Creatives // Mary Bernadette Lee

Mary Bernadette Lee (Mrydette) is based as an artist in Singapore. Her practice is a phenomenological approach to understanding the relationship between exterior topography of body, architecture and place, and the interior tapestry of psychological states. This relational dialectics between the physiological and the psychological is expressed through her paintings that foreground the architecture of her as a person and an artist.

Her work thrives on spontaneity of individual autonomy in art making. She works mainly with traditional mediums such as graphite, acrylic, ink and clay. She believes Art should be accessible and as such, uses Art as a medium to work with children and the underprivileged to encourage expression and creation.

Power to the People by Mary Lee 

How does art make you feel?

When I am in the presence of Art that moves me, I feel time stand still and simultaneously, in that moment, I am filled with a deep appreciation for beauty, finesse and meaning. It inspires me, and I know it because I feel a stirring inside; A serotonin-surge happens, and then, there is this impetus to create. There is always a creator behind art, and for that, I feel grateful that the world is made of these people, and that keeps Art existing.

On that note, what does your work represent to you and what aspects of yourself are present in your work?

I personally enjoy variety and experimenting with different types of material. I am unable to focus on one medium for a length of time. I believe that experimentation with different materials informs one another, which value adds the learning process of art-making. I find the amalgamation of material more interesting and engaging for myself and my audience.

This inclination to play is prevalent in the workshops I create. I like to create an environment and safe space for my participants to play, not just with materials, but also with ideas.

Extra(Ordinary) Me, a part of "I See You, You See Me", a solo exhibition at Esplanade

How did you know that you wanted to be an artist? 

It was at the age of 13 that I knew that I wanted to do something related to art. I had a very good teacher who unlocked “something” within me. To be honest, at 13 years of age, to be an artist seemed like a faraway dream that could only exist at the back of my mind. But it was always there and it couldn’t be ignored. At 31, now I know it’s possible.

I did not pursue art in an institution until I was 25. I decided to submit my portfolio for entry consideration to NTU Art Design and Media School and then later to London College of Communications (LCC). I was accepted into LCC but I had to reject the acceptance because I did not manage to get a scholarship from Design Singapore. But it was a blessing in disguise because throughout my time in school, many windows of opportunities opened. Funnily, I stumbled into my dream vocation. I am, however, embracing the journey. And, I think that helps a lot in my process.

How did you manage to stick it out on this career path? And how long would you say it took you to become "successful"?

I didn’t always manage. I have the support of family, friends, and strangers who encourages me in good and bad times. I am still managing and what keeps me going is the journey. This journey has brought me places and experiences which I never thought I would go through. Every experience so far has taught me lessons I needed to learn to keep going. I enjoy this unprecedented part of the process.

Furthermore, my work is with the people. I have a commitment to them, and that keeps me going too.

Frankly speaking, I am far from successful. It’s more accurate to say that I am on the right track, and it took me almost 20 years, and I have some more decades to work through.

I see that you work within generations! Tell us how that's like and why you do it?

It’s very challenging because different people have different needs, develops at different speeds, reacts and responds differently from one another.

I do it because I want to. It is simple like that. I have a desire to impact people’s lives the best possible way I can.

You know how the old saying goes, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” I believe in the power of education. I have always wanted to be a teacher but not within the constraints of four walls. My vision is to reach out to as many people as possible while still staying true to my core vision, which is to educate. My mobility now allows me to do that, not just within generations but with different types of people too!

A piece from Mary's Self-Portrait series that explores her as a person and an artist

"In My Life, I Love Them All" - Project Dreamcatchers 2016

What have you been working on lately?

I am currently working on my ongoing self-portraiture series. Dominantly, I work with acrylic on canvases but I have been playing around with the idea of sculpture using paper mache. I would love to work with clay but accessibility is difficult, and it is also very costly.

I am also in the midst of research for next year’s workshops with a couple of organisations. It’s an exciting time for me because I get to learn new things, and experience new frontiers. It scares me, definitely, but more often than not, I have learnt that the more daunting a project, the more I get out of it. The breakthrough is incredible, and I would encourage people to step out of their comfort zones in their practices. Routines are great but sometimes, we all need that “shake” to realise how much more we can achieve when we set our minds to it.

