The Artist's House

for the living artist

Desert Roses

Desert Roses
Toasted Stoneware
Variable Sizes
March 27, 2014

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When someone is journeying through a parched desert, it can get so dry that one might go mad with thirst. Suddenly one stumbles upon a rose sitting faithfully upon cracked earth and it says – Trust. When one sees a rose budding even on earth that is completely broken, one can see that there is hope because somewhere deep deep within is water. For there cannot be a rose, without water. So a desert rose offers trust to the stranger who is wandering in dryness. The desert rose arises suddenly especially upon the stranger in the exact moment – not a moment sooner – when the stranger feels completely broken after having understood that a desert is better than shedding bitter water. A desert rose springs out of water yet unseen and untasted. A desert rose blooms completely out of trust.

It is a flower of the earth transformed and speaking a promise of real water.

Rosette Series 1

Rosette Series

I became very interested in Rosettes, Rose Windows. And so when the flowers were blossoming in my work, I started to connect them with the Rose Windows of the churches and cathedrals in Switzerland. There was a deep questioning of the war between the Catholics and the Protestants, and it was really for me, a way of coming to peace within myself, about the contradictions of faith and faith traditions. At the same time, I was in need of a spirituality that I was able to be at home with, fully, and art had helped me through this deep inner dialogue.

Rosette Series 1
Watercolour pencil on paper
2013

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My daughter and I have been making collaborative art since she was 12 months old. So, I love this series especially the most because we were drawing together: I draw, she draws, we beam. We decided to name the flowers by the individuals in my life; those who have turned up unexpectedly to accompany my inner growth to integration. She was supporting my blossoming journey, and so enthusiastically helped me choose which flower fitted which friend. These drawings have been or are in the process of being gifted to each of my friends.

Peng-Ean Khoo
March 2016

A Piece of Sky

 

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A Piece of Sky

Every time I think I can run away from being honest about my feelings, something inevitably happens and smacks me in the face, and reminds me that without honesty, there is no real voice. If there is no real voice, there is no real participation. That something that smacks me in the face, is a something of love. Of a truthful embrace of what life is. Every time we try to subvert and control the nature of life, it will rebound and redirect us towards the “truth, beauty and goodness” of life. And it isn’t static, and it isn’t definable, and certainly not repeatable.

For years, since 2013, I began exploring windows. If I were to say my explorations were intellectual, I would have been lying. And the greatest tragedy is not that I have lied to you, but that I have lied to myself. My explorations were part of my spiritual growth. I was afraid of using this word: spirituality.

Every time I use this word, something smacks me in the face.

I have now learnt not to be afraid of the freedom that comes with opening this window.

A Piece of Sky.

This work is actually my absolutestly favourite. I was so afraid to keep exploring, to keep thinking, to keep questioning, the status quo surrounding religion and spirituality.

So, I had processed this in silence. In an inner house that I had allowed no one to enter. And I had made windows as my way in, and my way out. In other words, I had trapped myself in this inner house, which I could actually neither enter nor exit.

Because – I was afraid.

I was afraid of the repercussions of society in reaction and in relation to my questions, ideas, and somewhat too heart-logical (for comfort) conclusions.

I was afraid because much of larger society isn’t about responses, but about reactions. And I didn’t know how to do the rock and roll – the dance.

Frankly, I still don’t.

So, I had listened to Barbara Streisand and the music and lyrics of “A Piece of Sky” from the musical Yentl over and over again. Every time I don’t receive any support from my community of family and friends to explore something new and challenging, I listen and sing with Barbara Streisand. It is like my prayer, that no one can sanctify and affirm – ah, that’s your prayer. Truly, the work and heart of this song saved my life.

“Tell me where
Where is it written
What is it I am meant to be?
That I can’t dare…
It all began the day I found..
That from my window I could only see
A piece of sky.”

 

Peng-Ean Khoo
July 12, 2016

Rosette Series 2

Heartworks in Motion
(after Heartworks in Motion ©)
(Lupine Series #1 – 20
Rosette Series 2)
Watercolour pencil on paper
2013

2. Full Collection

The series of Rosette drawings blossomed forth in the summer of 2013 in Zurich, Switzerland, while my husband was spending a work sabbatical and our children and I were spending a much blessed 3 months respite from the daily toils of life in Singapore.

