Lee Xin Li, a 28-year-old local illustrator, is known for sketching fantastical renditions of local scenes, having drawn iconic buildings in the past such as the Kallang Airport, the National Theatre and the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. The architecture student has also reimagined local spaces close to our hearts such as Pulau Tekong – all you NS guys – legendary foodie haunt Chong Pang and even the abandoned Neo Tiew housing estate.
Now, the illustrator is back with even more nostalgic drawings of both familiar and forgotten urban spaces. Just this week, he launched the inaugural exhibition of his works, Sayang Singapura, at Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)’s Singapore City Gallery. In line with the City Gallery’s aim of telling the story of Singapore’s transformation throughout the years, the exhibit portrays our urban environment through the creative medium of art, adding a quirky dimension to our spaces.
The centrepiece of Lee Xin Li’s debut exhibition is Peta Singapura, an intricate map of Singapore, blown up to cover a whole wall and crowded with local sites and scenes. Take a closer look at it and you’ll find little gold nuggets of interest, such as French comic cartoon Tin Tin standing next to HDB blocks at Paya Lebar or Japanese cartoon character Totoro standing with his signature leaf umbrella at Poyan Reservoir. Also exhibited are his sketch books and a graphic novel of his life journey, all fittingly exhibited at the City Canvas area of the Singapore City Gallery.
We pick Xin Li’s creative mind and get him to tell us more about Sayang Singapura.
What is the theme and inspiration behind your debut exhibition, Sayang Singapura?
Sayang, meaning ‘love’ and also ‘a pity’, is a recurring theme in many of my illustrations. I thought this would be a suitable theme for this solo retrospective exhibition. It focuses on how the illustrations are inspired by growing up in a changing Singapore. My drawings are reflective of the love for the home I grew up in as well as an awareness of its ever-changing environment.
Can you tell us more about how your love for drawing started?
It started since my childhood days. I loved to draw buildings back then, and one of the things I did was to draw a city on A4 paper, which I would attach piece after piece so that the city gets bigger and bigger. At one point of time, it was half the length of my primary school hall.
How have you evolved as an artist/ illustrator?
Over time, I gathered new experiences, saw more of the world and met people within the creative fields and beyond.
These experiences gave me new insights and exposed me to a wider range of styles and aesthetics. I also learnt new techniques. But most importantly, it is an on-going journey for me to find out what it means to be an illustrator in Singapore. Instead of viewing it merely as a hobby, I am gradually treating illustration as a profession and as something purposeful in my life.
How have your travels influenced how you see Singapore and its changing landscape?
I had the privilege of travelling to a number of places. Some places that are amazing to explore are Belgrade, Rome, Bangkok and Kyoto. They have a rich and varied architecture, but what I find most fascinating is the ‘character’ one finds in these places. For example, the crafts, the living culture and so on. The discovery of such character in these places motivates me to seek out similar places in Singapore and re-discover our city at the same time.
On the other hand, it also brought about a poignant realisation of how much Singapore has lost over the years, and how it is crucial to retain the character of our spaces alongside development.
Share with us some key highlights of your past and present projects, as well as collaborations.
One of the highlights was the Peta Singapura project which was made after coming back from a trip to Europe, where I visited cities like Colmar, Innsbruck, and Strasbourg. I made a map of where I had been to and my friend wondered whether I could do the same for Singapore, which is often seen as a ‘boring’ city. The Peta Singapura piece was a result of that challenge and a rediscovery of the many facets of Singapore from architecture to nature.
Another project that I would like to highlight is the Kueh series which was an exploration of the ubiquitous kueh that is found in Southeast Asia – there were two pieces that I did about that for the National Day Parades in 2014 and 2015.
Any reason for deciding to use the Singapore City Gallery as the venue?
I thought the Gallery and the exhibition would be a fascinating juxtaposition of the past, present and future within same space. In retrospect, I am shaped by this environment and the development in Singapore, essentially growing up in the future laid out by the pioneers of the past.
Hopefully, this exhibition could add a human dimension to the Gallery’s exhibits as well. It’s an opportunity to contemplate what kind of future we intend to pursue in the next 15 to 30 years for Singapore.
Any upcoming projects?
Perhaps a trip overseas to explore more of the vast world out there? Anything’s possible.
Find Xin Li at Pok Pok & Away on Facebook or take a look at his portfolio here. Read more about his other works too here.
Sayang Singapura intimately explores the transformation of the city of Singapore; a landscape in a constant state of flux. It is currently exhibited at the City Canvas space in the Singapore City Gallery from now until 30 April 2016. City Canvas showcases and shares the amazing visions and expressions inspired by the lovely cityscape surrounding us, bringing the art of the city to everyone. If you have works that offer a unique perspective of Singapore and you would like to have your works exhibited, do contact Jazzy_Lim@ura.gov.sg for more information.