Meet the 29-year-old sculptor carving out her own unique aesthetic, despite the critics
QimmyShimmy’s surrealistic ‘creepy-cute’ creations have gained her both fans and critics alike.
When sculptor Lim Qixuan, also known as QimmyShimmy, was tasked to “repair” a chipped seashell for the National Design Centre’s ‘R for Repair’ exhibition earlier this year, she felt fortunate to have been approached to take on the challenge.
The exhibition, curated by acclaimed Singaporean designer Hans Tan, featured works by ten local artists who were tasked to reinterpret broken or precious objects sent in by members of the public.
“In Singapore, the divide between art and design can be quite distinct, and ‘R for Repair’ took a unique stance in bridging different philosophies and ways of creating,” shares the 29-year-old artist, who is best known for her hyper realistic miniature “baby head” clay sculptures that first went viral on social media in 2017.
“I also love the very idea of fixing something that is precious, and cherishing an object is so important in today’s throwaway culture.”
Qixuan was inspired by the shell’s great sentimental value to its original owner, who shared that it was a gift from a childhood friend whom she had drifted from.
“Despite that, she had always kept the object on her shelf as a reminder of that friendship and the moment when a small act of giving could be so significant to a child,” Qixuan says.
After filtering many ideas down to one, she breathed new life into the seashell by carefully giving it her distinctive surrealist touch, incorporating a realistic-looking tongue and milk teeth made with polymer clay.
“I wanted to use the motif of milk teeth to represent the nostalgia one feels, looking back at an old childhood object,” she explains.
Forging her own path
While her evocative art pieces have been showcased in art galleries all around the world, the confidence she had in her craft did not come naturally. When she was just starting out, the biggest challenge was finding a style that was unique and true to herself.
“I have always been fascinated by the world of pop-surrealism,” she shares, citing artists like Mark Ryden, Ray Caesar, Nicoletta Ceccoli as early inspirations.
“But I only discovered my personal take to this world of ‘creepy-cute’ much later.”
She admits that she “kind of felt like an imposter” until she found a style that she was comfortable with after years of experimentation.
“I was painting and illustrating a lot, but never got to the point that my work was distinct or uniquely mine,” she says.
“I always had this vision that my work had to be uncanny, strange, surprising and humorous. I never knew that it was possible until I experimented in the 3D sphere, and realised that the realism of a three-dimensional object was the missing piece. That was when I went from illustrating to sculpting and never looked back.”
As her practice matures, her style will continue to evolve as well. “[Art] is something that just makes me happy. I believe that I am creating something truly unique and that itself gives me a lot of satisfaction,” she says.
On staying creative, Qixuan says it is ordinary, everyday things and mundane activities that continue to inspire her. For instance, a supermarket trip sparked inspiration for her iconic Canned series, while a visit to a patisserie led her to create the SweetTooth series.
“I get excited when I am surrounded by beautiful colours and textures, and it gets me thinking how I can turn some of these everyday familiarities into something truly unexpected and surprising,” she adds.
Dealing with criticism and looking ahead
Taking the path less travelled requires plenty of grit, something that Qixuan is used to. Despite her works’ immense popularity, she has also attracted a number of critics who brand her a ‘killer’ or ‘Satanist’ on social media. However, she remains undeterred by these negative comments.
“Knowing that my work discomforts people is also a good thing, because it means that it is actually challenging someone’s idea of what beauty and art is to them, and that is what I intend for my art to do.”
For aspiring young creatives, Qixuan’s has a piece of advice: “Don’t wait for anyone to give you their approval. The most challenging aspect of creative work is to strive for uniqueness, and to be truly unique, you can only forge your own path. There will be no handbook or checklist to help you, so define your benchmarks, find your north stars, and work very hard.”
While she hasn’t been able to travel to her overseas shows due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Qixuan is using this hiatus of sorts to “slow down and brew some new ideas”. She’s also focusing more on her day job as a full-time UX designer, as well as a university lecturer on visual communications.
“I am quite lucky in the sense that I don’t have to depend on my art to make a living, so there is never that stress to produce constantly,” she shares.
“I create when ideas strike, and take a break when I am not inspired. I think just having this space and freedom helps me to be quite selective with when and for whom I create my art, and it is healthier for my creative process.”
“Hopefully, when the world is somewhat back to ‘normal’, I will get back to travelling and showing more,” she adds. And for fans of her work, Qixuan teases that she has a small solo exhibition on the horizon with Melbourne’s Beinart Gallery, scheduled to open in October this year – fingers crossed!