Lupine Series (Rosette Series #2) is named after Heartworks in Motion©, to honour the work of DanaKae Bonahoom, the hope in my heart for the fruition of fully inclusive schools in Singapore, Malaysia, South-east Asia and Asia.

The Lupine is in honour of my dear brave daughter who was 10 at the time of the drawings. She has been one heart who has carried my heart through so many trials. We fell in love with her lupine sprouts which she so faithfully, hopefully and lovingly planted in the modest balcony of our summer home.

The Rosette series are unique flowers in full bloom, named after my dear friends who have faithfully held my heart while I was in the winter of my blossoming. Four – DanaKae, Mia, Stef, Lara – are included in this series.

I hope to raise funds for the work of fully inclusive schools, through these drawings.

The writings that accompany these drawings are still in preparation in a manuscript entitled, “A Posy of 12 Julys”.
Peng-Ean Khoo
March 2016

Sewing Hope

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Sewing Hope
100 chewed and mended shirts
Tshirts, heart-shaped furry animal prints,red embroidery thread, handsewn
Various dimensions

When I make art, say like the recent sewing project. So, this is the process. It was about 3 years of observing, living, supporting Keith in his oral motor needs. I let him chew, I don’t let him chew. It is a struggle for him. Chewing is a developmental need. But chewing your shirt or cloth is not culturally accepted. I let him chew, when I think, what’s wrong with that? Then he really went at it. He chewed and chewed and chewed and got through like 50-100 shirts. Then he walks around looking neglected, like a child with an absent mom. Then I don’t let him chew as he was habituating into that persona who is more animal like than human like. Then such and such says – becoming an almost unbearable incessant chatter – why don’t you give him gum,give him hard food, stick the zvibe in his mouth, give him the chewy! He spits them out, he throws them all over the room, all over the living room floor. He offers his chewy to the orang utan at the zoo. Really, he was after the cloth texture. The other materials don’t give him that sensory satisfaction. So later, I found nuts and screen time combination and that somehow worked. But it goes in cycle. When we work his hands, it triggers his jaw, getting ready for it for speech. So it goes in cycles. It is not a battle, it is just supporting growth, and formation, within a cultural context.

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Now here comes the interesting bit. The cultural anxiety about his chewing and then the entire spotlight on the mom. Teachers and parents don’t like the chewing, because there are other children around. They don’t want other children saying, how come Keith can chew his shirt? They could answer by saying he is special but then when he walks around a community of children under their care, suddenly the cultural anxiety and guilt transfers to their community space and they don’t know what to do about it. Now, hard science still hasn’t caught up with culture, can’t be in the same space, as what constitutes the idea of cultural care, versus cultural neglect. Two shores of the same ocean of care and love cannot meet. So, cultural solutioning comes in – differentiation, labeling, segregation.

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So as a mother, my heart goes through this entire cultural conflict about chewing. Watching all the reactions and responses to this chewing. Watching and experiencing the confusion experienced by Keith and watching and experiencing all the rejection experienced by my own heart. It is also a cultural helplessness. Then comes a moment of insight. A moment when you see light, after and only after you experience all the emotions and reactions of all in the space; the whole accordion of any type of emotion you can label during a cultural confusion and helplessness. There is in fact, no solution, and everyone panics. That one word is so powerful, and so hidden, and so complex. Panic.

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So, as the shirts piled up, my emotions went through a roller coaster. I am in the middle of all this heap of cultural panic and in the meantime, a child, my child, is asked to bear witness to adults not knowing what to do about a simple shirt chewing. He can’t feel safe, and so a secondary need arises in him. He pummels everything in sight. He is asking for some solid ground, some safety, some protection about his heart and his need. So, mom, me, cannot be neutral about the cultural confusion and chaos. I have to make a choice, that translates into action.

So you ask what is all this digression, you were talking about making art?

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Art is about making choices.

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So the clothes piled up in his cupboard till I had no more space. See, I was still refusing to act, to act upon, a situation. That was the true neglect. There is no neutrality in this. The shirts overflowed. Then one day, I chose. First step, bundle them up. I never threw out a single shirt. For me, that would have been a act, a measure, of defeat.

