Talented. Beautiful. Young. Creative. Meet Talenia Phua Gajardo, director of The Artling, an online gallery that supports and sells artworks of Asian artists (kudos to that!). The half-Chilean half-Chinese Singaporean who is the daughter of well-known Chilean philanthropist Eugenia Garjardo, is an accomplished architect in her own right. Having spent her school days in Chile, Singapore (where she spent the majority of her upbringing), Australia and England, Talenia discovered and developed her interest in the Arts. She pursued Architecture in Central Saint Martin’s in London before striking her luck in landing a job for famed architect Zaha Hadid. After working for a few years for Zaha Hadid, Talenia went on to start her own architecture firm in 2010 with a business partner.
Her architecture and furniture works have been synonymous to innovation, quality and modernity that has garnered appraisal in international exhibitions and mainstream publications such as Home&Decor, Saatchi Online, Cubes, Prestige Living, Wallpaper, Female, and now Vida De Latinos.
Since leaving her joint architecture venture to go solo with her current architecture company called T+, Talenia also started The Artling. In what makes her tick and going strong through her endless pursuit in her entrepreneurial exploration and fascination with art, Talenia best describes it in her own words…
Tell us more about yourself.
I was in Singapore until the age of 16, then went to boarding school in Australia for 2 years and then was in London for University after. I’ve always enjoyed being creative and drawing from a very young age. I decided I wanted to get involved in the field of Architecture and Design when I was about 15.
Why did you decide to pursue architecture?
I was highly drawn to the creative field from a very young age and that materialized into something more specific in my later teens. Thankfully my parents were supportive and encouraged me to pursue those strengths and passions. The built environment has always intrigued me – how we as designers can create experiences, imprint memories and invoke feelings with tangible and meaningful spaces.
Being half-Chilean half-Chinese Singaporean, where do you feel your roots are the deepest between the two and why?
Definitely Singapore – I am Singaporean and have always been more connected my Chinese side. I went to school in Chile very briefly when I was much younger, but was not there long enough to feel truly rooted.
How was it being raised and living in Singapore as half-Chilean, and what were some of the challenges or compliments you faced in Asia?
People struggle to identify where I’m from sometimes, but that’s hardly a challenge. It’s always funny to see the surprise on people’s faces when they realise I speak and understand Mandarin – I suppose they see me as a Caucasian here. I’m also a little taller than the normal Singaporean female!
How was it living in London and what do you think of it compare to living in Singapore, especially as a half-Chilean?
London is amazing and I’m so glad to have lived there for as long as I did. The access to the Arts and Design was unparalleled and the proximity to the rest of the EU was one of the main reasons I wanted to move there. Paris for Maison de Objet, Milan & Cologne for the furniture fairs and London’s amazing Design Festivals and antique shows; access to all of these events as a designer allows one to keep current and stay creative. Singapore is exciting in a very different way; we are still very young as a country and don’t have the same depth of artistic history compared to Europe. People here are slowly coming to value the creative industry and invest in it – it’s the best time to be here to catch and ride that wave and to try and influence the movement in a positive way. Being half-Chilean is not something I am constantly aware of but I do acknowledge that it has probably helped me slightly more than normal in terms of being able to deal with both the East and West effectively.
You started your own architecture company after working for Zaha Hadid. How did you get land your foot to work for one of the most famous architects in the world, and eventually started your route to entrepreneurship?
It was really just luck and timing. I met another Architect, Ben van Berkel from UN Studio here in Singapore and went to listen to his lecture at the Architectural Association in London. Through him I met Patrik Schumacher, a director at Zaha’s. They were hiring like crazy at the time and I interviewed the next day! I worked on some truly amazing and inspiring projects there and met the most talented people – I am very grateful to have been given that opportunity. After my stint at Zaha’s i was approached by a friend to help out with some interior sourcing for his hotel in London and that’s how it all began; that seemingly small project lead to other things and provided a basis for all the subsequent work. I decided that I wanted to be my own boss and create a name for myself and ultimately, lead.
Your previous architecture studio has done a lot of remarkable achievements since it started in 2010, how has the journey been?
It’s been a journey for sure and I have learned so much. We focused a lot on furniture design and one-off bespoke ‘Art Furniture’ pieces – these were passion projects which were great to develop but challenging to execute.
Now that you are on your next venture with the Artling, tell us more about it and what got you so interested in Art and why?
I have always been interested in Art and if i didn’t pursue Architecture, I probably would have done Art History. With my interior work I constantly have to source for special pieces and art work and I realized that there was nothing dedicated to showcasing Asian Art or Galleries. I wanted to build a site that could showcase this and allow people to browse and purchase artworks from Artists and galleries across Asia. The Artling is something that I am very excited about and i’m really enjoying seeing it grow. There are so many amazing, undiscovered artists in Asia that may not be represented by a gallery and that do not have a platform to expose and sell their work. The whole process of discovering them and subsequently featuring their work on the site, having their works sold and knowing someone is enjoying the work in their space is fulfilling. Notably, the very prominent Mizuma Gallery from Tokyo has just signed on and we are featuring Limited Editions Prints from Mr Mizuma’s own collection for sale.
What are the best-selling pieces of art on the site?
Artworks by the Japanese artist Tetsuya Toshima from Japan sell quite well as the price point is very accessible and the pieces suit many types of interiors. The photography work also sells quite well – Photography is gradually becoming very collectible.
Since you are dealing with the Arts now, do you still continue your architect profession?
Yes, I am still working on a variety of Interior Architecture projects and plan to keep that going.
If a young Asian artist would like to have their artworks featured through the Artling, what is the criteria that you are seeking for?
We look for interesting illustration work, mixed media and photography and are slowly expanding to different media. Art is very personal and so we take time to consider the suitability all artists that write in to us.
How has life as an entrepreneur been for you so far, and what’s the most difficult part of the journey?
It has been amazing and i’m learning everyday. The hardest part has been finding the right talent to join the team!
Is the current venture of the Artling more challenging than your previous business venture?
It’s been equally challenging – setting up a new business is always going to come with its hurdles no matter what the nature of the business is.
Do you have any regrets pursuing your dreams?
No! Definitely not. I can’t really imagine doing anything else – I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
You can check out The Artling at http://theartling.com/
his article was published on Vida De Latinos’ online magazine, 1 July 2013.
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