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The Self-Taught Artist: September Khu

Starting out in the creative scene for September Khu was not an easy choice for someone already working in a corporate office. But the whimsical artist heeded her creative calling and let her passion guide her to where she should be. Her yearning for art made her who she is today and below, we speak with her on following one's dream, self-discovery and more.

When did your journey as a creative begin (both personally and professionally)?

I remember flashes in my teenage years where I use to hand-make things like greeting cards and fashionable paper dolls. When MTV Asia was a thing back then, VJ Denise or Utt would select interesting-looking fan mail requests from viewers around Asia. I mailed over my request. To stand out I knew I had to be creative. My request got selected (I probably requested for Mew or Dido) and as a token, they mailed me some MTV goodies (which I still safe keep). I felt a brief moment of creative "recognition" at the time. I knew I had an interest in art and design growing up but never had the chance to pursue them further after school.

Art came by in a form of escapism during my years working in a corporate office. At that point, I lost touch with the art side of me for close to a decade. I remember looking forward to going home after a taxing day at work and all I wanted to do was to get lost in scribbles, paints or colors. I wasn't planning to be good at it, what more becoming an "artist"!

When I left my job in 2015 in pursuit of self-rediscovery, I wasn't planning to have art as a career because I didn't think it was possible. I had something else in mind, but art was already in the background since 2012. Until one day I got a commissioned project to draw on a van and it was then I saw the possibility of advancing this path, that someone, some stranger, entrusted me with my work despite being self-taught and all my insecurities that come with it. There must be something here for me, I thought.

That's when I began to expand my networks and gradually get involved in the scene.

What is your life ethos and how does it relate to your creative journey?

As cliché as it may sound, it has to be "follow your interest" or "follow your passion". It's a term so commonly debated but rings true for me, because one can do everything under the sun but if doing it doesn't drive you spiritually, then I suppose you are as good as a zombie - alive outside, dead inside.

Then it took me 8 years of zombiness, a leap of faith, an unexpected commissioned project, and a sprinkle of self-trust to begin to make this creative journey a reality, and this is, hands down, the most fulfilling career for me though still very challenging financially when still dabbling with the constant soul-searching. But because I had a great interest in this field, I have little to no bitterness.

To narrow it down, it began when I realized I had an affinity for abstract art as compared to the others. I didn't understand why. I try to imitate, play and create, and slowly develop my own style. Throughout this discovery, I was amazed that I'm able to learn so much about myself from my paintings. It is as if my interest brought me closer to who I am and I feel alive, all by "following my interest".

Being interested in something with passion is necessary for a long-term endeavour because when the tough gets going and when we are suffering, we can still say to ourselves "this is worthwhile". We can't say the same for something that we feel bored doing. 5 hours of trying to get the right colour for the painting is not the same as 5 hours of figuring out the codes to solve a problem on a software.

What was the most significant/impactful project for you thus far — why?

The most significant project would have to be my first project - which was the van drawing. If I know what I know today, I wouldn't have dared to take on the project because I would give myself all sort of excuses that I wasn't good enough and I didn't know how to use spray paints (I believe it's a commonly preferred choice of painting material for a large metal surface area).

My first project was a blank slate, I just wanted to do it no matter what it took. I used paint markers to draw on the van (excruciating 7 days with marker pen haha). I appreciate the dedication I have to complete a job that I was unsure of, I think it was a really good start and an unusual challenge. And I made it!

Being interested in something with passion is necessary for a long-term endeavour because when the tough gets going and when we are suffering, we can still say to ourselves "this is worthwhile".

How do you see the world?

The world seems to me like a training ground for every one of us. The imperfections of the world let us have something to learn about ourselves and work towards. Every day we wake up to an opportunity to tweak ourselves to be better, and in this lies the mystery of why this is so. The things that occur in our lives happens for a reason, why we choose to do the things we do, and we are here to uncover what this all means.

What type of artist do you wish to be, and what's your ultimate goal as a creative?

My hope is every day I wake up to live a life that will bring me closer to becoming a reliable thinker, a courageous daydreamer, and a trustworthy friend.

By being an artist who makes art, I hope my beliefs and truths are transmuted to the artworks into something worthy of admiring and pondering about, be it an individual effort or teamwork, be it a simple illustration or elaborative painting. I hope my works would be that "something" that makes this absurd world we live in a little more interesting.

I would prefer to stay independent, have a little retail store at the side for cute merchandise, occasionally have people shout at me and say "I want to work with you", "I love your work " and "I must have this artwork", and my art presence can reasonably influence people positively.

What is your favourite and least favourite part of the creative process?

I think my favourite part would be when I'm in the moment of "I don't know what the heck I'm doing but here goes" and it ended up being quite nice.

My least favourite part would most likely be "okay now, what do I do next?"

I find it extra meaningful when ideas come naturally but when I do not know what to do next and try to squeeze out ideas, I can be unmotivated. But I believe creative flow can be cultivated, which is something I try to practice more frequently these days.

What’s your guilty pleasure(s)?

Watching crime documentaries. I used to suspect am I secretly a psychopath but now I am aware what I like about crime documentaries is understanding human psychology.

How would you describe your creative and artistic style? Do you feel much has changed?

It is the hardest for me to describe my style. Because at a different time, in a different mood, I tend to want to do different things. It's quite hard to pin it down to a specific style at this moment I think. Especially now I am embracing a bit more illustrative work, which is very different visually from the abstract paintings that I am previously known for.

I am trying to deter labeling myself as an abstract artist these days as I am planning to do more illustrative art. I've been thinking a lot about style and it bothers me. A specific style seems to restrict me. I still do both and would love to explore others too. But to put it simply, I prefer to go by my subject of interest, which is what I call the abstract reality - the "other side" of our reality, the unseen forces and their mysteriousness, which is always prevalent in my art be it in abstract form or illustrative form. So I guess style interchanges.

Please share with us who/what you are constantly inspired by!

I believe I am most inspired by the people who are passionate about their undertakings regardless of industry. I can't say for sure who inspired me the most because every time someone tells me about what drives them in life, or if I watch a random art vlog or a passionate intellectual discussion on Youtube, just like that, I am already inspired.

Lastly, please shoutout 3 of your favourite local creative crushes and their IG handle!

I've always admired @thesliz very much, one of my very first creative crushes before I involve myself in the art scene.

@d.peculiarartist deserves a shoutout she's got a very distinctive style and I like it very much!

I'm in love with Fauzul Yusri's work and even wrote a blog about my experience meeting him personally!


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