vision of my work. I get a buzz from doing what I do, and I genuinely love learning about my Chinese heritage and translating that onto the canvas in a modern way,” she says.
To find out more about her, click here.