The Artist's House

for the living artist

The Culture of Love in Community

My other brother, Chuan, or Dr Alex, as his patients know him, is truly excited about the Reggio Emilia approach. I haven’t been to Reggio Emilia in Italy but I am deeply privileged to be walking and be deeply guided in the education journey by Vashima Goyal, the founder and pedagogist of Child at St 11. I learnt in one of such amazing seminars at St11 when Dr Ellen Hull was visiting from Boulder Journey School in Colorado US, that the Reggio approach can only be practised in Reggio Emilia. We can be inspired by Reggio but we can’t be Reggio. We have to come into our own. The deep fundamentals of the Reggio approach is of philosophy – belief and conviction – in the following:

1) Children’s rights

“Child at Street 11 strongly believes that children have rights to sound education, good health and protection against violence and abuse.” – Child at St11

2) Culture – specifically one of collaboration of unique cultures i.e. being in community

“Children and adults interact in relationships formed and maintained within the school. We think that the system of relationships is critical because it provides the basis for the development of a culture in the school that reflects the unique cultures of the individuals within the school.” – Boulder Journey School

The art, the investigations, though extremely appealing to our intellect, is secondary.

DanaKae Bonahoom, Keith’s developmental interventionist, who was mentored by Dr Stanley Greenspan, during a seminar at St11, crystallises it even clearer, “Children have a right to be loved.” Sometime at the end of June 2012, it clicked for me that Stanley Greenspan’s 2nd emotional development milestone is about AFFECTION. I was notionally nodding at “Intimacy/Interest in the World” but I wasn’t really practising from this deep oasis during all the moments with my children, husband and loved ones. When in engagement, especially when I feel like I ought to be the educator or the therapist, I am braining my play, instead of playing with affection, as DanaKae would say, “from the heartspace”.

There is always a gap, one feels distanced, academic, when one brains an engagement and erroneously calls it floortime or a relationship. Affection is when I am horseplaying, kicking a football, making wanton, splashing water with my children – when things drop on the floor, they drop, when the ball crashes on the vase, we give a good giggle. Affection means you love whatever the other person is doing very simply because it’s the other person. The very thought, the very presence of the other person makes you completely aglow, completely complete.




Kitchen Table

I am getting so excited. The House as a subject is really opening up so many possibilities for me. Since this is really my biggest struggle – to stay domesticated – as it really hit me that for certain years of child development, children really need someone to anchor the home. So, I’ll just spend these years making art exploring motherhood and being a domesticated artist.

I’m currently making a tableware set. I’ve finished the heart bowls.

Yesterday I made some leafscoops, some tiny spoons, and something which started as a window series but may just be like napkin rings or trivets. So I started visualising the whole dining table, and was thinking about CÉZANNE “Kitchen Table” and thought, wow, these pieces are pretty much still life pieces in 3-D. The coloured slip is so bright and colourful and I do love CÉZANNE, so I’m so happy I can go crazy and be all domesticated with flowers and fruit trees and hearts which make me so happy and chirpy; strangely, no words on the pieces. Suddenly, with the trivets, I thought about casserole dishes. Oops, spilling over to the kitchen, and I haven’t even finished the table pieces yet!!!


France 1839 – 1906

Kitchen table (Still-life with basket)
[La table de cuisine (Nature morte au panier)] 1888-90
oil on canvas
canvas 65.0 (h) x 80.0 (w) cm
Musée d’Orsay, Paris , Bequest of Auguste Pellerin 1929
© RMN (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Rose: The Name of the Rooms

Here’s where the fun part begins for me. Naming the rooms. What can I introduce? What is responsible, especially in the midst of children? I feel this tussle. The space is for children and families. But my heart longs to have open dialogues about art & poetry. For example, Keat had hung perfectly 3 pieces of artwork that involved nudity, and I took them down. I missed that being up there. The kids, of course, saw these pieces before any pieces and wanted to know why I painted them, why I can paint them, when I had been so strict in my limits regarding  sexuality. They just wanted to know. So, I am in this dilemma, truly – how does one speak truth? Or more pointedly, how does one mediate truth to children? We have to make the space emotionally safe for children. Yet so many of my explorations are so emotionally intense; how do I introduce this safely to children?

For example, my heart list as a poet-artist is this:

1. The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard  (No. 80 /1. Suite Studio)

2. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (No. 80 /2. Medium Studio)

3. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf (No. 80 /3. Small Studio)

4. The Red Studio and The Open Window by Matisse (No. 78 /1. Suite Studio )

5. Handwriting by Michael Ondaatje (No. 78/2 – Medium Studio)

6. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (No. 78 /3 – Small Studio)

7. Still Life with a Basket (Kitchen Table) by Paul Cezanne (No. 80 – Dry Kitchen/Dining Studio)

8.  Twittering Machine by Paul Klee (No. 80 – Wet Art Studio)

9. 4’33 by John Cage (No. 78 – Spoken Word, Music & Dance Studio)

10. The BFG by Roald Dahl (Beth’s contribution) (No. 78 – Wet Kitchen Studio)

11. On Love and Barkey by Basho (No. 80 – Edible Garden Studio)

12. The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzo (No. 78 – Patio Studio)

So, the thing is this. I am learning about parenting is this, that:

1)We follow our hearts;

2) We live what we value, and what I value here in this particular space is truth, liberty and moral responsibility;

3) We live it out loud;

4) Life is not a performance – it is real, live it; and

5) Living is not about being perfect. It is about sharing intimately one’s heart, and one’s life, authentically.

