Interview with Andrew Tong
I have had a paintbrush or pencil in my hand from a very young age, and a gift of being able to transmit my ideas onto paper or canvas. I have also been blessed with having excellent teachers and a family that always gave me enormous encouragement to pursue my vision of becoming an artist. My technical ability, imagination and exploration of different mediums have made sure that I am very versatile with my art, in subject and technique.
It was not until I was at least thirty that I came to understand what painting really means for me. By then I had become familiar with the works of Otto Dix, Lucian Freud and above all the Dutch, Flemish and Italian artists of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
I suddenly knew that painting could achieve something that no camera could ever achieve, that for me art was to be a means by which a new world could be revealed, a world seen only within my mind. Gradually I started to comment in my own way on the beauties and follies surrounding me.
Andrew, it is a pleasure to meet you. Can you tell us a little about your background and how you first started drawing and painting?
Hello, thanks for the interview. Well, an only child to Ronald and Doreen Tong in Croydon, South London, England in 1966. I have always drawn stuff right from an early age. Combined with a vivid imagination I drew a lot of fantasy especially monsters. My mother always thought they were good but wished I would draw something nice and normal with a tad less weirdness.
I noticed that much of your work includes imagery most likely seen in war time. Are your pieces relating to something in your past or is that something personal to you?
Both my parents served during WW2, my dad as an anti-aircraft gunner in the navy in Burma and my mum was a worker in a munitions factory during the Blitz in South London. I grew up around WW2 veterans, heard their stories and that always had a large influence on my work. I also developed a great interest in history early on.
I also love that some of your pieces are a mix of old and new. Like a Normal Rockwell painting where an element seems out of place. Like your portrait of Porn Legend Ron Jeremy done in a style one might have seen during the renaissance. Is there a story behind it of why you chose him as a subject?
The painting of Ron Jeremy was influenced by a wonderful Christ-like self portrait done by Albrecht Dürer from 1500. It just went so well with Ron Jeremy’s face. I think both have an air of confidence and ease about them that complement one another.
And I liked the juxtaposing of the pieces I guess, it questions religion and morality.
Flies and other insects seem to be a recurring theme in your work. In the hand of Adult Movie Star, Hollie Stevens or in your portrait entitled “Girl with Fly”. What is the reason behind including them in your work?
I have always been interested in insects. As a child, I remember rooting around the garden a lot searching for interesting bugs to catch.
These paintings are fractured narratives of our two species surviving together, observing one another with many similarities. Our lives are intertwined in many ways, crossing paths constantly. Both species are also capable of adapting to their ever changing environments. I see insects as observers to Man’s existence and in many ways we are alike.
Or is it just that I like painting bugs?
Your series of fairy tale themed pencil sketches are some of my favorites. I loved exploring the elements in the in detail when I first saw them. What is your creative process when starting a new piece?
The creative process with the fairy tale pieces was that they were not really planned at all. The mostly arrived when I doodled in my sketch book. Sometimes I just started with a scribble without looking at what I was doing. Then I see an image in the lines and develop it out from that point. I also tend to add more and more details as I go along. With one or two central figures being the starting point, adding odd things and creatures in the background.
Can you tell us a little about who inspires you now or has in the past?
My uncle Mick had a big influence on me. When I was a kid he used to paint these fantastic murals on Hot Rods and custom cars. He was very good at painting skulls, I remember, he also gave me my first set of oil paints when I was about ten. Another great influence was my art teacher Anne Kay at school. She encouraged me to pursue a career in art.
The fantasy artist Patrick Woodruffe is another painter that I always found very inspiring.
What are some of your preferred media to work with? Do you use the computer much in your work?
I have always loved to paint in oils. The tones and its blending capabilities suite the way I paint very well. I am also very fond of working in pencil which suits my detailed approach to my work.
Lately I have been fine-tuning and manipulating images I have painted or drawn on the computer. I stayed away from computers for years, thinking it was cheating. But now I wish I would have used one years ago, it is a great medium.
Can you describe to us your work environment?
My work environment has changed quite a bit over the last while. In Vancouver, Canada, where we lived until spring of last year, I shared a fairly large studio space with a number of other artists. We moved to Germany in June and we are still in the process of getting settled here. I had to do a lot of renovations. I am just getting organized enough now to start on some smaller intimate pieces and planning my new project deviant rising.
I have to ask you about one more piece. I am not sure of the title but it features a cherub faced boy with blue eyes standing in front of a back drop. Before World War One I know the Canadian Army used to take photos of soldiers before being sent overseas. The painting you created reminds me of them but when you look a little harder you notice that the boy has lost his arm and his sleeve is pinned up. That coupled with the scenes of death and destruction clash with his childish facial expression. How did you come up for the idea of this painting?
With these juxtapositions of innocence and realities of humanity I started a long time ago. I have always been interested in paradoxes of good and bad. Initially, I created dioramas of nursery rhymes in dark apocalyptic settings. These paintings were also heavily influenced by my parents experiences. My mum started working in the munitions factory at 13, my dad joined the navy at 17, my grandfather enlisted in the army at 16 during WWI. They were still children. All their experiences affected my upbringing, good and bad.
What projects do you have planned for the future? Is there anything you can share with us?
Well, for my new project „deviant rising“ I started working on a number of print images. I am planning to produce T-shirts and limited edition prints. To start off I am adapting my own paintings by manipulating some of the images with the computer. But I am also working on some kids stuff. Little friendly creatures.
Where can we go to find out more about you and your work and keep up to date?
You can also connect with me on facebook. Check out my Deviant Rising Art page on facebook. I am just getting started. www.facebook.com/DeviantRisingArt
Thank you for the interview Tom!