Monster Gallery’s Prince of Prints
Posted on March 26, 2013
JOSEPH CHIANG, SINGAPORE
Printmaker / Founder of Monster Gallery
Singapore’s Monster Gallery is a fast-growing brand in the world of collectible crafts. Its hand-made pop culture prints are increasingly being found in homes, design studios and exhibition halls around the world.
Monster Gallery founder Joseph Chiang originally studied for a diploma in Product Design. After some time dabbling in video work, he enrolled in a part-time printmaking course at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. In 2007 he started Monster Gallery as an online showcase to sell his quirky redesigns of classic book covers and movie posters.
His work carries a signature style that fuses modernist graphics with Eastern minimalism. You might have come across some of his collaborations with the likes of Books Actually, Phunk Studio and The Gentlemen’s Press. In 2012 the full-time artist set up his own space at 64 Neil Road, sharing facilities with letterpress printers/design studio The Gentlemen’s Press.
This is also where he displays his latest creations: portraits of Hunter S. Thompson and Paul Auster, his own reworking of the “Indiana Jones – Raiders of the Lost Ark” movie poster, various typography-based decorative posters, and so on.
We held this interview a few days after the joint workshop by Monster Gallery and The Gentlemen’s Press that was conducted as part of this year’s Design Society Festival. He was still buzzing from the creative interaction and exchange of ideas with the workshop participants. His enthusiasm for his craft has definitely helped to inspire the DIY printing community in Singapore.
What sort of prints are you best known for?
My most popular work is a series of movie-inspired prints I created as a personal project. I used to watch a lot of classics and indie movies. A few years back I decided to redesign the posters of some of my favourite movies. I never expected that these posters would become a hit when I posted them on my blog. They were also featured on several popular websites and online magazines. This led to requests from people who wanted to buy the posters.
You’ve also redesigned book covers and created portraits of iconic authors. What is it about reading that fascinates you?
I’m an avid reader and I cannot live without books. I grew up believing that all the answers in the universe can be found in a bookstore or a library. I started creating my own versions of book covers by my favourite authors because I felt most of the existing covers of these books do not do justice to the written work. Of course, this is my own bias.
How do you manage the business side of making art?
I believe that you need to make some money in order to continue doing what you love. I try to take what sells and develop on it, while spending less time on what does not sell. It’s simple: no money, no art. The hardest part is trying to strike a balance. You do not want to sell out, yet you must sell in order to continue working on your art. That is always a challenge.
How did you manage to build your audience?
I invested a lot of effort building up an online platform using social media tools like Facebook and Etsy. Ninety percent of my sales come from outside Singapore. I started my online store around 2007 to sell my own prints on a part-time basis. By 2010 I was making enough to quit my day job and go into this full-time. Within Singapore, I concentrate more on promoting my workshops.
How useful has social media been for you?
No business can afford not to use social media these days. It’s the simplest, fastest and cheapest way to interact and engage your community. I post my new work on Facebook and then check the response. This is the most cost-effective way to do my market research.
What are some of the things you do regularly that keep you happy?
Each day I make it a point to list and remind myself of all the things that I have been blessed with. Usually by the time I come to the tenth thing I can’t continue because it’s so embarrassing how unfairly good life has been to me.
What’s the first thing that gets you excited when you wake up in the morning?
That I am given a free token of 24 hours to spend as I wish.
What are some of the things you’ve done outside work that have brought about a positive impact?
I love working with little-known and emerging artists. They deserve the exposure more than someone else who is already established. Last year I organised an exhibition called The Book Show at Sculpture Square and the Lomography Gallery Store. Ninety percent of the artists were exhibiting their works for the first time. This June I’ll be bringing in a Hong Kong artist named Fion Wong to share her skills in rubber stamp carving with our local community.
How do you think your art affects your community?
I try to give hope, inspire others and simply just make someone else happy with my art.
What advice would you give to someone considering a similar path?
What are you focussing on right now?
I conduct printmaking workshops about two evenings per month. Those who attend are mostly young working adults who wish to pick up some new skills while having the chance to hang around our studio with like-minded friends. I’m also creating a new series of silkscreen prints inspired by the humble sardine can.