So, how do I mediate this truth? It is a space that has been designated for my heart. My heart wants to be free, to not be afraid, to not need to molly coddle our children. To trust our children to be braver than we were. To know that we have to bring up children who are more prepared than we were. The world is still so broken in so many places. If we don’t point out where the work needs to be, how are our children going to know where to continue the work?

It would take a courageous parent to enter this space. And so, it shall be. We must have the courage to look at contemporary history and current affairs; otherwise, our children have no chance to arrive, home. To truth and liberty.

So with all my love, I boldly name these rooms with the heart of the poet-artist in me, and trust that all that is light, love and life will shine through the murky waters.


About two hours later. I began to change the list. It was too heavy. Who would have thought selecting 12 works could be so agonising? I want it to be real but not sad. I want it uplifting, and especially for the children, it is important to share the hope. The truth, yes, but we need more than ever to inspire hope and courage in order to carry out changes that complete one’s life work – with purpose, joy and love.

1.  The Red Studio and The Open Window by Matisse  (No. 80 /1. Suite Studio)

2.  The BFG by Roald Dahl (No. 80 /2. Medium Studio)

3. Rice House by Wolfgang Laib(No. 80 /3. Small Studio)

4. Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson (No. 78 /1. Suite Studio )

5. Time by Andy Goldsworthy (No. 78/2 – Medium Studio)

6.  The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery(No. 78 /3 – Small Studio)

7. Pancakes, Pancakes! by Eric Carle (No. 80 – Dry Kitchen-Dining Studio)

8.  Twittering Machine by Paul Klee (No. 80 – Wet Art Studio)

9. 4’33 by John Cage (No. 78 – Spoken Word, Music & Dance Studio)

10. The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss (No. 78 – Wet Kitchen Studio)

11.  The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein (No. 80 – Edible Garden Studio)

12. On Love and Barley by Basho (No. 78 – Patio Studio)

The Renovation

After a 3 week frenzy and steeled determination, my mom and my brother, Keat completed the renovation on No. 80 and No.78. This was done almost in stealth, as discussion with the rest of the family members would certainly have drawn criticisms, doubts, and more criticisms. The deep height for me was when Keat single-handedly put up all my paintings that I did when I first started to paint in Boston from 12 years ago. What was amazing was not only he curated he stellarly, but that he knew that I would not be able to approach my own works from way back when. His deep love for Vincent was also displayed as he lovingly and sensitively hung up Vincent’s tremendously heavy pieces on the walls. He doesn’t know Brigid, but I can see now that he knows art. Her works were certainly delicately and hung with deep care and the word that pops to mind is strangely – secure, meaning being in their right place. My pottery teacher, Jaq, says it best, “It’s faith.” I asked, eyes widened, completely out-of-sync, “Faith?” I was thinking, “Er, how does Jaq who does not know Keat grasp his faith in God from this one labour of love?” Her crystal reply, “Faith, in you.” I stumbled, “What do you mean?” She smiled, and said with knowing, and without having even set foot in the house, “He believes in you.”

“Not me, the mission,” I can only whisper this in my heart.

The greatest height, which is really a deep trough for me, was when I missed my own mother, because she was wearing such humble clothes, I didn’t recognise her. I really didn’t recognise her; I had thought her to be the construction lady! She was so into the role. Sweeping, cleaning, tinkering, getting the house ready for my special guests from Singapore and the US. She didn’t stop working and here I was just looking on, wondering where to even pick up the first task. What could have moved her heart to do so much, in so little time? “Do you like the house? Are you happy?” she asked me. I would have blurted out, in my younger days, “How do you mean?” Instead, I said, resoundingly and with a huge hug, “Yes, Mom, I love this house, thank you! You are the best mom anyone can ever ask for! I am so grateful for you! I love you!”

But now in my heart, as I am writing this, I hear another whisper: “Happy? No, I can’t ever be fully happy, not until the community is real.”

Here’s “The Plan”

This is what I drew up from memory of the space layout of No. 80. I’ve forgotten where the windowns, the doorways and the staircase are. Much of the upstairs, I have also forgotten, except I know there are three bedrooms. Anyhow, this are some of the preliminary conceptual spaces and programming I hope to weave into The Artist’s House.

I very much see it as a studio (for many types of artforms – painting, drawing, claywork, woodwork, bookart, landart, craftwork, sewing, culinary), a theatre (for spoken word performances), and dining areas (for social activities). The bedrooms I see as studio-retreat sanctuaries. The Artist’s House is also a library of resources (recycled materials, art materials, art & garden tools) and inspiration (education via Montessori, development science & psychology, permaculture & natural farming).

-Poet-Artist Forestkeeper PEK,
July 2011