Singapore-Based Artist Tunku Khalsom On Embracing Life, Love And Change

Known for her colourful, emotive creations, the self-taught artist opens up about the concept of home and finding beauty in imperfection

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A self-taught abstract artist and interior architecture graduate of Malaysian and British descent, Tunku Khalsom has become known for her work of fluidity and stunning colour. Embracing the concepts of “life, love and change”, Khalsom incorporates bright and bold colours that evoke different emotions. With works displayed in the homes of private collectors across Asia, the U.S. and Greece, Khalsom has also exhibited her work at the Affordable Art Fair Singapore and the Asian Art Platform Gallery.

You were born in Malaysia, studied in the UK, and now live in Singapore. Where do you call home?

Probably one of the most difficult questions I get asked. I was born in Johor, Malaysia, to a Malay father and a British mother, and grew up in KL with my three brothers. Our holidays were spent on our family resort on Pulau Rawa, an amazing island on the South East of Malaysia. It’s a special place that has been in my family for a few generations. 

I moved to the UK when I was 17 and spent eight years living in London and then Brighton, where I went to University. Then after a couple of years back in KL, I moved to Singapore in 2010. I have so many homes. All of these places hold a special place in my heart, and I don’t feel like I belong to just one of them. 

How would you describe your style?

Quite chaotic, there is a lot of texture and movement in my pieces. The textures I use are rough and gritty. They have cracks and crevices, textures that may be considered ugly, combined with lots of colour. I’m obsessed with colour — how one bleeds into the other, how contrasting colours go well together, how random combinations can surprise you. I love to see what happens when you layer, and you’re never completely sure what you’re going to get. For me, the brighter and more colourful, the better, but I am learning to balance that out with darker and neutral colours. In my art, I’m looking for beauty in the chaos, and beauty in imperfection. 

What’s your fascination with skulls and butterflies, which are recurring motifs in your creations?

Butterflies have been following me around since I was 16 and got my first tattoo. I’ve always found them to be so effortlessly beautiful. Since then, I have discovered that they have a dark side — but I’m not going to go into it because it’s actually pretty gross, but you can look it up. I like the idea of being a surprise, and being unexpected. Butterflies are a symbol of change, of metamorphosis, and combined with the skull, you’ve got life, death, change and love — all the things that we experience in life. Also, I just think that they look cool together. 

Five words that best describe your art…

Bright, bold, chaotic, captivating, colourful. 

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