Interview: Amy Goh

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by D&D MTL on October 28, 2013

Step inside the surreal, inky world of globe-trotting artist Amy Goh: Amy’s microscopically detailed images are populated with symbolic gestures, ornate characters, and mythological creatures. In spite of her attention to minute spaces on the page, Amy is regularly exploring larger worlds. Hailing from Singapore, Amy attended McGill University in Montreal, and is currently working in Japan for the year. While overseas, she continues to assist in research projects at McGill, the subjects of which include the development of digital environments from dystopian French novels, and aspects of popular media in Korea.

Before Amy departed Montreal for overseas adventure, she sat down with D&D contributor Suzanne Hood for a wide-ranging discussion about philosophies on drawing, choice of pens, and the unconscious. Early in the conversation, Amy revealed that her current drawing practice began only recently in response to her studies of literature and the grotesque.

Amy Goh: I started drawing partly as a response to [my classes] – it was like life and art and academia merging into one. I was seeing myself a lot in what I was studying…it felt like an eruption of sorts. My process to drawing is pretty unmediated, I guess. I had different philosophies when I started drawing, and one was that I would finish everything I started, and another was that I would never really think about what I was doing: drawing is like going into a state of just giving into yourself, and just letting yourself create in a kind of unconscious way. It almost feels like I’m channelling myself, if that makes sense.

D&D MTL: From what I’ve read about your drawing practice, you don’t really plan out what you’re drawing, that it’s more spontaneous.

Amy Goh: It’s very visceral, I guess. It’s interesting, because I only find out what I’m doing after the fact. After I’ve done a lot of pieces, I realize that each piece flows into the other in a strange way and there’s an order.


(…) The funny thing is that when I first started drawing, I hated everything that I was doing. Everything I created was deformed! (laughs) And then after a while, I sort of came to terms with it, it became more natural—but it took me like a solid year to get to that point. A lot of hating your own work is really your mind intervening. I did draw when I was little and when I was a teenager, but I was a bit more of a perfectionist about it and I didn’t really draw a lot. I wrote more than I drew.

I think drawing is more a meditative thing for me: it’s like putting aside your mind and going into space. I guess the detail in my work is so microcosmic that I’m paying attention into each individual detail in my drawing, and I don’t really know what I’m creating until sometimes I’ve finished the whole piece. People are always telling me things about my pieces that I don’t realize.

D&D MTL: Sometimes you recognize themes, but only later on?

Amy Goh: Yeah, I think themes reoccur. Certain motifs die out, but some motifs never do…There is a lot of repetition: I tend to cycle around certain ideas and motifs, but the actual form of it changes depending on what I’m exploring.

D&D MTL: What kinds of motifs do you go back to?

Amy Goh: Well, the eyes – I can’t get rid of the eyes! Yeah, for some reason the eyes have stayed…and the hands, well, the hands have cycled – I just like hands a lot. But I think the hands became really intense when, before I went to Italy, I started drawing a lot of virgin Mary-inspired art, and I didn’t really know why I was doing that, just like lots of halos and funeral figures, lots of reverential hands. One of the pieces I showed [with En Masse] just before I went to Italy was this girl with a golden halo. Then I went to Italy and I saw all these religious paintings, and they were using the same iconography, and it was kind of interesting because I had never seen these paintings before, so it was kind of strange and uncanny.


D&D MTL: Are there new symbols or new elements that you are incorporating now?

Amy Goh: I think that my art has changed recently. I’ve done a few girls who were like sacrificial girls. Usually, I’m drawn to shapes or certain images like vessels, or boats…organic shapes seem endlessly inspiring for me, which is kind of strange to say.

D&D MTL: So there’s always something you can go back to in them?

Amy Goh: The shapes mutate for me, I guess – earlier on, I was drawn to womb-like spaces, or encapsulated spaces, but then they do evolve and change. It kind of mirrors what I’m going through, which is interesting. I can sort of check my own evolution through my art. It’s kind of strange, the old series that I did are very different from what I’m doing now, but it’s not obvious, unless I compare my early, early stuff with what I’m doing now.

D&D MTL: Your compositions themselves are interesting – they’re quite compact, but the level of detail within them…it’s like once you start looking somewhere, there’s like an entire world that you can get into in the lines.

Amy Goh: I guess you can zoom in and out – I think my art works on a microcosmic level as well as a macrocosmic level, because there’s an overall black-and-white balance. I think stylistically that it’s essential to make sure that the balance is right, that it’s not just detail.