Once I made the choice to bundle them up, it was easy, I collected all of them and his cupboard was suddenly clear but my storage had two big sacks of shirts. At about that time, I found a stitching process that worked. Embroidery thread with felt sewn with the most basic stitch. My daughter and I worked on this combination of media for several occasions and they were always successful. But I couldn’t use felt to patch up the chewed out bits. There was no meaning in that for me. I thought about the Japanese cotton. I imagined all kinds of tailoring technology for mending collars. I even got to the point of setting up a sewing studio, but I could not start to mend one single collar!

Then one morning in Zurich, in a craft shop that Beth, Keith and I had visited frequently, I saw the fabric! It was a whole summer season of Zurich zoo for Beth and Keith, and it spoke to me immediately! Animal prints on lovely sensory furry fabric! It spoke of the animal in us that we are culturally afraid of. It spoke of the power and strength of these animals as represented in culture – tiger and leopard. And it spoke of the quiet, innocent grace of these animals – giraffe and zebra. My two favorite animals on earth! I spoke to the lady at the shop – Leobundgut, off Rennweg. Her name is Margrith Scherrer. I spoke to her about the mending project. Her eyes and heart lit up. She shared my hopes. I had been questioning about hope. What is hope? My hope is that this project is told, so that others can share the hope -The three years is known and mended. That one can get out of the belly of the whale. That one can triumph.

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Back to the sewing project. The shape is a heart. The thread is red. From love to love. The shores are met. The cultural divide with developmental science is met, through a mother’s and a sister’s hope and love, with a patch of a furry animal print heart. Not simply, but simply surely. Art makes the bridge. We still have two bags of shirts to sew and Grandma has said she would like to help sew too. I hope that this project will be exhibited in the new National Gallery of Singapore. And I hope to raise some funds for Heartworks in Motion through a silent auction of the shirts. The minimum bid is SGD1,000 each shirt. And I hope for these shirts to be gifted to the Orang Asli children in Sigar Highlands.

The heart of this project is – Hope.

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Peng-Ean Khoo
August 9,2013
Singapore’s 48th National Day

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The Making of The Artist’s House Platter series

This is a closeup of the house in progress. I started with slab work and shaped a platter-house. I made brick-like prints on the outside and then hearts and flowers as wallpaper for the interior. However, the roof was really problematic. Then I suddenly had the idea of a heart tile. Once I started making the heart tiles and tiling the roof, I knew the whole piece was going to pop. After that, I made the heart and I started talking to my pottery mates about the door. I was really concerned initially that The Artist’s House logo had no door! It really bothered me as I have a husband and children and what would that really mean if I made a house with no door? Thankfully, I saw that the heart was the door – how beautiful is that. The heart is the door. My pottery mates were all saying, “We see that, we see that already. We don’t need the door!” Well, I still made a door, and with a knob, just in case one doesn’t see or one forgets.

Next is the window. Belinda, my sister-in-law, the architect, was sitting right in front of me. It was hilarious; she kept coaching me how to make a window. But I really couldn’t figure what she was saying as prior to this, I really haven’t looked too carefully at a window. And so I translated this childhood abstraction of a square with a cross to signifiy window into a window-bowl with a handle. It actually looks like a basket. I am really starting to like my window-basket, so now I’m thinking of expanding this to be fruit baskets for the harvest in the edible garden.

Then the tree. It’s Stanley Greenspan‘s Learning Tree! When I first read his book in early 2012, The Growth of Mind (Greenspan, S.T. and B.L. Benderly, The growth of the mind: And the endangered origins of intelligence. 1997, Massachusettes: Perseus Books.), I had felt such a deep sense of loss when I discovered he had only passed on recently. His lifework was beyond incredible. It is life-changing when one is truly able to grasp and receive Stanley Greenspan’s lifework. In The Learning Tree (2010. The Learning Tree: Overcoming Learning Disabilities From the Ground Up with Nancy Thorndike Greenspan) he has brought together several of his work and this is his final work. Here, he has expanded the 6 emotional developmental milestones to nine, the final being the milestone of reflective thinking.

