When I was a child, painting and drawing came to me as a natural, joyful compulsion. I come from a conservative Chinese working class family and when I started going to school, I set aside my art and concentrated on my studies. Later on, I was fortunate enough to be offered a scholarship to pursue any degree course at a local university in Malaysia. I chose to study architecture because fine arts was not available at that time. The decision felt like my best option then for a creative career.

 

When I graduated from university, I wanted to live in an art and design hub. So I moved to London with a few hundred pound Sterling that I had saved up at the time. I eventually settled in the city as an architect.  A few years later, when the financial crisis hit, I was made redundant. To find a new way to support myself, I went to business school to pursue an MBA.

After business school I worked in a number of corporations. I took up painting again because I missed art and felt a need to find my creative identity. I began to paint more when work permitted and juggled on one hand my passion, and on the other, my need for financial security.

This uncomfortable balancing act continued until a turning point when I met a family friend, Jhi, at my grandfather’s funeral. Jhi and my grandfather were both school teachers and hobby painters in the same town. They both retired from work in the same year. Jing channeled his energy into oil painting after retirement and later established himself as an artist in his 70s. By contrast, my grandfather enjoyed his retirement in the true sense and had a relaxed life until his death. 

 

The chance encounter jolted me from the daze created by my own complacency. More importantly, Jhi’s story gave me the confidence and an urgency to make a change in order to pursue my artistic goals. I sensed a burning platform beneath me.

I made a conscious decision to leave my job in London and moved to start a new life in Barcelona where I was further from the temptation of work opportunities in the business world. Here I could focus on my first passion - making art, and pursue my ambition to make work that excited me every day.

© 2021 by Sophie Teh.