Estella Ng and Liquan Liew are the artists behind RIPPLE ROOT, making collaborative, carefree works reflecting themes of nature and wildlife. Their work often pays homage to their roots: a conglomeration of Southeast Asian ornamentation and folkloric elements and have also been featured in the Peranakan Museum, National Gallery Singapore, Fullerton Hotel, and Plain Vanilla, to name a few.
Artists are often protective of their work and personal spaces, yet the two of you work together freely in a tag-team manner, each contribution a continuation of the other’s exploration. This organic collaborative process must take a lot of trust – how did the two of you meet and how do the dots connect to now?
Estella: We met at a design agency and found ourselves making art on the weekends, working out of my living room. We were just having fun making these paintings and looking back it was a really pure time of art-making. Soon we began to do Ripple Root ‘full time’. We didn’t have a massive game plan- everything just naturally fell into place… operating with the same synchronicity and pursuing that shared vision until now.
Liquan: We met at a design studio; Estella left to do painting full time. I really missed her so we started painting on the weekends just for fun. We had enough paintings to put on a show and we did really well that it gave us the courage to do this full time. In a blink of an eye, it’s been about 4 years of crazy and I’m just really lucky to be working with my art twin.
What’s the story behind the moniker ‘Ripple Root’?
Liquan: Estella’s RIPPLE and I’m ROOT – as evident by our personalities. She’s very expressive, vocal and is always moving/gesturing, while I’m quieter and calmer. But RIPPLE ROOT also describes our work: never static, constantly shifting but grounded in context and there’s a certain calmness to it.
Estella: RIPPLE ROOT came about as we were making our initial paintings about the mangrove swamps. Our first show was titled Strong Currents Will Paddle, and we wanted a name that went alongside our carefree, whimsical pieces. I’m Ripple and Liquan’s Root, given the obvious nature of our different personalities. We love that duality. Also ‘cos the paintings always look like they’re rippling, but there’s something grounding it at the same time.
Ripple Root is known for its distinct feature of Southeast Asian ornamentation and folkloric elements, was this cultural nod intentional?
Estella: We always want to pay homage to our roots. Although we pursued our art degrees abroad (Estella in the U.S. and Liquan in Melbourne), we always feel an attachment to Singapore. We make it a point to exhibit internationally every year, and as much as we pit our art prowess against the international stage we are very much proud of the mudskippers, mynahs and uncanny Singaporean bits that define us. The paintings are contemporary and fresh-looking on the whole, but if you’re Singaporean/Southeast Asian you recognise the symbols embedded within.
Liquan: When we started painting together, it was just goofing around having fun. It was during the SG50 craze and we were just toying with the idea of what felt local and Singaporean. Estella’s home was built on a mangrove swamp and that became a starting point. That grew into our love for batik motifs being expressed in the paintings.
Has that influence always been prominent in your separate styles? How did your styles change when coming together as a duo?
Liquan: When we started, I would paint more figurative forms and Estella would be more abstract, but now we’re completely merged.
Estella: Initially it was A+B but now you no longer can tell who did what and our styles have morphed into one defining Ripple Root point-of-view. There’s a tension that happens when we come together; a palpable energy captured onto the walls or canvas. This underlying current constantly pushes the art forward, to places we never imagined.
Is there a certain piece of artwork that speaks most to you?
Estella: Currently it’s “Visitaurus”, 2000 by Larry Poons. I also love the landscape paintings of Milton Avery, he’s way too underrated.
Liquan: Matisse’s “The Joy of Life”. I feel at peace yet charged every time I look at it.
What’s the biggest misconception that people may have about the work that you do?
Liquan: That we’re only capable of making really happy smiley work.
Estella: That any and everything goes. That we have topsy-turvy schedules where we wake up in the middle of the night to work, and then sleep the day away. In actuality we’re incredibly morning creatures who are most productive as long as the sun is up and there actually is a structure and routine to this madness.
What is something you created that you’re most proud of, and why?
Estella: The Keong Saik Street Alley mural we completed in 2016, commissioned by The Working Capitol. It’s just such a defining one for us. The sheer scale of it, the first time being on a boom lift, and how we had so much trust from the client yet unavoidable pressure, I remember feeling all sorts of emotions because we hadn’t done many of such outdoor murals then. But it’s our most instagrammed wall to date.
Liquan: Over the years we’ve had the honour to create pieces for private collections. We would weave their personal stories into these paintings and to see them in their homes is always an amazing feeling. But I’m also incredibly proud of the latest collection of paintings that we just exhibited in Sydney: I Think This Must Feel Like Paradise. Painted on wood, there’s a certain folkloric Southeast Asian charm to it.
What is the relationship you have with your clothes?
Liquan: It’s an emotional one. I wear a lot of colour because they embolden me but I’m very blasé with them too. Clothes should feel lived-in and not be too precious.
Estella: I like when there’s an ease and effortlessness to an outfit. Looking like you didn’t try, even though you probably did.
Liquan: Being conscious of the choices we make and however small, it has an impact.
Estella: Unwaveringly standing for one’s core values amidst trends and quick fixes.
We are inspired by Estella and Liquan’s intention to feature Southeast Asian and folkloric elements in their distinct works and are proud to have them as Fieldtesters, a group of inspiring individuals that test MATTER products in their everyday journeys of passion, to help us improve durability and design. Estella is wearing the All Day Jumpsuit + Koya and All Day Romper + Bhalka Rust in Size 1, and Liquan is wearing the Easy Dhoti + Indus Arrow Noir in Size 1.