Jolene is a London-based illustrator and architect from Singapore.Her architectural background andwork have fuelled an interest in documenting how places and spaces are occupied, which informs her illustrations and vice versa.
Chambre Fluide - Hello Jolene, let’s start talking about your passion for architecture and illustration. When and how did it begin?
Jolene Liam - My dad trained as an architect just as I did, and I grew up surrounded by his abstract paintings of houses. But my love for drawing objects in detail probably comes from my mum – when I was little, we used to make paper dolls together and drew lots of different outfits for them.
A few years ago, I started making drawings which represent spaces solely in terms of the objects within them; floor plans with the architecture itself removed, or visual inventories of these items lined up across the page. This was partly in response to depictions of architecture which avoid the mess and clutter of everyday life – to me how the two come together over time is much more interesting.
CF - Do your drawings come from real spaces, are they a result of your imagination or are they a mix of both? Could you describe your creating process?
JL - So far, they’ve always been based on real spaces, which I’m always trying to find different ways to represent, whether in the form of a dollhouse or as a greeting card. Most of the time these are places close to me, with collections of objects I find interesting. My flat has been a recurring subject in my work as it’s been a great starting point to explore ideas of home and identity.
I usually start by taking photos of spaces that catch my attention, which come in useful as reference images later. Sometimes I start with a rough draft in pencil, especially if it’s a more spatially complex drawing. Most of my work consists of ink drawings using a single pen, which allows me to focus on creating different textures and depths using one medium.
CF - Tell us more about My House at Home.
JL - My House at Home describes the house in Singapore where I grew up, where my parents and sisters still live. It references the original Polly Pocket dolls from the 90’s, a nod to the period where I spent the most time in this house. For me, being there is sometimes a little strange. It is a place that I still think of as home, yet I only visit once or twice a year. Something is slightly different each time I go back, creating a curious disjunction between the familiar and unfamiliar. It makes me think sometimes: if the house from my childhood memories is what I think of as home, then what is this
house in its current physical form – almost home but not exactly home? I’ve wondered if this is what anyone experiences when they revisit any place after some time, but heightened when it was/ is home. Maybe when you move away from home, home itself inevitably moves on without you, and your idea of it can never quite catch up, stuck in various points in time.
Through representing my childhood home as a dollhouse that can be opened and closed, these were some of the thoughts and feelings I was hoping to explore and convey.
CF - You are from Singapore and currently living and working in London. How does your identity, background influence your artistic work?
JL - I think that the spaces we live in can say a lot about us – they are an expression of our habits and personalities. I’ve made several drawings of my flat in London, my family home in Singapore, and my grandmother’s home where I spent a lot of time growing up. These have become a way of exploring my relationship to each place, and a description of myself at a particular point in time. In the same way, drawings of my friends’ homes are also portraits that capture how they make a space their own.
So in a sense, it’s not so much that a formed understanding of my identity is driving my work – rather, the work is about me exploring my identity from a specific, personal point of view that hopefully also resonates with other people.