“Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.”
The quote, from the Persian poet Rumi, recently appeared on Brian Uhing’s Instagram. He used it as caption to a photograph of himself with his wife S-Ann Ch’i marking their 11th year as a married couple. The Rumi lines no doubt capture the deep connection between the two artists. After all, S-Ann Ch’i once said in an interview, “We met each other in our early thirties, and both regret not having met sooner!”
Their works are very distinct from each other. He makes paintings in the classical Flemish and Venetian styles but injects them with a dark humor or surrealist touches. She makes very frenetic paintings that echo the works of Jackson Pollock, one of her influences. And just like the American artist, she also has a very physical connection to her art. It’s like a dance, she says, and is very dependent on her movement and the movements of the elements of her environment. She calls her style “Gestural Abstraction.”
Brian’s paintings are coveted by collectors in and outside the country. He has found great success in the auction houses. In 2019, his “Phone With Girl in Red (Girl in Red with Phone)” sold for a 175,244 USD at Sotheby’s Hong Kong. He, however, has yet to break his own record of 207,626 USD posted the year before, for his painting named “The Plight of Lady Vanity.”
Meanwhile, S-Ann Ch’i, apart from being an artist is a philanthropist. Through her S-Ann Ch’i Toy Libraries project, she was able to establish 18 community toy libraries where children can borrow toys and books for both educational and recreational purposes. She also has S-Ann Ch’i Scholars which provides assistance to underprivileged kids.
Indeed, Brian and S-Ann Ch’i each have their own passions. But they often find themselves crossing over to the other’s world. He lends a hand on her outreach efforts, and they both value each other’s inputs when it comes to their art. They wouldn’t have it any other way. “Everything we experience is never taken for granted,” S-Ann Ch’i told Tatler. “All facets of life including creating art are done side by side!”
Below, the cool couple answers some of our questions, giving a clearer glimpse of their personal work and their dynamics as partners.
ANCX: How did you two meet? And how did you know there’s something special about each other?
Brian: We were set up on a blind date by a mutual friend, and at that time a serious relationship was the last thing that we both wanted to get into. But right off the bat we recognized the strong bond that we shared and on our second date, one thing led to another and that other thing led to a kiss, and the kiss, which was like nothing we ever felt before, concretized how we felt about each other and after that we both knew that we had to be together!
ANCX: Does sharing a home mean you influence one another? How, considering you have very different styles? Or is it just in things like discipline, or rituals, or approach to work?
Brian: We have been together for 11 blissful years now, and ever since we found each other, our lives have become so much meaningful and beautiful! So every aspect of our life together has been graced with that love, including the act of creating!
ANCX: Brian, can you tell me briefly about growing up: where did you grow up, what do you remember most about it, and when and how did you start making art?
Brian: Art has been there from the beginning. I started drawing at the age of three, and I just never stopped! And growing up during the 80s surrounded by nature gave me an environment conducive to creating! Kids back then were always outdoors, flying kites, riding bikes and scraping knees! And several blocks from my house there was this hill where I would spend late afternoons watching sunsets and staring at the stars! This feeling of being in awe and wonder while witnessing something greater than myself has had a profound effect on my work.
ANCX: How about S-Ann Ch’i, what was growing up like for you?
S-Ann Ch’i: Unlike Brian, my childhood was steeped in city life! Which was teeming with movement and energy! But we are both 80s kids which means we get our thrills out of the simplest of things! Like climbing trees or people watching! And although I started expressing myself through art later in life, first sumi-e, then finally through abstraction, it is this pulse of life from the old city that I find still echo’s through my art!
ANCX: You look like a very cool couple. Where do you guys live now, and would you mind describing what your house looks like?
Brian: We are at the moment in a state of transition since we are having our dream home built, so our place at the moment is a wonderful mess! We both love to collect things, I’m fascinated by figurines of pop culture from the 70s to the early 90s—in other words, my inner geek has manifested itself during my mid life. And she’s into bags, heels, whips and lingerie! So you can imagine the fine clutter we have amassed over the years!
We love each other’s crazy, so whether it’s wining and dining or competing with school kids for fishball and tokneneng in front of a vendor’s stall, all that matters is that we are together, and that fills everything we do with the same lust for life, the same joie de vivre!
ANCX: Brian, how and when would you say your work started getting noticed by international collectors, and the auction world?
Brian: Before I already had several loyal art patrons who believed in my work and helped me on my path, but what really projected my work out there was when a piece of mine did rather well during an auction at Sotheby’s several years ago! Since then, I have been focusing my energy on getting my paintings out to a greater audience.
ANCX: Brian, you paint very classical figures but in a very surreal framework, what about these elements that first attracted you and how did you come to the decision that this is something you could keep building on?
Brian: My parents believed in the powerful influence of books on art, so I grew up immersed in the images of the old masters. I loved how their works appear submerged in deep water and would give off their own faint light. It just filled me with this haunting, romantic feeling. Then I discovered the works of Magritte, Duchamp and Balthus, who used their art to play pranks! I thought, If i could marry the richness of Titian’s work with the humor of Magritte, that would be something I wouldnt mind seeing!
Recently, I have been experimenting with symbolism drawn from my pop culture childhood, so be prepared to see another crazier side of my repertoire!
ANCX: S-Ann Ch’i, your abstracts are very intense and passionate. Who are your influences and what inspires you?
S-Ann Ch’i: I am by nature a very sensual and expressive person, I love to dance! And painting for me is another form of dance! Gestural abstraction has a lot to do with body action, and as the piece progresses, what emerges is an image of motion captured. The strong works of Pollock, Yayoi Kusama’s playfulness and Rothko’s solid forms are but a few that have tickled my imagination. As well as my love for the forcefull and deliberate strokes you find in Japanese sumi-e.
ANCX: Are there days when you guys are just not in the mood to work? How do you get out of that funk?
Brian: We Netflix and chill! Having the blues doesn’t happen often, but when it does, a no-brainer, fun activity does the trick!
[See more of their works at @sann-chi and @officialbrianuhing on Instagram.]