Young Ambition is a feature series in which wildchild invites young adults to share their passions, grand plans, and pipe dreams with us.
In this edition, we speak to Jacky Mak of @JackyVsTheWall, a Singapore-based painter known for his vibrant murals in the style of the Impressionists. He shares how the various stages of his life led him to pursue a career in art and generously offers some advice to budding creatives.
On his daily routine
I am very driven by sudden bursts of inspiration, which can lead to huge paintings spontaneously created overnight. Unfortunately, these impulses can be sporadic and therefore, unreliable. I’ve since tried to be more deliberate and disciplined about painting, attempting to work and be productive regardless of my mood. As such, I often try to mentally prepare for a painting the night before, poring over hundreds of relevant references while mulling over it. Executing a painting doesn’t take me too long due to my experience and research.
I love covering distance with my body. Running, swimming, and kayaking are just some of the activities I do to take a mental break from painting. These non-artsy hobbies are more straightforward, which allows me to shut my brain off. It helps that I usually get to see a lot of nature too!
On discovering his love for painting
I have been doodling in my textbooks my whole life, much to my parents’ and teachers’ dismay. Surprisingly, it didn’t bring much joy and was mostly done out of boredom. When I was 15, I took art and tried painting properly for the first time. It was love at first stroke — heh, innuendo — and I just knew I had to do it for the rest of my life either as a hobby or a job. Painting became an obsession of mine. I’m deeply grateful to my art teachers Mr Lowell Farlow and Mr Danny Toh for all their guidance during high school. After my graduation, I was surprised to find people interested in buying the paintings I did for school. Though I sold them for cheap, their interest gave me hope and spurred me on to pursue and further develop a career in art.
On getting his foot in the door
Aside from countless commissions for people’s homes, I have done a number of murals for restaurants such as Jekyll and Hyde as well as Graft. I used to dabble in set design for the film industry with projects like SGIFF Films Auntie Oh Lives In Your Memories and Tiong Bahru Social Club. I’ve also exhibited my work virtually a few times, like 2021’s Paraíso International Exhibition by M.A.D.S Gallery in the Canary Islands and a Virtual Gallery by Virtual Artists UK.
I’ve been extremely lucky to have had my art noticed through word of mouth, friends, and a viral time-lapse of a mural I painted in my room. I took on essentially every project regardless of price. While it was a bad idea financially, I chose to have faith in myself — or at least in my potential to grow — and tried to get my work out there. The challenges of each commission really helped me develop as well!
On his inaugural solo exhibition “In the Nature of Things” at The Glass Hut
This project is a culmination of the work that I created in the last decade, though the majority of the pieces showcased here are from the last two to three years. During my spare time in between commissions and projects, I often paint things that capture my imagination.
“In the Nature of Things” is not so much a formal exhibition and more like a space filled to the brim with my work — it can almost be overwhelming. People of Singapore are used to the manicured urban greenery of our city but Nature in its purest form is overwhelming and not to be controlled. I wish to reflect that beauty visually and invite visitors to slow down, tiptoe, squat, and enjoy the 70 paintings that fill the room.
Honestly, I never call myself an artist, it feels like such a lofty title that I can never achieve. I prefer the word painter because it is factually correct and independent of external acknowledgment. I put paint on canvas, therefore I am a painter. I would like to believe I am just your average local neighborhood guy who happens to f**king love painting!
– on seeing himself as a painter
On his artistic influences and finding inspiration
I have been deeply in love with Impressionism since the age of 16. My first idols are Monet and Pissarro, amongst many others. Some modern-day artists that have since inspired me are the brilliant painter of trees, An Jung Hwan, and the queen of modern impressionism, Erin Hanson. I’m also deeply inspired by endurance athletes; they keep pushing and training even when things are hard. Their values strike me deeply and are something all creatives can learn from.
On choosing to be a freelance creative in a society that values other pursuits more than artistic ones
Not to be a downer, but I did not actually want to pursue university whatsoever. Don’t get me wrong, I made amazing friends there and my professors were fantastic people. But I clearly knew what I wanted to do — no prizes if you guessed painting. Even during my holidays, I would come back to Singapore and take on as many commissions as I could. I was fairly keen on pursuing painting even before entering university, though I became increasingly sure with every year that I was there. That said, my degree in landscape architecture exposed me to the planning side of how cities coexist with nature — which inevitably informs my work — for which I’m very grateful.
The reality is that most freelance creatives will struggle to find job security or progression. Society will generally not make things easy for us in that way! You have to decide for yourself if the joy and purpose your art provides you is worth the trouble. I also feel that you have to take responsibility for your choices in life. When you pursue an innately unstable passion as your livelihood, you must find a way to accept the consequences if things don’t go your way.
On his favorite places to paint
I have mostly been painting in my bedroom since the beginning, mostly out of necessity. Unfortunately, I don’t travel much in order to save money but I plan to do so soon with the intention of creating one full-fledged painting in each location I visit!
His advice for aspiring artists
Be prepared to fail. People have been warning me for years how being a painter is not a stable career — I don’t know why they don’t think I know this myself. There are tons of talented artists who never achieve financial success or amass recognition. You just have to decide if the joy of creating is worth all the risk.
I’m aware that I may fail but I want to use my time on Earth to pursue this dream because the regret of not doing so outweighs everything else. If my art reaches a dead-end both creatively and financially one day, I will walk away without regret because ultimately, I have failed on my own terms. Good luck to all budding creatives out there, feel free to reach out to me if you ever want to talk!
As told to Sherryl Cheong.