Amy went on to describe one of her recent projects at Coatcheck Gallery in Montreal, in which she partnered with Vlad Constantinescu to create an immersive environment with drawings, light projections, and an audio soundtrack. Presented at the time of the Lunar New Year last February, Edenic Spaces was a multimedia experience that incorporated lush visuals of forests, the sea, and the moon. The discussion shifted to Amy’s interests in combining media to create more elaborate artworks, and in collaborating with other artists.

D&D MTL: Do you want to do more of the immersive environments?

Amy Goh: Yes, I do. I started doing books (out of a) need to merge everything I do, I guess. I write a lot. When I’m drawing, I’m very immersed in it on a subconscious level so I’m not really thinking about it, but with writing it really is about going into that space and channelling it, so it feels more cathartic in a way than drawing. Writing happens very quickly for me. I want to be able to create more installations using immersive environments: I kind of want to create an experience where you’re immersed in a world itself, because I feel that the drawings are just a facet of my overall practice as an artist. It [drawing] is a very technical and controlled practice, but there are many other sides to what I want to do.

D&D MTL: Do you prefer to work in a collaborative way? There must be a different feeling when you’re working in conjunction with another artist than on your own.

Amy Goh: My own practice in drawing is very individual, but in terms of what inspires me in general, I would say, it’s experiences: experiences tend to cross-fertilize, and meeting new people is like meeting new ways of seeing things and perspectives…I find a way to incorporate them consciously or unconsciously. When it comes to conscious collaborations, it really is a matter of the chemistry being right – you can’t force things.

D&D MTL: I’m wondering about the experience of working with a group like En Masse. It seems like a big group, and it can be a lot of interaction at one time. What was that experience like?



Amy Goh: The funny thing was, the first time I was working with them, it was my first time painting on a wall, and I was like, “what am I doing?” (laughs). They had to teach me how to use the paint!

D&D MTL: What are you working on right now?

Amy Goh: In terms of commissions, I just did something for a band in Singapore. Now I’m doing something for a young adult novel: it’s interesting, because it’s inspired by Hindu mythology – it’s about this group of women who live in subterranean caves.

D&D MTL: Do you find creating something for an illustration commission kind of takes away from the act of just making a drawing?

Amy Goh: It’s sort of a learning experience: I guess the only time that I’ve ever felt like I was doing ‘illustration work’ is when I’m working for the young adult novelist, and she wants something specific: I guess technically, it was like that was a learning experience – I’ll just draw whatever she wants me to draw. It’s kind of fun, in the sense that I’m drawing things that I wasn’t expecting to draw. She’s paying me to spend some time in her world, as well, and the part I really enjoyed was getting into the novel, getting into the mythology, and then drawing whatever came from that.

I like doing album art and art direction, because I get to direct the art more and conceptualize things more. People trust you more when conceptually you’re on the same plane as them.

D&D MTL: This is a techie/nerdy question: what tools do you like to work with?

Amy Goh: Micron pens, 005 and 01. I kind of love those pens! You can draw endlessly with them. Even when they’re dying and running out of ink, I’m like “I’ll use them anyway for other details!”

D&D MTL: So you use them for all they’re worth?

Amy Goh: Yeah, I usually have two dying microns, and two with lots of ink. I pencil to get the basic shape, but that’s about it. It’s like I’m drawing officially when I’m using ink. I don’t pencil everything initially – I just have a basic shape and then go in with ink. It kind of goes with my philosophy that there’s no such thing as a mistake! You’re the only one who would notice them, anyway….as you practice, you can kind of explore things naturally.

D&D MTL: I was wondering about your future plans – I guess it’s kind of a silly question, since your emphasis is less on planning things out completely.

Amy Goh: Well, I’m going to Japan to teach English for a year. I have a general idea of the shape of things. I know I’m going to Japan, and I know that there will be new opportunities there. I’ll be travelling there as well, around Japan, and I’ll have lots of free time on my hands as well to draw.


You can check out more of Amy’s drawings at the following sites: Atlantis Dreaming, Hire An Illustrator, and her Facebook page.

Suzanne Hood is a Montreal-based artist, writer, and science nerd. She loves contemporary art of all kinds, but has a special interest in drawing and painting related to biology and medical imagery. Her drawings and random thoughts about art are updated regularly on her blog Drawn In.

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