The Best Address

In Conversation with Lisa Ng

Lisa Ng was born in Hamilton, Ontario. As a child she held an interest in being a poet of sorts. She attended the Dundas Valley School of Art and graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) 2007, obtaining a Bachelor of Fine Arts majoring in integrated Media (narrative work: computers, video, performance and zines). Lisa considers herself a self-taught artist and gets inspired by people. She has won numerous awards including those from the Scarborough Arts Council and the Artist’s Network of Riverdale and has received positive reviews from both the Globe and Mail and NOW Magazine. Her work can be found in private collections all around the world including Canada, USA, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Hong Kong, Japan and Malaysia.

Artist Lisa Ng

What’s your artistic background?

I’ve always been interested in art since I could hold a crayon. I did attend the Ontario College of Art And Design, there I was mostly learning about time based art such as video, computers and performance. It wasn’t until after art school I started painting seriously and I consider myself a self taught painter for the most part.

What’s integral to the work of an artist?

I would say passion and drive, creating art is hard work. It takes a lot of sacrifice and doesn’t always pay off in immediate monetary gain. It’s possible to get lucky but for the most part, you just have to keep chugging along with faith that what you do is worthy and priceless.

What role does the artist have in society?

I believe it’s asking questions, spreading hope, enlightening the collective imagination, showing things don’t have to be the way they currently are, but that there are other possibilities. It’s a protected place for freedom of expression, a vital element in a free society.

What art do you most identify with?

I like the work of the Dadaists and the Surrealists, the Dadaists for going against the grain of the societal expectation of the times and the Surrealists for offering another way of seeing, dreaming.

What themes do you pursue?

I tend to try and capture a feeling that is important to me at any given moment. With my Animals In Rooms series, I explore resiliency and adaptability, taking an animal and their unique characteristics and having them adapt to a man made environment to thrive. The snake goes in the bathroom as it likes watery environments, the Canada Goose has sky blue curtains to remind him of his time in flight, for example.

With my Ugly Animals In Cute Outfits I depict the internet’s most unpopular creatures and dress them up in cute outfits in their  perspective environments they might prefer to thrive in. A hyena, known also to be a creature of theft wears a red blazer that can also turn into a invisible cloak. A carnivore, he has a taxidermy porcupine and a gory Francis Bacon painting on display to show off his conquests. Being proud of who you are and showing that character counts despite what they say about the fact that your looks count !

In my indoor landscape paintings I depict alternative dreamy realities, each one is widely different from the next but I show animals thriving all the same. Ultimately, I believe a lot of my work deals with a lot of the celebration of individualism.

What’s your favourite artwork?

Difficult to say! I will note the first piece that really moved me is Rene Magritte’s 1965, The Blank Signature. I like it because it was something that made me do a double take on top of being beautifully painted.

Describe a real-life situation that inspired you?

At the moment I have a dying compulsion to paint the Freedom Convoy, being Canadian, it is happening in my own backyard. It’s fascinating also as it’s turned into such a global phenomenon. I don’t normally do such blatantly, current socio-political commentary but I just can’t escape the sharp cultural divide we are currently in. Media tells us one thing, but I’m also seeing a different thing with my own eyes that I wanted to capture, a very strange time we are in.

What jobs have you done other than being an artist?

I have done several jobs other than being an artist ! I am currently on maternity leave with my first child from a position as a registered, visiting home care nurse. Previously I went through about 12 different minimum wage jobs, from a towel folder at HomeSense, to a cashier at a convenience store, to drawing caricatures at an amusement park. After many years I finally decided it was time to buckle down and find something steady with flexible hours that could pay my bills while I also make artwork. Nursing is interesting in that you get a lot of social interaction with people you wouldn’t normally meet, it broadens your cultural view in many ways.

Why art?

I grew up in a very strict environment. I was copying the dictionary by the time I was 5. My parents were all about a good work ethics and strong discipline. My childhood was bombarded with extra math homework, mandatory swimming laps, piano lessons and Chinese school on the weekends, activities that were largely dictated down wherein I had little say and little room to protest. Art became an important outlet and a source of joy for me wherein I felt I could finally be free to express myself, to have something I could have a little control over.

What is an artistic outlook on life?

Having a vision that things can be better, or at least different, and making do with what you have to pursue it. I guess a lot of it is perspective.

What memorable responses have you had to your work?

So many ! From kids who admire what I do, to adults who admire what I do, to adults who encourage their kids to admire what I do, to kids who encourage their parents to admire what I do. I’m always flattered to hear about boardroom discussions around the family table surrounding which painting to buy for the living room. It’s an honour and very flattering to be able to infiltrate people’s lives in such a positive and meaningful way.