What are some of the works you're proudest of to date? Or something that you feel like you've given your all to?

I give my everything to all that I do. It’s difficult for me to pull out something to say, “I am most proud of this body of work”. That’d do disservice to the other projects that I have done. Rule of thumb for me is to put my Heart in everything I do, not just projects per se, but in living my life. That’s the only way I know how to live.

Fearless on My Breath, commissioned work 

Wonderland, Imaginarium - Solo Exhibition at Singapore Art Museum 8Q 

What are some of the struggles being in Singapore is? What do you think of the scene here and how do you fight the stigmatisations of being one?

Once again, it’s presumptuous to think that being an artist is being stigmatised. We’re living in a time where being a creative is celebrated! 10 years back, it was more prevalent that being an artist equated to being poor. But I think we have moved ahead and the industry is growing. It’s not exactly flourishing as how I would love it to be as compared to other cities such as London, Japan, New York, but we are slowly getting there.

Personally, the word “scene” makes my hair stands a little bit. It sounds exclusive and creativity does not exclude. If anything, it’s the most inclusive gift anyone can possess.

I think the creatives in Singapore give their all. All of us are fighting for a future for our generations to leverage on. There is definitely an energy going around that feeds our desire to excel. To prove my point, we have a lot more art/film/photography/literary/music festivals, interdisciplinary collaborations, craft makers, research art/design studios, independent art studios, independent galleries etc. Many people are more willing to share their tools, skills, knowledge and process through on-site workshops, online tutorials and live streams.

The museums are focusing on outreach and education, and more willing to work with local creatives. So that is good.

We are definitely doing the work, and the work is good. So, I am extremely proud of the people who are making this happen. And, they may not necessarily be creatives. We have engineers, doctors, teachers, scientists all sharing this common vision to push our creativity forward.

What advice would you give to those who are struggling to follow their dreams or have yet to find theirs?

I’d say, it is perfectly okay to struggle. It is a normal part of the process. What you see on social media is a sliver of the struggles all of us go through each day. Take those with a pinch of salt. If you fall, pick yourself up again, and try again. I remind myself that it is in the Doing that things gets done. You can have all the goals in the world, but if you don’t do, nothing or little is accomplished.

Try not to compare because that is only going to give you a limiting benchmark to work towards to. You have no idea how strong your mind is, how resilient your strength is, how powerful your Heart is. Your human Being is a powerful generator for you to tap into.

I like to think of our lives as a marathon, and the end point is the point we breathe our last breath. Meanwhile, there are several checkpoints to get your “ammunition” and maybe a few obstacle courses to overcome. There are several routes to get to your next point but that’s ultimately your choice to take. Everyone runs at their own pace, and chooses their own routes. Every checkpoint you reach is an added value to yourself as a person. It is not in vain. Eventually, you’re the sum total of all your experiences. The question is, how do you use all that you’ve accumulated to your advantage?

It’s about perspective or attitude. I am not saying that you should always be positive because it is difficult to be that all the time. Rather, I’d say that the secret is in shifting perspectives. For example, how can I turn a bad situation into an opportunity? Or, how can I make use of my existing resources to problem solve? Focus on what you have at hand, and not on the things you don’t have….yet. The future will come, but the Present comes first.

Embrace changes. As cliché as it is, the only thing constant is change. That’s the truth. Or would you rather the saying by Bruce Lee – “Be like water”? Haha. Ultimately, be flexible, fluid and open to changes. When you allow yourself to breathe freely like that, these unknown waters will suddenly become exciting for you, and chances are, you’ll be less afraid to wander into these unchartered territories.

Be kind in your journey, for everyone you meet is fighting hard battles of their own. Everyone is everyone’s support system whether you know it or not. It’s a wonderful ecosystem out there.

Lastly, put your Heart into everything you do and bring your brain with you. All 100% of it. Focus and do your best. Understand what your core is made of, and breathe your energy from it. You are a living testimony to the work you do, not just in your profession, but in how you carry yourself, and in your relationships as well.



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