Options: Congratulations on the launch of The Art of Life — Flow, your inaugural solo currently showing at Tannin Hill, Kuala Lumpur. But what prompted you to begin painting in the first place?
Allan Yap: It was during a trip to Osaka, Japan, back in 2015. I had seen a video of a Japanese artist creating a wall installation and it ignited a sense of ‘Hey, I could do that’, dispelling my deep-seated self-doubt. It also didn’t help that, in my family, I always knew my brother was a better artist than me. Post-Japan, I somehow mustered up the courage to buy myself canvases, paint and a huge easel to start. I then finished a series of paintings on spheres between 2016 and 2017. It just grew from there.
What made you decide on Tannin Hill as a location?
I was introduced to Carole Tan of Tannin Hill by my friend, Teh Wee Tee. Carole was looking for a decorator to spice up her tea café gallery and Wee Tee kindly recommended me. Many people equate me to my work with Just Heavenly but, actually, I’ve always done interior design and set-up.
Some might not be aware but Just Heavenly was also once a wedding planner — one of the first in KL, in fact. We helped couples conceptualise themes that spoke of their romantic journey, favourite colours and how we would mould them together with flowers, fabric and installations.
So, what I thought would be a short meeting with Carole lasted five hours. We hit it off and had a great time chatting about life and art, our passions and family backgrounds! She was taken with my journey and the work I’ve done in painting and sculpting. She then mooted the idea I should show at her space. I felt overwhelmed at first, but eventually decided to do it. Art does need to be shared, after all.
Tell us about your debut collection.
Besides paintings, there are plaster works. It is probably a natural progression, having made sculpted cakes for the past three decades, with general feedback being the creations were too pretty to cut. Having done some research, I found that the consistency of plaster and clay come closest to buttercream and fondant respectively.
What inspired some of your pieces?
They bring together all the things that inspire me in my life; from fauna and flora to water and even the fish that glide along in them. I also love watching ribbons fall and the movement of fabric.
What materials do you like to work with?
I don’t really have a favourite. It depends on what needs to be accomplished and for what purpose. Fondant and butter are great for cakes. But clay and plaster are great for installations. I use everything, from PVC (polyvinyl chloride) pipes to aluminium rods, chicken mesh, shrink wrap and, now, I even use fibreglass mesh to create stronger structures.
What fuels your creativity?
Travel, mostly. Also books and the availability of Pinterest and Instagram as sources of inspiration. I’ve always been intrigued by the ‘art of impossibilities’. I have made a dragon using 82 cupcakes before, a prancing fondant Pegasus with wings outstretched, an 8ft tall dragon crouching over an egg inspired by the final series of Game of Thrones, a life-sized golf bag made from cake and fondant, and a fondant dress worn by a model as the finale piece during an international fashion show held on the sky bridge of the Petronas Twin Towers.
What are you reading right now?
The Greatness Guide, Book 2 by Robin Sharma. It was given out as part of a reading exercise with a group of friends. We exchange books every month.
What are you listening to right now?
I am still stuck on my Spotify Christmas playlist. It gives me just the extra bounce I need for the day.
Which venues or destinations have always proven creatively inspiring for you?
Art museums and galleries, both locally and abroad. Barcelona is top of mind, given Antoni Gaudi and Josep Batlló’s creations. The functionality in the designs they have put forth are pretty mind-blowing.
What’s your 2024 travel list looking like?
Nothing has been firmed up at this point but I would love to visit more local places, like the Bario Highlands in Sarawak and Temenggor Lake in the Belum rainforest. There are so many destinations in Malaysia still to discover. I would love to see more of my country.
Describe your idea of a perfect weekend.
With the last few months spent constantly working and prepping, I would love a picnic by a stream with family, chosen family or friends, just enjoying the sounds of nature and rolling waters while we laugh and talk about life, past stories, future possibilities and ‘What could have been if …’ As I experience life more and more, I know how everything has been a blessing simply by being able to live life to the full. My new mantra for what is left of it is ‘Allan All In’, which is tattooed on my arm as a reminder.
'The Art of Life — Flow' is showing at Tannin Hill, 481 Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah, Taman Million, KL, until Jan 31.
This article first appeared on Jan 15, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.