Award-winning painter Jon Chan creates a literary work that is his comic book, An Assault On Affection.
Contributed By Theresa Tan
Jon Chan, 29, is a man of few words, but those few create deep impact. The former Anglo-Chinese School boy and LASALLE College of the Arts Masters degree graduate is no newbie to the arts scene. He was the 2007 recipient of the JCCI Singapore Arts Foundation Award.
Chan, who teaches O-level art at City College and a comics course at LASALLE College of the Arts, recently released a comic book, An Assault On Affection, which tells the tale of a young couple with a doomed love life. City News talks to him about the art of telling a story with not so many words.
How did this comic book come about?
It came out of a project that I did for Tickleart, a display of art works at the underground mall, Citylink. The original idea I had for the comic had to do with mass media and mass hysteria. Eventually, I settled on something simpler, something that I felt could engage people and not distance them. I was inspired by what Anton Chekov once said: “Every story has two poles: he and she.” My work was a way of testing what he was saying.
Why use the medium of comics?
Comics are unlike any medium and comics can do things no other medium can do. It’s not like writing, because in comics, the visuals free up the words so that what is written can afford to be less descriptive. Comics as a medium just feels right for me. Like David in the Bible, all that clunky armor that was offered to him to fight Goliath just felt pretentious. The ideas behind comics also challenge the way I view my paintings, I don’t want to make a monumental statement with them anymore, but to incorporate ideas from comics into painting.
What inspired the story of this couple? They seem to fight a lot.
The story really has little to do with traditional notions of romance. It was an honest attempt to question what is true in a relationship. Seeing many of my friends out of broken relationships, and looking at young people hugging and kissing in the MRT, made me wonder how much of it was true love and how much of it was like a game. So you can see this comic as a search for authenticity.
The other thing I was interested in, is how people struggle with differences in their relationships and how these differences can be so trite, but rub on very personal beliefs. Couples fight about trivial things rather than big events; I wanted to see if I could create tension between two characters, and that that tension could have some kind of universal appeal.
What do you do as a teacher?
I teach O-level art and comics. I try to help my students to be more aware of what is going on around them. I want them to realize that there is a value in making art: it’s difficult when they live in an environment where people view art as a mere commodity, as something easily purchased, but difficult to make—when in truth all great things come with difficulty. All the best clothes, the best video games were made by dedicated artists. If artists do not recognize their calling the world would suffer for it.
What is your life’s dream?
My dream is tied in to the cultural mandate that Pastor Kong [Hee of City Harvest Church] talks about. I want to make a difference in the lives of people and to do this through art. But for me, art is not another piece of decoration that should sit comfortably next to someone’s sofa. It’s meant to change lives, to wake them from an illusion of a false life into a life where God is the only possibility. The Czech writer Franz Kafka said something that reflects my intentions: “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.” And I’m reminded of this everyday as I take the MRT and look at depressed faces, and I’m constantly reminded how important it is for me to make my art.
How has your pursuit of art changed since you came to know God?
I was raised as a Christian, so my faith was something that came to me gradually, but I have to say that coming to CHC really renewed my Christian faith. I feel that God has always been my best encourager. He’s always silently cheering me on, and the times when I am closest to Him are the times when I feel surer about my artwork, when my visions sharpen. I have to admit that a lot of times I have doubts about my work because of the difficult subject matter that I bring up, but He has shown me time and time again that the Bible itself dealt with these same issues. He’s also revealed to me great Christian artists and writers such as Dostoevsky and Caravaggio, and their revelations on difficult themes.
Through Pastor Kong, God has shown me that even Daniel did not shy away from reading the texts of the Babylonians and likewise I should not be fearful of reading books some Christians shy away from, as long as I constantly remind myself that God is my source. But more than any of this, He has often reminded me of His deep love for all people good or bad, and more and more I feel like I’m wanting to understand the world the way He sees it, to look at things objectively and subjectively at the same time.
An Assault On Affection (S$18) is available at Doinky Doodles, 33 Bali Lane (2nd floor) and Absolute Comics, 200 Victoria St, #03-13, Parco Bugis Junction.