“Support your child to climb the developmental ladder,” I can hear DanaKae Bonahoom, my parenting guide, who runs a fully inclusive school in California USA, calling out to me every time I feel like giving up. I hold this vision in my heart because it allows me to see the next rung and the next rung and the next. There were so many therapies that we journeyed through -physio therapy (PT), speech & language therapy (SLT), auditory-verbal therapy (AVT), mediated learning experience (MLE), occupational therapy (OT) . Team Keith is excellent heart people but something was still missing. The therapies were in discrete pieces, much like how education is today – you go for Math, Science, English, Geography, then PE – but where is the link? It was finding that link that made me so exasperated, so dissatisfied and by the time Keith was 2 and a half years old, he was over-therapied. He was throwing things, (at the therapists, actually), and no one had said to me, he was angry. Everyone called it a behaviour, or some would try and guess at sensory, and I was refusing to do anything until I was sure what it the root cause we’re addressing – is it neurological, is it sensory, is it developmental, and if it’s behaviour – I want to know why. Then, DanaKae came into our lives. Slowly, over a period of 3 years. She taught me how to watch his gesture, his every facial expression, his every move and feel his heart; watch when his body slumps, watch when his eyes shine. She pointed out to me that Keith already has emotional ideation – that’s level 4! And all this time, I was thinking, we’ve got a lot of catch-up to do, or that he was lost, or this or that. So, I’ve learnt to acknowledge this in Keith- “I’m so mad!” – and then we had to reset his limits as his throwing, pinching, tipping, toppling had become habituated and a concern in school and in community. And when we put it all together, Keith clicked together – as a whole being. Or rather, he has always been a whole being, but my parenting approach clicked. My relationship with him has deepened so much more now, and we’re connected because I get him now. It isn’t so much about what he can or cannot do – he does have a whole life to practise and gain mastery in skills, but it is about this developmental milestones – the emotional developmental milestones – that makes him and me, happy. And complete.

“This ability to build bridges between ideas on an emotional level underlies all future logical thought. More abstract logic and cause-and-effect thinking builds on this fundamental cause-and-effect thinking. In fact, emotional thinking is the foundation for all future thinking [4] (p. 119).” – Brazelton, T.B. and S.T. Greenspan, The irreducible needs of children: What ever child must have to grow, learn, and flourish. 2000, Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing.

Just as the class was ending, I quickly finished the piece with the bowls. These are the fruits of the tree. Giving back. I’ve realised, I can’t be complete, without completing the journey of service. I look forward to learning and deepening this new chapter in, with and through The Artist’s House.

Because of Autumn Lanterns (Why Do I Make Art?)

Because of Autumn Lanterns (Why Do I Make Art?)
by Peng-Ean Khoo
October 17, 2009

I went back and forth about posting this piece. It is less about my journeying with Down Syndrome but more about my journeying as an artist and why (I think) I was so compelled to enable the production of ONE FRIDAY. I say I think because I haven’t really had time to process it all yet. At this juncture, what I do realise is that ONE FRIDAY, although I had started out as being the person gifiting, I feel I am the primary beneficiary instead – I’ve been gifted back my gifts. I have been gifted back the gift of art.

This piece was written for Adelina Ong, Centre Director of the Little Arts Academy http://baf.sg/aboutthelittleartsacademy.htm
who do great work in service of children. She had asked three questions:
i)                     what the purpose of art is – to you personally as an artist
ii)                   why you have chosen to share your knowledge with children who cannot afford arts training
iii)                  what your dream/hope/aspiration is for the children you are teaching in LAA

My First Oil Painting

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My first oil painting was entitled “Autumn Lanterns”. It was autumn, I was 15,000km from my birth place, and still I managed to link some New England foliage to my childhood mid-autumn festival lanterns. That was in 2000. I was 30. I was homesick and art had brought me home.

Why I now make art so furiously and so hungrily is because I never got to make art when I was a child. I never got to make art when I was a child not because there was a shortage of parental care or art materials or money but because NO ONE around me made art. And because of that, the artist in me had stayed buried for 30 years and all that time, a part of me was dead. And when a part of you is dead, you cannot truly live. You cannot truly live because you are mute and when you cannot truly speak, you cannot truly dialogue – with the world or with yourself. And when you cannot dialogue, you cannot reconcile. And when you cannot reconcile, you cannot find peace.

