SUBANG JAYA has moulded Mishell Leong into an international artist that she is today. Her formative years were spent in the neighbourhood of SS14 and this she has not forgotten as she pursues her passion in art in Singapore. She holds sweet memories of her childhood in Subang Jaya and she still returns to her family home whenever time permits. We caught up with her recently and challenged her to share some juicy bits of her childhood and her career as a professional artist.
- Did you grow up in Subang Jaya? Where did you school and how often do you come home to visit the family?
Yes, I did – until I was 17 years old when I left home for my University education in England. I went to Sekolah Kebangsaan Subang Jaya and Sekolah Menengah Subang Jaya, both schools within 8mins walk from my house. When I was living in Europe, I tried to come home once a year, and now – when I am closer across the channel, I try to be home every three to four months if I can.
- Did you discover your first love in Subang Jaya? We meant your career but it’s also okay to share your “first romance” with us as well.
Actually, I think the first job and lifelong career that I can truly say is my first love – is being a mum. It is a super daunting and challenging job and God knows, never-ending career but it is equally rewarding and super insightful. I learn so much on the job every day. And no, I did not discover that in Subang Jaya. My other first love or my dream job since I was around eight years old – is to become a TV Cooking programme host. I often pretended to be a cook show host in my mum’s kitchen and that dream has never left me. Hehe.
As for romance, my first school crush or “boyfriend” was indeed from school in Subang Jaya. Aahh..how innocent life was back then.
- What was it like growing up in Subang Jaya? What has changed in this childhood neighbourhood of yours?
I loved it! I loved the fact that we (classmates) all lived so close to each other and we can just cycle to each other’s house to hang out, make prank calls or discuss our school projects. I loved how safe Subang Jaya was as a neighbourhood and how everyone knew each other because everyone pretty much went to the same school. I also love the fact that we all didn’t care too much about each other’s backgrounds and who’s who – unlike the more uppity neighbourhoods.
What has changed – so much! The whole demographic, as I understand it, has changed a lot. Of course, USJ is a lot bigger now than what it was and that has changed the ‘original’ Subang Jaya in so many ways. Back in my days, USJ was this new little neighbourhood across the field that we can just cycle across – no big highways or heavy traffic.
- Back in your teenage years. What were your favourite hangout places?
Subang Parade! We went there for everything! From playing dress up in Parkson Grand fitting rooms to an afternoon cinema, TGIF or Mcdonalds… I loved hanging around in Memory Lane – checking out greeting cards. Apart from that, I hung out a lot in my best friend’s house in SS14 and I used to go cycling almost every single evening for at least an hour – all around Subang Jaya. Such wonderful memories!
- Where did you go for your first date in Subang Jaya?
Hahahaha…I wouldn’t even remember! Probably Subang Parade..? Or maybe Padang Assam! Hahaha. I’m a big outdoors kind of girl.
- Who was your favourite teacher in school?
Puan Mah Wai Leng. Aside from her name being so similar to mine, I am incredibly grateful to her for her constant encouragement and believe in me during my secondary school years. There were times when I had some difficulties with certain teachers in school who had a problem with me being “outspoken” but Puan Mah had always stood by my side, reassuring me and encouraging me to be who I truly am – and not giving too much care about what others have to say.
- Where was your first part time job?
At my university – I worked at the theatre cafe and bar. My father did not allow me to work during my school years. He would offer to pay me to sit down to my Maths when I asked to join my friends working part-time at Mcdonalds.
- What inspires your paintings? Do childhood memories also guide you in what you paint?
Life and topics related to life! Depending on the collection, I am inspired by different life conversations. For example – my Sensual Collection is about female empowerment, the complexities of feminine beauty and in some ways, the oppression that we women feel and go through in our lives. The Happiness Collection was my first collection of works that is very inspired by my younger childhood years and the stories I read in the Enid Blyton books – each painting is very much a storybook that radiates joy, and encourages dreams, stories and adventures for the child at heart. And my most recent collection – the Botanicals Collection, started off by my memories of my walk to and from school, evenings of playing “masak-masak” on the public bench behind my house (now gone) and more.
- Do you paint what inspires you and make it available in the market? Or can people commission you to paint for them?
Both! I started off six years ago painting mainly on commission and I had limited edition and personalised prints and products that people can buy. These days, I juggle between working on a specific collection for sale at an Art Show and (limited) commissions – mainly because I am a very slow painter…and my paintings take a long time to be produced due to their layers and intricate details.
- When you come back to Subang Jaya to visit your family what is the first thing you do?
Roti Canai and Teh Halia – followed by a visit to the hair salon because it’s so much cheaper here than anywhere else. These days, I also crave the vegetarian food served at Canai in SS 14. You will see me there almost every morning when I am home – if I can help it!
- Some of your recent paintings were inspired by Plants & Gardens Subang Jaya Facebook group. Do you plan to paint more nature motifs?
I am not sure yet… I try not to plan too much because it never really works that way for me. I tend to wait for the message or inspiration that comes to me when I have to start work on a particular painting or collection. I would love to be able to continue the nature motifs because I am so deeply inspired and energised by it but I also have a few other itches that I know will need to be scratched – in colours.
- You now live in Singapore and have an option to move to Switzerland where your husband is from. Would you consider moving back to Subang jaya to raise your children? What would it take to bring you back?
I have always considered it – moving back to Malaysia and of course, if possible, Subang Jaya but I think reality is such that it is probably highly unlikely for now or the foreseeable future. Having said that, I have learned to never say never and life has thrown so many surprises at me – I wouldn’t necessarily rule it out!
What would it take? A big fat regular paycheck for doing what I love! Hahahha….