By AA Patawaran
The artist Itsy Dazo spent a lifetime in advertising before going for what she really wanted, not that she didn’t enjoy advertising, where she worked as an art director straight out of college. Now based in Singapore, where she shifted from advertising to education, first teaching art school children and now teaching kindergarteners by using “art and play to inspire lifelong learning,” she has also just allowed herself to mount a solo show, her first ever, featuring 24 oil paintings, some on canvases as big as 36 x 48, others as small as 8 x 10 or smaller, in which her joy at the opportunity to instill a love of learning among “these tiny people,” as she calls her students, has found expression. The two-day exhibition, “Into the Woods,” opened last Saturday at Deck Singapore on Prinsep Street in Singapore Central, right at the heart of the arts and heritage district. In April 2019, she is all set to mount another show in Manila, which, as Itsy puts it, “is going to be important for me since I’ll be exhibiting in my own country.”
Itsy and I were partners for about five years in the advertising agency in which I worked as a copywriter and she as an art director. Through the years, we have maintained a friendship that is as deeply rooted as childhood ties and I have had the privilege of watching her explore various mediums to express her art, from bottle design to jewelry and craft and painting of every sort, from charcoal to watercolor to oil. Here are snippets from our conversation about her first solo show.
What’s ‘Into the Woods?’
If I may quote my friend Tara FT Sering, who helped encourage me to do this show, “Into the Woods” is my “first solo show of paintings featuring figures we often encounter in childhood, creatures from a magical forest where stories begin.”
[The paintings] are based on children’s stories I’ve read to my classes. One work is very special, titled Hello, Red Fox (book by Eric Carle), was also the name of the first class I ever handled, after switching from the advertising industry to being an early childhood educator.
What’s it been like preparing for this show?
It took one year from the time the idea was brought up over dinner at a friend’s home. But several events last year contributed to the subject choices in my paintings. In one painting, a forest fairy, I was able to capture my mother’s eyes before she passed away and said goodbye. I was fueled by her words when I showed her a picture of my first two paintings and she said that I should just do a show already.
Oil paint is a joy to work with. All my paintings for “Into the Woods” are done with oil. Plus there is always something new to discover each time I work with it. Oil paint, as well as linseed oil and turpentine, makes me feel nauseated at times but it’s still is my preferred medium. I’ve tried watercolor and failed miserably. I sometimes use acrylic gouache.
Children need to experience books more than they experience technology without parental interaction. Books are important. Children have to learn how to read with a book.’
Do you need certain rituals to get you in the mood?
I have to make sure everything in the kitchen sink is washed or I’ll be thinking about clearing it the entire time I’m painting. A bite of chocolate or some chips (depending on my mood), coffee if I’m sleepy, or a nap, a lot of procrastination caused mainly by phone activity. Until I hear an inner voice, or sometimes my husband’s voice, telling me to start working. Prior to painting, I sketch, make a study, sketch again, then only do I work on canvas. Old school methods are best. Technology has come to my rescue, too, especially when I want my study to be interpreted accurately. As for coming up with an idea and how to execute it and color choices and style, my mind constantly thinks about these things. And when it hits me, convinces me, I work with that.
Can you share with us some of your inspirations or motivations or influences?
I’ve always created things out of inspired moments, or boredom, or financial pursuits, or to kill time, or for work, or to have fun, alone or with my class of children, or to calm myself, or to go within. I’ve done this through crafting, making jewelry, painting, doodling, sewing. I also used to work in advertising as an art director before I fulfilled my dream of working with children and switched to being an early childhood educator. I am currently a kindergarten teacher working in a school that uses art and play to inspire lifelong learning. In the future, I want to solely paint and continue learning new techniques, uncovering new styles, improving my skill, and inspiring and connecting with people through my work. I also have an upcoming exhibit in Manila scheduled for April 2019. It’s going to be important for me since I’ll be exhibiting in my own country.
The show’s theme is very apt for the times, when technology is taking over everything. What’s your stand on this as a painter (and as a teacher)?
Children need to experience books more than they experience technology without human/parental interaction. Books are important. Children have to learn how to read with a book. Children need to feel paper and its different textures and weight, look at printed paper, and experience the scent of newly printed books or antiquarian books. These are all very sensorial experiences that help children build their own system of thinking.
Technology is important, too, and it’s here to stay, and children have to be exposed to it because it is the world they will grow up in. But it has to be controlled when children are still learning about self-control. It saddens me when I see parents hand their mobile devices to keep their child entertained. It frustrates me when a child is addicted to these mobile devices and when parents think they can’t do anything about it. Stick to books (or toys) that make their minds utilize their imagination.