 

The Day of Autumn Lanterns

In 2000, the day of “Autumn Lanterns”, I had gotten to the point in my life where I had nothing to lose. It was a moment where I had stopped “judging” myself, where I had stopped “second-guessing” whether I could make art, and didn’t even bother to ask how one makes art. I just put paint on brush and drew what I saw. And that’s when I started to learn to live again – I had learnt to engage with the world with my eyes and my hands. I had found my OWN WAY of communing with the universe, especially of the abstract, of the things that no words could describe. I had also found a new SPACE – where we could leave behind all we knew yet we wouldn’t ever be lost – because it was my own space and one that I could come in and out of anytime, anywhere. And it was my space, and my space only and there was NO ROOM FOR JUDGEMENT because no one else could enter that space. It was a safe, free space – to tinker away at anything that I couldn’t otherwise work out in the conventional existence that we still need to inhabit (in order to fulfil our various responsibilities as a functional human being).  I had felt that ANYTHING was possible. It’s that feeling of UNLIMITED POSSIBILITIES coupled with the feeling of being ABLE.  To resolve, the unresolved work of humanity during my historical period, in my one precious lifetime that was bestowed upon me by the universe. In that one moment of stumbling, I had found art.

With that I started to find my own “voice”, to learn how to hone it somewhat and then when I got more crisp and started to learn more about art history and art theory, I went and lost that precious moment, and all the self-doubt crept back in and again, I started to feel so small, so insignificant, so hopeless, about what art can do; about what I can do, as an artist.


One Friday

It was only this year that I truly dared to own my gift. And I found it while working on a project where I was making a gift as a mom. I was a mom trying to do her best to make things better for her children, especially her son with an extra chromosome 21. And for his band of brothers and sisters who have yet to be given a REAL CHANCE by the world that has been so WRONG about what individuals with Down Syndrome ARE and CAN BE. The need (to speak out, to cry out) was so compelling that I acted out of a mother’s pure primal instinct and went and gathered nearly 100 voices and energies to tell this story. But after the gathering process, I couldn’t start. I didn’t know where to begin the weaving. I knew I had to work in the film language, a totally new medium for me, in order to speak to the audience of the Internet Age. Everyone had given me their hearts and their most, most vulnerable, innermost hopes and dreams and had fully entrusted me to speak for them. It was so, so precious, and so, so terribly beyond me, that for the second time in my life, I was forced to stop trying to locate myself – in art historical context, labour market context, societal relationships context.  Suddenly, from the same reserve that woke me up one day and told me I could be a great mother to a special child, I found this: that even with the little that I do, as long as it is the best I can do, IT IS GOOD ENOUGH. And I just stopped thinking and just started; the same way as Autumn Lanterns. Put paint on brush and slap it on canvas.

 

And I Began to Make Art Again

And I began to make art again. And I feel so alive again. And I feel so big. And I feel EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE. And I feel EVERYTHING GOOD IS POSSIBLE. AND I began to BELIEVE again that EVERYTHING’S GONNA BE ALRIGHT. Because with love, we can overcome ANYTHING – ANYTHING.

Suddenly all the noise disappeared and I learnt to just make what was NEEDED to be made, what was NEEDED to be said, without interference and I learnt to simply enjoy gift-wrapping my love in poetry. And it was even more liberating than finding a voice or a space, because now, I have learnt to gift love for others.

 

Working with Children

When I work with very young children, I am learning from them. I am observing them. I am learning how to engage with the world afresh. Children are the true artists. So free, so uninhibited. With older children who have forgotten this initial instinct, I help remind them about their natural gifts and helping them work at finding and entrenching their own doorways back to their magical selves. I also help show them what adults and children before them have discovered and we talk about respectful and meaningful engagement. And I help provide platforms for children to be heard. By simply sitting adults down and making them watch and stop twitching – and learn to truly listen – to our future.

For children of Little Arts Academy, there is no difference with other children. I used to feel tremendous sadness for children who are materially- challenged or physically-challenged or cognitively-challenged. The other day, some of Mother Theresa’s sayings ended up in my mailbox. She speaks about how it is actually the poverty of love being one of the greatest disruptions to peaceful and meaningful co-existence of humankind amongst ourselves and other species. So, with children of Little Arts Academy, who are dislocated from their physical homes/cores, if we gift them the gift of art, they’ll be able to find their way home – to themselves. With art, one can be in any state of physical impoverishment, no matter how adverse, and still be able to experience joy and hope. And with the power of BELIEF (in their own abilities to alter an adverse state), these children can overcome ANYTHING and BECOME all that they’re meant to be.

So making art for me is about gifting myself.
It’s about finding my voice.
It’s about saying something meaningful.
It’s about helping others find their voices.
It’s about crying out for others who have no voices.
It’s about finding a safe space.
It’s about experiencing that one moment of peace and hope.
It’s about love.
It’s about being home.