Hamish Downie’s Five Questions With Norm Yip

Editor Note: Hamish has another in his series of Five Questions With…

Hamish came up with this idea because he was accumulating too much material for his Famous News Sushi column and asked if he could do these mini-interviews. Why would we say no?

Thank you Hamish for being such a trooper for us. We really appreciate all for your hard work.

Let us know what you think of these interviews in the comments below.

TGG: Recently, in our interview with D.H. Chester, we were introduced to the work of Norm Yip, so I reached out to him via D.H and today, I can share our interview! Without further ado, can you please introduce yourself to our readers?

NY: I was born in Canada and moved to Hong Kong in 1994. I worked as an architect for several years but decided that it wasn’t the thing for me and pursued art and photography. In simpler terms I am now a visual artist. My most well known subject matter in photography are Asian male nudes. In painting, I consider myself an abstract expressionist, perhaps because I like the agony of trying to dissipate my emotions. Painting allows me to access the unknown, while being very hands-on and tactile in the process of making art. Digital art I have done, but it’s not that engaging.

TGG: How did you get into Fine Art and who are your biggest inspirations?

NY: I studied art at the University of Saskatchewan (Canada) and architecture at the University of Toronto. I loved going to art galleries. I had a strong interest in my current three areas of investigation: painting, drawing and photography. I was highly interested in Russian Constructivism and Mondrian, drawn to geometric lines and strong formalistic dogmas into how this translated into paintings and architecture. Later on, I began to appreciate the works of Rothko, Pollock and to some degree De Kooning; however I began to really admire the works of Cecily Brown. She didn’t shy away from sexuality in her paintings and her use of flesh and feminine palette of colours is very sophisticated. Lately though I have begun to look more into the works of Bridget Riley and her superb abstract geometric forms. I jump around in the artists I am taken to, but rarely am drawn into very dark or gruesome themes in the artwork such as Francis Bacon.

As mentioned before, I worked as an architect before making the plunge into art and photography. The big change took place in 1999. Two of my friends and I rented out a small apartment in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong and gutted it out to become our first creative working space. We called ourselves Meli-Melo Artist Alliance where I began to paint and photograph. This is where art jams became known. Once a month on a Saturday evening starting at midnight we would invite friends and guests to paint in our studio for a small fee. The free flow of alcohol would loosen people up and we would paint to the sounds of Buddha Bar. It was hugely fun! I sold my first few paintings from the first art jamming session.

TGG: Why did you start the “Asian Male Series” and what have you discovered through the process?

NY: In the working space of Meli-Melo, another photographer and graphic designer named Derek Lam hired the studio for his book launch ‘Boynextdoor Hong Kong’. It was a paperback photography book of Hong Kong Asian guys in nude and semi-nude poses. That launch was highly successful and inspired me to begin photographing guys myself. I knew darkroom photography as a child back in Canada, so I didn’t have to learn anything, but just find guys to photograph. As it was, my gym friends became the subjects of my first photography session, namely Nelson and Han. I posted them on my Geocities homepage and the rest is history. In a few year’s time, I had over 5 million hits. There was a huge hunger for Asian male photography that was not pornographic in nature.

In 2004, I began working on my first book The Asian Male – 1.AM. No publishers were interested in working with me so I ended up self-publishing. Singapore banned the book because there were two guys in the same shot not wearing clothes. Several years later, I released the second book The Asian Male – 2.AM, which sold better than the first book. And finally, my third book The Asian Male – 3.AM was released in 2014. I don’t have plans for a fourth book at this stage.

Aside from the aesthetics and practical reasons for creating the series, I can look back at the Asian Male collection and see that the photography is really about myself, and my own insecurities as a young man growing up in Canada — both as a visible minority and gay. Asians were seen as the lowest rank in the gay community. I believe I did the work to come to an acceptance of who I was, and that I could be beautiful too through the models and photographs I created. I lived vicariously through the photographs of the guys I shot. So in a way, the photographs are like a large self-portrait of myself, of who I wanted to become or be seen as.

TGG: How does living in Hong Kong influence your work?

NY: The move to Hong Kong was very instrumental to me. I felt liberated being here. To walk down the street and not be seen as a visible minority felt like a veil or mask was lifted above me. For the first time I felt what it was like to not be noticed. In addition, I understood more about where my mother came from and her mindset. Hong Kong is a hard and difficult city to work and live in. You have to be strong here; everyone here is like a survivor. Given that, Hong Kong is also a place of opportunity. I think if you are talented or skilled, the people here will give you a chance. Hong Kongers are hard-working individuals by nature, although they can be abrasive and to-the-point. I have learned so much in the city and I owe it to them for where I am now. I believe this why I continue to work here amidst all the calamity and discourse taking place now.

TGG: Tell us about your Experimental Mixed Media series. And how do you bridge the divide between artistic and commercial works?

The work that is shown in my website http://yipfungart.com was done to separate my personal fine art paintings from my commercial photography work. This may soon become a moot issue as I am not doing much of the latter. Commercial photography is too diluted in Hong Kong and there isn’t anything I can contribute that isn’t being done by other photographers. This includes fashion, portraits and interior photography.

Getting back to my experimental mixed mixed media artwork, this is still very much an important part of my growth as an artist, which began in 1999 after my departure from architecture. My work in abstraction as mentioned is a long journey of exploration of experimentation and finding what resonates with me at the time I paint. The most recent works are the Lemuria, Khaos and Corona20 series. Khaos was influenced by the Hong Kong protests and Corona20 by the coronavirus.

My most recent works however are large commissioned paintings by a Hong Kong developer, which have kept me busy for nearly 6 months. They are based on a series of paintings I did back in 2001 that relate to the city grid, transportation systems and the electronic/digital age. They are reminiscent of paintings by the early geometric minimalists such as Mondrian, although more intense and colourful.

TGG: Finally, how can we best support you? (Where can we buy your work/commission your work, find you on social media, websites, magazines, patreon etc)

NY: Instagram ID: @normyip @mystrfung @theasianmale @nyvastudio. I actually have more, but the first one @normyip I will stick with as it’s the one I post on the most. It looks like a potpourri of everything and doesn’t have any consistency.

Anyone is welcome to email me, my preferred method of anyone contacting me at info@normyip.com with any questions regarding my fine art or photography, including commissions for paintings. Otherwise, you can find more about me on the following websites:

Norm Yip Website: https://normyip.com
(Main Umbrella Website)

The Asian Male Project: http://theasianmale.com Limited Edition Prints and Emagazines

Yip Fung Art http://yipfungart.com Fine Art Paintings

Norm Yip Patreon https://patreon.com/normyip To show a little support plus a few perks

Listing of Artwork (in order) in this article

Norm Yip Self Portrait

Portrait of John, Limited Edition Print, Various Editions and Sizes

Lemuria, No. 9, 2018, Acrylic on canvas, 140H x 140W cm

The Narcissist, No. 12, Limited Edition Print, Various Editions and Sizes

Bruised Khaos, 2019. Acrylic on canvas, 138H x 91W cm

Infernal of Khaos, 2019. Acrylic on canvas, 138H x 91W cm

Corona20-K, Limited Edition Print, Various Editions and Sizes

Jess, No. 1526, Limited Edition Print, Various Editions and Sizes

All Artwork copyright Norm Yip

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