London-based artist Heiyi Tam finds inspiration in everyday moments and experiences, often inspired by sensory memories of nature or culinary delights. Born and raised in Hong Kong, Heiyi’s paintings are also influenced by ancient Chinese landscapes and calligraphy.
Heiyi recently graduated from Central Saint Martins with an MA in Art and Science. The delectable candy-coloured palette she uses create large-scale canvases caught the attention of The Other Art Fair, who have featured her in the The New Futures class of 2023, a program aimed at breaking down some of the barriers of the contemporary art world by providing a platform for a new generation of unrepresented artists.
Heiyi was shortlisted for the Tension Graduate Prize 2023 (TBA) and longlisted for the Jackson’s Painting Prize 2023, and in 2022 she was runner-up in the Tiepolo Blue Art Competition, judged by James Cahill and artist Maggi Hambling CBE. Exhibitions include ‘Art on a Postcard: International Women’s Day Auction 2023’, Fitzrovia Gallery, London, UK (2023), ‘Home On Me’, Hoxton Arches, London, UK (2023) and ‘Dreams of a New Moon’, Lethaby Gallery, London, UK (2023).
Lee:Was there a defining cultural experience, such as an art exhibition you visited, a film you saw, or a book you read that made you want to be an artist?
Heiyi Tam: I think it’s an accumulation of moments that led me to want to become an artist. Moments where I felt like I wanted to understand the things around us a little bit more. Or at least try to. Painting and writing poetry (my titles) help me articulate intangible concepts a little better. I remember reading ‘The Giver’ by Lois Lowry when I was around 12, and being enamoured by the complexities of imagined worlds and realities in that universe and how it translates into ours. I find interwoven memories and stories in pools of imagination, alternate realities and intangible emotional landscapes that surround my paintings.
I remember smiling at Fiona Rae’s work when I saw it at the Tate. When I saw the pandas perching quietly in ‘Maybe You Can Live on the Moon in the Next Century’ (2009), it made me feel a certain way, there was so much playfulness in the composition – it made me feel like a kid again. I grew up in Hong Kong and have seen pandas since I was little when my mum would bring me to visit. A pair of pandas was gifted to Hong Kong by China in 1999, a year after I was born. Similarly, France-lise Mcgurn’s ‘Sleepless’ exhibition in 2019 created a suspension in time for me as I experienced her paintings spilling onto the walls and ceilings in slow-motion. It transported me to another reality and reminded me of being in a bubble bathtub as a kid, the moment just before you realise the water has gone cold. I thought it was so visceral how these paintings could unlock intimate memories I didn’t know I had. I wanted to do the same, which led me to today. My work surrounds the intrigue in the fleeting moments of the everyday, bringing meaning to the mundane by attending to our senses through flavours, sensations, textures and rhythms. And finding ways to create different symphonies, alluding to a specific story, moment or memory in each work.
Culturalee:Where did you study and how do you feel that your artistic studies equipped you for the life of an artist?
HT: I went to Central Saint Martins and during my time there, I realised that I have synesthesia with flavours, colours and textures. That became a very significant milestone in my work as well as for myself personally. I’m currently focusing on understanding my synaesthesia and how to translate it across in my work, in both painting and writing. Being in a creative ‘bubble’ also allowed me to explore and understand why I wanted to create in the first place, to learn about myself as an artist and how I interacted with the world which influenced the directions of the ebbs and flows in my work and where it currently is.
Culturalee:Where do you create your art and what process and materials do you use?
HT: It sounds a little cliché but I’m creating all the time. Because my work surrounds the reimagination of snippets of memories and moments, I’m constantly cataloguing current moments and memories when they resurface (especially elements within the subconscious). There are often new relationships that I can explore and see how they can be infused into my current practice. I often work instinctively, creating form before concept. As the composition comes to fruition, I immerse myself into the painting and its colour palette, allowing myself to be informed by past memories, emotions, feelings, and flavours which determine the trajectory of the piece and its title. I draw upon the sensory aspects of my chosen memory such as the taste, scent and tactile sensations associated with it to reconstruct the moment itself. My work is an accumulation of memories in different realities that are activated through reflection and manifested through creation.
Currently, I’m into oil pastels, inks and acrylics. I really enjoy their individual unique languages, textures and levels of intensity that add to the dynamic within compositions. I love working in layers, it’s a very important aspect of my work. It takes time for the different layers and elements to come together which allows me to contemplate and reflect on where the painting wants to go and what story I want to tell. There are rhythmic movements, little whispers in the details, and loud brush strokes and colours in my work. They are symphonies that I’m constantly creating and each painting is different. Each painting has its own personality, its own flavour profile, its own story.
Culturalee:What artists or creatives inspire you and your work?
HT: When I was 15, I distinctly remember that I was really into Francis Bacon, Gerard Ritcher and Fiona Rae. Now, the list has grown and I could go on and on but to name a few of my current inspirations: Cy Twombly, Christopher Wool, Helen Frankenthaler, Kandinsky, De Kooning, Frank Bowling, Cecily Brown, and early Fiona Rae.
Culturalee:What exhibition are you working on at the moment?
HT: I’m currently exhibiting at a group show, ADDENDUM, at No.20 Arts Gallery which runs from 15th September – 14th October. I also won The Other Art Fair’s New Futures Award 2023 and will be exhibiting at the fair in London at Truman Brewery from 12th – 15th Oct. I was also recently selected to be one of the finalists at The Graduate Art Show and will be exhibiting at Woolff Gallery from 12th – 30th October.