The Four Seasons Restaurant in New York is celebrated by many as a temple of modern design. Housed in a restrained interior designed by architect Philip Johnson are the elegant furniture of his collaborator Mies van der Rohe, elemental tableware by architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable and her industrial designer husband Garth, artist Richard Lippold’s abstract ceiling sculpture, and the shimmering aluminum curtains of textile artist Marie Nichols.
But much less talked about is the landmark restaurant’s logo, a design of the late Emil Antonucci—a mid-century American illustrator who has been forgotten with time.
Cool drawing instruments were what first drew Michael Ng (better known as Mindflyer) into the world of illustration. Since then, he’s progressed from drawing technical diagrams as a trainee draftsman to illustrating surrealistic, psychedelic imagery as an independent—and quickly becoming known as one of Singapore’s leading illustrators. Together with illustrators Andrew Tan (Drewscape) and Lee Wai Leng (Fleecircus), the 50-year-old is also the co-founder of the Organisation of Illustrators Council (OIC), a champion for illustration in Singapore. Who else better than this veteran to give us a tour of the Singapore illustration scene and introduce us to some of its emerging talents?
What does illustration look like in Singapore today?
Somehow when you talk about illustration here, straightaway people think of anime, conceptual art for production, and even graffiti. Illustration for editorial and adverting is a minority, and this is what we’re trying to change through OIC. There’s just more exposure for the other forms of illustration here through computer games, movies, and anime.
“The studio is like a physical manifestation of who we are, it has to look like an expression of what we are doing currently.”
— Mark Ong aka SBTG, Royalefam
Why did you move out of the hip neighbourhood of Haji Lane into this industrial building in the sleepy estate of Commonwealth?
I started customising shoes in my parents’ kitchen back when I first started in 2003. Later on, I shared a shophouse with graphic designers :phunk studio at Arab Street and later Haji Lane for a total of four years. During that period, Royalefam had up to eight people housed in only about half the space of my current studio. When we first moved into the Arab Street/Haji Lane area, it was a ghost town. It got more popular over the years when stores like White Room and the Comme des Garçons Guerilla store moved in. Two years ago, the rent went crazy, and we needed a bigger space because our business was expanding. We started designing shoes and apparel, but have since moved on to signboards and interiors. We happened to bump into one of our embroidery suppliers and we mentioned looking for a new space. He suggested we moved into his place because he had spare room. We were happy with the size, the rent was reasonable and it was someone we knew, so we moved into this space that he partitioned for us. There are just two of us in this much bigger studio now, my wife and I. I also wanted to move away from Haji Lane, which has become very trendy. Here, you’re getting outside of the box so you don’t get influenced from inside the industry.