However, I should note, I’ve also had negative responses too ! Like the time my artwork was taken down from the local library because it was deemed inappropriate due to a hidden penis. To be fair it was just a cartoon penis shaped rock, thankfully I was able to petition it to be put up again. That’s the thing with art, you can’t please everyone and sometimes someone will like some works of my art over others and that’s fine too. Sometimes it’s not so much about being pleasing as it is about offering choice. Sometimes it’s good to switch things up, it’s how you develop, grow, keep things interesting and stay inspired. When it comes to art making, pleasing myself is number one. I think the act alone inspires others that they can do the same, feel the same.

What food, drink, song inspires you?

Food: Making time for art often means not much money for dining out. I’m definitely no foodie but to compensate I’ve learned to be a decent enough cook to know how to make everything that I do want to eat, and buckets of it ! I try to keep it healthy most of the time but once in awhile, nothing beats ramen, a veggie, a sunny side up egg and spam. It’s cheap, it’s fast, it’s easy and leaves more time for painting

Drink: Water is a staple and if I’m feeling special, almond milk, tea is alright too. Alcohol makes me feel sick so I never really took to it.

Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?

It certainly can be lonely being by myself in my studio. I was working part time as a nurse until I had a baby so there’s also that, but I also keep a rotating circle of pen pals to write to. They’re always interested in what I’m working on and they tell me about their experiences of the world from all over. I also paint listening to music, TV shows, podcasts and chat with people online.

What do you dislike about the art world?

The elitism, it’s a competitive place and you really have to know the right person, paint the right thing and say the right thing to get to your blue chip gallery space. It can really pigeon hole your practice. Otherwise you’re left with paying for your own gallery space, which is terribly costly. Thankfully, the internet has thrown all that out the window where just about anyone can see and buy just about anything and for that, I have been able to find a more varied market to thrive in.

What do you dislike about your work?

Oh dear, I dislike having to find a place to store my artworks ! These are physical paintings and I make so much of it. Sometimes a work can sell right away but sometimes it can take 5 or 10 years to sell. It can take time for the work to build an audience and eventually find the right buyer.

What do you like about your work?

I like that it’s always fun to make. As I have another source of income, I am free to make whatever I want and at whatever pace I like, regardless of market trends. The Mona Lisa, was the only painting Leonardo Da Vinci did for himself. I like that story because despite his talent in all his commissioned works, the Mona Lisa, the most famous painting in the world, is probably the one he held closest to his heart.

I also like the connections I make with people I wouldn’t have otherwise met, it’s always lovely to hear how curious they are about my work and what their personal take on it is.

Should art be funded?

To a certain degree, I believe we need to invest in places where art can be shared and seen as a starting point. However, I do believe the giving of grants to individual artists and projects can be problematic in that only a select few can get the prize and it will not coincide with what everyone wants as art is subjective. Unless it’s a private fund, not all tax payers will agree on what art should be funded and why. However, just because artwork may not be appreciated in its time doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be made either, it can be really difficult and is really up to the grit of the artist. I do believe if something is good and speaks to the public, it will be purchased and invested in. Although it takes time, support does happen organically. It’s a tricky question that I’m not sure how to answer; maybe I’m just bitter I never got a grant myself.

What role does arts funding have?

Investing in art is investing in the social, cultural aspect of our communities; ultimately I think it is a good thing.

What is your dream project?

I would love to work on some larger work and combine my ideas from painting into room installations.

Name three artists you’d like to be compared to.

The Surrealist painters, Rene Magritte and Salvador Dali and the film director, Wes Anderson. I love Wes Anderson’s quirky story telling and his visual sense, you can tell he’s studied the work of many painters.

Favourite or most inspirational place?

The Savador Dali Museum in Figueres, Spain has been a great inspiration along with the mural sized painting of The Empire Of Lights be Rene Magritte in the Guggenheim in Venice, Italy. I loved both Spain and Italy for the fact that they embraced art in everyday life, it’s widely on view all the time in their plazas, parks and ingrained in their architecture.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Strangely enough, for me it’s from my parents, to find a stable career to support my art practice on. The art market can be a fickle place, some artists are lucky in that their work corresponds with an available market right away, while others have to build their own audience, which can take years, maybe decades. The bottom line for me was that I stay true to the art I wanted to make.

I also think about Canadian clinical psychologist and author, Jordan Peterson’s quote a lot. “Don’t compare yourself to others, but compare yourself to who you were yesterday.” I think we are all on our own separate journey and even more so when you’re an artist trying to find and develop your own individual voice.

Professionally, what’s your goal?

To continue to be able to make the kind of art that I want to make and share it with the world.

Future plans?

Just keep on painting !















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