Yeo Kaa on Why the Tortured Artist Trope is Passé: ‘A lot of people just romanticize pain’ - Arts & Culture

The visual artist values self-expression, and doing what she wants, when she wants it.

The freedom of an artist to express themselves, to do what they want in any given moment, wherever that may be, is what sparked Yeo Kaa’s interest in the creative space.

READ ALSO: Andres Barrioquinto On His ‘Dark’ Art: ‘Somehow, I’m Always Looking For That Feeling Of Struggle’

Through her paintings, the artist creates visuals of her inner demons and her world observations. The latter, the Palawan native reveals, is a newer chapter in her artistic development.

“I think it’s because when your mind is slowly getting healthier, you just don’t think about yourself anymore, but also the stuff around you,” Kaa shares. “The growth isn’t just in my work but also in myself.”

She is known for juxtaposing whimsical, lively colored characters on a canvas with the work’s implication of pain, violence, and sometimes suicide. Kaa camouflages some of her paintings’ meanings with smile-inducing artwork at first glance but will make you stop and ponder a while longer.

“A perfect dichotomy of color and torment” is how Yavuz Gallery describes Kaa’s work on her artist’s profile. The College of the Holy Spirit Manila graduate showcased “Alone But Not Lonely” (2018) and “Closer Than They Appear” (2020) in the Gallery’s Singapore and Sydney branches.

Kaa has been joining shows since 2010 and won the University of Santo Tomas On-the-Spot Painting Competition and Special Prize at the Metrobank Art and Design Excellence in the same year. Overseas, she had art hung up in galleries in Paris, New York, Los Angeles, and Taiwan.

The imagery

When asked if the contrast of message and imagery is something she actively aims for, the 32-year-old shares that her art, which she describes as a “personal journal,” is rooted in self-awareness.

“I look like a happy person, but I’m not. When other people see you doing fine, they think you’re okay unless you’re close, and they know whether or not you’re doing well,” Kaa muses. “So it’s the same with my work that at first glance, it looks so happy and dreamy, but if you give your full attention, you’ll see that it isn’t.”

However, the Advertising graduate believes that the “tortured artist” trope is passé—she shares that one doesn’t have to go through tumultuous experiences to create good art. Kaa adds that while everybody encounters problems, we don’t deem other professions tortured. “A lot of people just romanticize pain,” she says.

In line with not needing turbulence in life to create, her works follow suit as Kaa grows as a person. “My work before used to be so gory and so chaotic because I wasn’t doing well at the time,” she shares. “When you look at my work now, it’s cleaner and calmer. My paintings before used to be only about me.”

What’s relevant

Now in a better headspace, Kaa can make art outside of herself, inspired by current events and the human experience.

Last February, she displayed a video project on a LED billboard along EDSA Guadalupe—the short animation depicts a girl fashioned as a pink-colored cartoon character getting ready to post a photo on her social media. But at a glance on her smartphone, it appeared that something rattled her.

“The idea came from my observation that it’s alarming for the future generation that all their lives are documented on social media—their ultrasound, being born, growing up. It’s all on the internet,” Kaa explains. “They were never given a choice because it was chosen for them. I feel like the truly free in the future are those that can’t be traced in social media.”

Kaa decided to showcase the video project on a billboard because “it’s as if it’s simultaneously an observing subject and an object of surveillance, which is the same with phones.”

With the way profit-motivated tech giants are already mistreating global cybersecurity laws (or lack thereof), the painter feels that privacy as a whole is being threatened. “[It feels] like privacy will probably just be a more expensive privilege in the future,” she expresses.

Staying free

The billboard flashed along EDSA early this year, but the pandemic took a toll on the creative before then. In 2020, quarantine restrictions were yet to affect Kaa since she’s a self-declared homebody.

“[When 2021 was approaching], I started to feel hopeless because it’s been a year, and nothing has changed with our government’s pandemic response,” she shares. Although she described those months as depressing, a break from work allowed Kaa to get her head straight.

Photo courtesy of YEO KAA

This year was also when Kaa started scouting for properties to own a large studio in Metro Manila, “but it got me thinking, why? I don’t see myself living that long anyway. So now, I’ve decided to use my funds to create more beautiful works.”

Kaa sees her future spending sprees to be in more exhibitions, traveling, and exploring. “Basically, nothing is permanent, so might as well spend it,” she says, smiling.

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