In a conversation with Singaporean urban artist Toby Tan “tobyato”, he shares his passion for arts, his best-known mural, the inspirations behind it, and more.
Singapore urban artist and illustrator, Tobby Tan (also known as Tobyato) has presented a striking art installation at PASSPORT TO FEAST: SG At The Yard which took place in Malaysia in September 2022. Inspired by the national animals of Malaysia and Singapore, and the plants commonly used in the local cuisines, ‘Two Countries, One Table’ is an artistic nod to the culinary collaborations between both nations.
In hopes of preserving street culture and expanding his appreciation for Asian heritage, his body of work ranges from sprawling murals to digital graphics and brand collaborations. Living in the multicultural city of Singapore, Tobyato grew up surrounded by Asian motifs and elements, making him always curious about his heritage. Hence, his artworks are inspired by traditional Chinese motifs and playful influences that reflect both his personality and roots. Those inspiration and appreciation have then naturally found their way into his art and the things he creates.
Scroll below to see our conversation with Tobyato!
Describe yourself, your favourite piece of artwork, and your artistic journey so far.
I’m Tobyato, a visual and urban artist in Singapore. In a nutshell, I draw mostly for brands like ASICS, G-Shock, and Uniqlo as well as on walls of shophouses, offices, restaurants, and public spaces. I’m also trying to make art accessible to the general public and prove that art in Singapore can be a viable career.
My favourite artwork so far would be the two-storey shop house façade mural that I did in Singapore along Tanjong Pagar road, where I painted two huge swordfishes alluding to the history of the area.
My artistic journey has been quite a ride. I’m still very much that kid that likes to draw, but over three years, I’ve grown to be the kid that likes to draw and have drawn on many things for many people. All of which I’m thankful for.
Your artworks range from sprawling murals to digital graphics and brand collaborations. How would you describe your connection to your art? What motivates you?
The chance to pursue a career in the only thing I’m decent at in my life is the biggest motivator for me. Both in a driven way as well as a “do or die” mentality, it’s very much like an “art or nothing” situation for me.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Recently, I’ve been trying to tap more into my heritage. I’ve visited a few Chinese temples to find inspiration. These places hold so much hidden and intricate art that’s filled with meaning and visual stimulus that’s perfect for my art.
Can you share with us the inspiration behind your art installation for PASSPORT TO FEAST: SG At The Yard?
The artwork is titled “2 Countries, 1 table”, because it was inspired by the mutual respect that Singapore and Malaysia have for each other’s food and cuisine. For the piece, I embodied that by creating the national animals of each country, a Lion and a Tiger respectfully bowing to each other, surrounded by plants that are commonly used in our region’s local cooking like curry leaves, pandan leaves, spring onions, and more.
What are the food spots in Singapore you would recommend to Malaysians to try?
I love Singapore’s hawker centres, and one of my favourites that I always recommend to my foreign friends would be Maxwell Hawker Centre. It has a vast range of delicious food and even a great craft beer stall.
This Spring, you’ve launched the Tobyato Asics Sneaker. Was this something that you feel passionate about? Are you planning any collaboration like this in the future?
The Tobyato Asics collaboration sneaker is pretty much my dream project. As someone that admires and loves sneakers, getting a chance to design and call a sneaker my own is nothing short of amazing. I collect some sneakers, and the fact that I can collect a sneaker that I designed myself is something that still feels surreal to this day. As for future collaborations, I’m gonna pull the cliché “stay tuned to find out” card.
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