Sketchbook Artist Profile: Kar-Keat Chong
Posted March 30th, 2021 by Bridget Kranz
The local artist, architect, and Urban Sketcher discusses the intersection of his interests and exploring the Twin Cities through plein air painting.
As a teenager in Malaysia, Kar-Keat Chong spent long days outside sketching the architecture in George Town – learning to draw through his high school art society and weekend lessons. Twenty years later, after focusing on his studies and career as an architect, he’s once again finding time for his childhood passion.
Now he’s exploring the nooks and crannies of the Twin Cities, drawn especially to industrial relics and how historic buildings shape urban landscapes. And since 2017, he’s also been involved with the local chapter of Urban Sketchers, an international nonprofit for artists who meet together to sketch on location.
“A good friend of mine from my hometown had started a chapter in Penang, and he’s well connected with the Urban Sketchers global group,” says Chong. “He came here and spent a few days with me, and he really encouraged me to get back into painting and sketching.”
Chong’s father-in-law, fellow watercolor artist Cheng-Khee Chee, also inspired him to continue his artistic practice outside of architecture. Chong always follows Chee’s advice to elevate his works through dynamic compositions that capture the viewer’s eye.
“When I’m out doing plein air painting, it’s an information gathering session. I’m trying to capture the feeling and the energy that I’m experiencing – the light quality, the activities around me, the people,” he explains. “Back in the studio, that’s when I start to experiment, analyze the information and compose a finished piece.”
For the 2020 MPLSART Sketchbook Project, Chong wanted to include work that felt true to his interests as an artist. One watercolor sketch, of the modern Walker Art Center with the Basilica of St. Mary in the background, shows architecture through the years – how buildings age and contribute to a place over time, which resonates with his background as an architect.
There’s also a depiction of Mill Ruins Park – one of the first places Chong sketched on location after returning to drawing and painting in 2017.
“A friend and I were trying to find places to draw one Saturday morning in July, and just decided to sit on the Stone Arch Bridge and draw this view of the city. We were a little uncomfortable, because there were so many passersby – but we put our heads down and started drawing,” Chong laughs. “After a while, I got used to it again.” ♦
All images courtesy of the artist. Banner image: Mill Ruins Park No. 1 (detail), ink and watercolor, 2017.
The 2020 MPLSART Sketchbook Project is a unique survey of the Twin Cities visual arts community during a difficult year. In total, 69 artists contributed 120 pages of work to a series of five traveling sketchbooks, which will be auctioned off in the Spring and reprinted in a collected volume going on sale in March, with all net proceeds going to the artists involved. MPLSART worked hard to capture a diverse slice of artists working in the Twin Cities. From internationally exhibiting artists to hobbyists, from McKnight Fellows to artists just starting on their journey. The project features muralists, studio artists, street artists, graphic novelists, collage artists, and more. See the full list of artists involved here and bid early on the original 5 sketchbooks prior to the live auction May 22nd.