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Singapore designer Theseus Chan’s poster for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, titled Extreme Revelations, took six months to create and shows actual grind marks made by skateboards.

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As Covid-19 changes the way creatives work, four designers and a consultancy talk about how they are taking on the new challenges

Like many sectors, the creative industry is reeling from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

For some Singaporean creatives, disruptions this year include the postponement of a major poster campaign for the 2020 Olympics and an annual design film festival.

Added woes come in the form of slashed advertising budgets and project pipelines slowing to a trickle.

But four designers and a consultancy that The Straits Times spoke to say that isolation and social distancing are challenges the artistic community thrives on.

With an arsenal of digital tools, they are crafting clever workarounds that keep them connected and inspired.

Last May brought good tidings for Theseus Chan.

The Tokyo organising committee of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games announced that it had chosen the award-winning Singapore designer to create a poster to commemorate the world sporting event as well as to be part of the Olympic torch relay, which was supposed to kick off in Fukushima in March this year.

But then came Covid-19, which forced the International Olympic Committee to postpone the Games to next year.

Chan, who is dubbed the godfather of Singapore design, is not fazed by the disruption.

"The current thinking among most in the design world is that they will wait for the Covid-19 crisis to be controlled – then it's back to business as usual," says the 59-year-old, who founded design studio Work in 1997 and has been self-publishing his annual art magazine Werk since 2000.

"But I see it as an opportunity to write a whole new chapter and craft a new course forward in design. There is simply no returning to the status quo after Covid-19. That should be crystal clear," he says animatedly in a telephone interview with The Straits Times.

I see it as an opportunity to write a whole new chapter and craft a new course forward in design. There is simply no returning to the status quo after Covid-19.

HOME-GROWN DESIGNER THESEUS CHAN on the disruption brought about by the coronavirus pandemic

Named Designer of the Year at the inaugural President's Design Award in 2006, he has also garnered design accolades from the prestigious D&AD – a British educational charity that promotes excellence in design and advertising – and Tokyo Type Directors Club.

"The way we work, interact and create – everything will be very different. My creative response to this disruption is to forge a new path, but still stay true to my vision and the work I want to create."

He says creative people thrive on challenges and the pandemic has affected designers in such a way that "their thinking, reactions and interactions are generating positive energy that will result in very different work".

"Designers will re-examine how they have been working prior to Covid-19. The sterile approaches to design and manufacturing, standardisation, certification, automation and commercialisation may no longer be relevant in a new era.

"The faster we accept and adapt to this new reality, the faster we will move to the next level."

Chan is working with the Hong Kong International Photo Festival as its featured designer this year.

For the event, he is collaborating with iconic German publisher of glossy art books Gerhard Steidl, who is staging the exhibition on photographer Robert Frank in Hong Kong.

Chan is designing the collaterals such as the exhibition catalogue, posters and communication materials.

Another "emotional project" is the design of an art book for Steidl written by American photographic artist John Gossage.

Gossage, 74, is a photographer who explores under-the-radar elements of the urban environment as well as themes on the link between architecture and power.

Chan says: "I wanted to re-imagine what books can look like when they are disconnected from established design theory.

"The design I came up with for Steidl questions what marketeers define as 'books that sell'."

He explains that designs the world over are looking homogeneous.

"Designs need to be bold, expressive and innovative to be differentiated. They have to have the quotient to connect."

Since working from home, Chan has used illustration apps on his Apple iPad Pro to create digital Pen and Ink portraits of friends and their pets on Instagram.

"The isolation is excellent for me as I tend to work best in solitude and quietness, always outside of the mainframe," says Chan.

He is one of four foreign artists in the group of 20 artists and designers invited by the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games to create artworks that articulate the power and energy of sport.

The other foreign artists are Turner Prize-winning painter Chris Ofili, Paris-based illustrator Philippe Weisbecker and Dutch photographer Viviane Sassen.

For Tokyo 2020, Chan will rub shoulders with prominent Japanese names such as manga artist Naoki Urasawa and calligrapher Shoko Kanazawa.

His artwork, titled Extreme Revelations, shows actual grind marks made by skateboards. It mimics the criss-crossings of brushstrokes and took six months to create.

It was unveiled in January this year and will be reproduced on Olympics-related merchandise for the lead-up to July 23 next year, when the Tokyo Olympic Games are scheduled to begin.

"There are no monetary rewards for designing the Tokyo Olympics poster, but it's a great opportunity to fly the Singapore flag high on a world stage."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2020, with the headline 'Creative strokes'. Print Edition | Subscribe Topics:

  • DESIGN
  • HOME & GARDEN
  • COVID-19 SPECIAL
  • COVID-19

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Creative Strokes, Home & Design News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

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