For nearly a year Pang has been living in the idyllic Italian island of Sardinia, where he seems to have further honed the essential yet elusive skill of balance, both in art and in life. Naturally melding humor with wisdom, we chatted with the artist to explore his decision to commit to love and a destination, being vulnerable yet closed off from outside influences (at least on a conscious level), and the power of the Sardinian sun.

What inspired the move to Italy? What was the transition like?

Prior to moving to Italy, I had spent the last 10 years visiting at least 3 to 6 months a year. And in 2016 I met my wife-to-be. We had been separated by the pandemic, and when there was a window of opportunity between lockdowns, I decided to move to Italy in August 2020 to be together.

For me there was an obvious calling to make the move, but I still had to ask myself a lot of questions: Where do I feel as if I’m thriving and where do I feel as if I’m merely surviving? Am I worried about leaving certain people behind? What we are taught in modern life—by institutions or society— is that optionality is such a big deal, this freedom to choose and to not commit. And subconsciously we hang on to that and hesitate because of that. Ultimately, I knew that I wanted to be close to my fiancé and it would have been significantly more difficult for her to come to Singapore.

Anyways, I love an adventure, knew I loved Italy and have people here that I care for, and knew a bit of the language. It really helped that I wouldn't feel like a complete stranger, so the transition process was very smooth.

Italy—specifically Sardinia—would appear to be a stark contrast from your native Singapore. What made you fall in love with the culture?

The choice to move is a choice to transform, and it may or may not be correlated to the place you choose but it helps. My happiest moments in my youth in Singapore were when I tuned out the environment and immersed myself in my own world. Here in Sardinia, I find myself more open and willing to be vulnerable. This place is definitely good for your soul, and it makes me smile every day. I’m generally quite timid, it's just in my nature. I have self-doubt, I hesitate a lot. But fortunately for me that happens most when I’m alone (laughs). When people have a curiosity they emit a sort of aura, and I believe that deep down everyone wants to connect.

Here in Italy, whenever I’ve reached out to someone, people have been super responsive and that's something that you don't expect in our world—even within the smaller art world. There’s a spontaneity and warmth in the local culture, and that was something extremely encouraging when making my decision to move overseas

Has this change in location played a role in your art? Does your surrounding environment typically influence your work?

The temperature of the light here in Italy is so different. In Singapore I used to paint under a variety of artificial lights, because I don’t ever like being surprised as I move the painting from studio, to sun to gallery.

In Sardinia there is a very blue light. I have memorized the characteristics of the pigments I use and compensate for it, but I’m sure eventually—on a subconscious level—the light will find its way into my work.

I had promised myself many years ago to find inspiration in my head so as to maintain my creative health. I’ve painted in offices, storage rooms, Airbnbs, and told myself that my surroundings should not matter. No matter the place, the fact that you showed up precedes inspiration.

That said, I absolutely love the views along 10-minute drive home from the studio. The hills, the sunset at 9pm, the pink skies—every time I look at the evening skies I say to myself, No one can paint that Mediterranean light.

You’ve commented before that you prefer to not overthink technique, and instead allow it to develop during the act of creation. Do you share this spontaneous/free-flowing outlook with other compartments of your life?

I love methodical, rudimentary discipline. That’s the current way that I’m learning to play drums to get the basics right. But I also love the casual, spontaneity of just picking up an instrument and “winging it” while playing along to a song, which was how I picked up the electric guitar when I was in my teens. You need both attitudes in different proportions, depending on what phase of your life you’re at.

In painting, I do have a number of works where I feel that my job is to put my mind to an idea and to get it as close as possible; and then there are other paintings where it’s like you create a scenario and see what that stirs in you. Both of them can be pleasurable and rewarding, and both can have a kind of plateau as well. You’re always going to fall short of the ‘perfect’ image you have in mind, or perhaps your meanderings lead you nowhere. And that’s just the nature of two different approaches.

And I feel you need to have this balance in life as well: moments where you are very focused and disciplined, maybe even repetitive, and then you allow yourself to experience this shift between that state of mind and a free, creative state. 

This idea of freedom to choose yet limit of control seems to be prevalent in your current solo exhibition in Milan, True Solarization. Can you share your thoughts on how the virtual show was organized and your personal thoughts on this being the new norm for art shows?

Now you can visit the physical space by appointment only. I haven’t actually seen it in person yet because I was in lockdown, but hopefully in the coming months!

With Primo Marella Gallery we decided that if we were going to do virtual it would only be because we were unable to do the physical show. We were going to install a physical show regardless, and when we saw we were going to need a virtual component we did a digital rendering of the space.

When you render a familiar space it’s quite helpful as it conveys essential information: context, size and depth of work, for example. We had to keep in mind that most people will consume the art on their phones, so it’s vital to have as much material as possible (i.e. video, high res photos) so people can keep digging. Digitally, inconvenience is your enemy, a large file or too many links put people off—but in the physical world, people will take a flight to Venice to catch an opening.

Unlike cinema, viewing artworks online is not as immersive and emotive. That tends to be lost during a virtual art show. The smell of new paint, the echoey floors—these elements are part of going to a gallery! I’ve had shows that were not commercially successful, but the ability to be in front of someone else, to see someone smile—or even get upset—makes the experience that much more meaningful in a physical space. Realizing an exhibition physically, you live an experience and take in all its nuances. Digitally, it feels like you’ve just hit send. One of the things that my friends and I dread is the idea of physical art spaces disappearing in our lifetime. And we’ve seen the difference. I’ll adapt but dammit it will be sad!

Back to travel: Where will you be taking friends when they come to visit you in Sardinia?

A lot of things here have to do with the sun for me. And Sardinia feels like a little continent because you go from sea to mountains in about an hour and a half.

You can watch the sunset from this place called Valley of the Moon (Valle della Luna). It’s a beautiful drive to the northern edge of the island and you look across the sea. Last time I was there everyone—locals and tourists—clapped as the sun set, because it’s almost like watching it take place on a stage.

On the west side of the island there’s a coastal highway from Alghero to Bosa. And again, during sunset you can drive along this beautiful coast and take your high performance car or motorcycle for a spin if you’re into that. It’s almost the equivalent of a stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway in the U.S.

Then I would bring friends to Barumini, which is just south of the island’s center. It’s a huge and ancient archaeological complex (built in the 2nd Millenium BCE). If you visit during summer, the interior of the complex maintains a cool temperature as if it has air conditioning.

Afterwards, off to Cagliari, which has a completely different vibe. It’s a beautiful night city. And of course there are some great museums to see, but you have to walk through the Castello district, starting from the Bastione di San Remi. There are fortifications within the district that date back to the 14th Century, but the limestone remains in great condition. You’re also treated to the panoramic view of Cagliari which is stunning day and night. For dinner, I’d make a booking at a restaurant called Cerchio Rosso, the food is made extreme level of passion and flair yet the unpretentious setting makes you feel at home instantly.

Finally, there is the Museo Nivola that houses a paintings sculptures by Costantino Nivola in Orani. And there is the Sound Garden of sculptor Pinuccio Sciola of San Sperate, who has carved rocks in such a way that you can play them as if they were instruments. It’s absolutely moving.

Surrounded by these natural landscapes and historic places makes you feel small, and when you feel small in the context of history and nature, your problems feel small.
To stay up to date with Ruben, follow him on Instagram: @rubenpang