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Beyond Skin – Seven Creative Questions for Visual Artist Norm Yip

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A new photo exhibit traveling to both Bangkok and New York will showcase the talents of Norm Yip, a Canadian-born artist who lives in Hong Kong.

A preview of Yip’s exhibit, “Beyond Skin,” a celebration of Asian men and LGBT inclusion, runs from April 10 until May 31 at Bangkok’s RCB Photographer’s Gallery before moving to New York’s Untitled Space for a grand premiere (June 23 to 30).

“The images tell of my search for acceptance, identity and beauty,” says Yip. “It reveals my desires and longings as a man finding one’s self in the other.”

Norm’s work has appeared in Blue MagazineThe Best of International Nudes Photography III  by Feierabend Unique Books, and The Romantic Male Nude by James Spada.

Along with his photography, Yip paints and draws.

Here are Seven Creative Questions for the visual artist.

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norm yip portrait

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NAME: Norm Yip (above)

AGE (if you want to give it up): 56

HOMETOWN: Nipawin, Saskatchewan, Canada

CURRENT TOWN: Hong Kong

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TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF:

My parents gave birth to me in a small but charming little town in the Saskatchewan prairies. I dreamed of becoming an artist at a very young age, but I was sidetracked into believing that architecture would be my chosen profession. I was wrong. My longings as a young child were exactly what I needed to pursue. I have both a passion for photography and paintings.

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PLEASE DESCRIBE YOUR ART: 

The photography that people know me most for are my images of male nudes, shot mostly in black and white. They are classical in language and follow the general foundations of photography, such as form, texture, line, dynamics, composition, and light and shadow. The Asian male, as a subject, to my work was fitting at the time, given that there were very few photographs of Asian men presented in an artistic light. I was heavily influenced by the photography of Herb Ritts. As such I sought to emulate his photographic style. Eventually, I gave up the idea and started to find my own interpretation of the male body form. Black and white images dominate my work versus color, opting for simplicity over complexity.

My paintings, however, are a foil to my photography. I have very little interest in doing figurative work (at this time), and prefer to create abstract landscapes or compositions, resembling an exotic forest of trees, mountains and water. (See the Lemuria Series in http://yipfungart.com) The artworks are luscious, rich in activity and leave very little room for the eye to settle.

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EmbraceEmbrace – Hong Kong Models -“Creating abstraction using body parts is not a new thing; but the opportunity came when I met two men that had a very similar musculature, identical skin tone, and matching hairstyles. Very simply, I wanted them to hold each other as closely as possible on the mirrored glass and to move and caress each other slowly. The moment became perfectly still when they got comfortable with each other and I, the photographer, disappeared.”

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1. How long have you been an artist? And what is your earliest art memory?

I started working as an artist in 1999, shortly after my departure from architecture. It was difficult decision at the time, as I felt I had invested so many years in university. Nevertheless, I made the move and I haven’t turned back.

My earliest memory of art would have to be when I was in my early teens. I found I had an inclination towards drawing in school; I won quite a number of first place awards at the local fair. I also looked at many exhibitions at the town library, where artists would showcase their paintings. The paintings were mostly landscapes.

As for photography, I was first impressed by my older brother’s photography. He was the yearbook photographer. I recall asking him how he made the images. He taught me the basics of ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. These were in the days of black and white film. I think I was about 13 years old at the time.

Later in life, I was taken by the photography of Herb Ritts. I loved the models and the use of black and white. Simple, clean and pure.

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2. Who is the best new artist to emerge in the last five to ten years? Why?

Cecily Brown is one of my favorite artists to date, although not an emerging artist. I only knew of her work by chance when researching paintings that dealt with the human body and abstraction, and yes, nudity. She isn’t reserved about showing genitals and acts of fellatio in her work. The beauty of this is that the viewer may not catch it on first glance, so it relies on looking longer (always a good thing) or closer to see what is being portrayed.

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MilkboyMilkboy – Chinese, Malaysia – “Milkboy is one of the most memorable images to date. The idea came to me over the course of several months and is partly inspired by Richard Avedon’s superb photograph Swarm. I instructed Derek to remain poised and serious throughout the shoot. Our first attempt was unsuccessful. In our second attempt, my business partner accidentally dumped the entire carton of milk in one go even; it was supposed to drizzle down slowly on his body. Everyone kept silent when suddenly Derek lost his composure and burst into laughter. This was the resulting shot.”

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3. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve heard (business, dating, or otherwise)? And do you follow it?

Cliche as it may be, it is a quote by Steve Jobs: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

Yes, I follow it as much as I can. Many times, asking for the opinion of others is a way to confirm one’s direction, as it may be contrary to the majority. Breaking from the confines or limitation of culture is difficult, as it may be deeply personal. For me, art has been paramount in my quest for creating someone of beauty, but when the subject matter is male nudes, a lot of resistance or objection can be found. To continue in this line of work requires courage – to follow one’s inner voice and not be phased by others.

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4. What is your favorite place to shop, anywhere in the world, and why?

Unfortunately, I am not a shopper and do not have a favorite place. My purchases tend to be practical and useful, although aesthetics comes into play. If I am on shopping mode, it’s usually for electronic gadgets and toys. I am a nerd/geek, whatever you call it. If I am on the lookout for a new wireless router for instance, I search on Google, read countless reviews, compare specifications and prices. I have to be happy with my research before I make the plunge. It can obsessive.

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DerekDerek – Chinese, Malaysia – “Derek is one of the most unabashed guys I have ever met and quite proud of his body and physique. Styled by Patryk Chaou owner of the magnificent boots that Derek is wearing, we photographed him in a dilapidated, derelict building on Po Shan Road in Hong Kong. The background trees and worn-down walls contrasted Derek’s sensuous curves beautifully.”

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5. What music, movie, book or magazine gets you ready to shoot, paint, sketch or brainstorm?

I have most recently become the most boring entertainment consumer in Hong Kong. I usually only go to a movie when I’m invited, or when I’m on the a long haul flight. I catch up on what I have missed out on the year. I have zero interest in watching the Oscars, but I do have favorite movies that I happen to come across. I actually like space/sci-fi, including the Alien franchise movies, The Matrix (the original one), Arrival, and Interstellar. Books that I enjoy reading are more spiritual, such as those by Eckhart Tolle: The Power of Now and A New Earth. I actually dislike books on trends and have little interest on fiction. It is very rare that movies or books inspire my work. My (painting) work is usually derived from introspection and the unconscious, and sometimes influenced by other artists I admire.

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6. What is the question a person should ask you, and how would you answer?

Could I rephrase this? What mark do you want to leave behind? I really believe that our existence is limited, within the limitless boundaries of the universe. Limited in the sense of the human dimension of living organisms where we occupy a physical body taking up space and traveling through time. We have the opportunity to create and affect the course of history. As a person that has no interest in bearing children, the artwork that I leave behind becomes important. They are my physical manifestations or objects of art that I leave for other generations to enjoy. I have a choice to create beauty or chaos, to which I believe something in between these opposites provides the most intrigue.

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Lemuria, 2018 - Norm YipLemuria, Norm Yip, 2018

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7. If you could only spend US$250, what art piece or pieces would you buy right now on eBay?

 eBay? I presume it would be second hand monographs of art books, perhaps several of them with a budget of $250. I would probably find something on Annie Liebovitz, Herb Ritts, Edward Weston, and oh yes… Vivian Maier. I love her photographs!

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norm yip bangkok exhibit

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Images Courtesy of Norm Yip