Happy Birthday to the living Canadian Surrealist painter, Lisa Ng ! 🥳
Rumour has it artist Lisa Ng crawled out of a 1960s surrealist, Rene Magritte painting as an infant one magical spring evening whilst the peonies were in bloom, but medical records indicate she was more specifically born on June 7, 1984, the year of the rat, at precisely 8 pm in Hamilton, ON to Chinese immigrant parents, Dr. and Mrs. Ng. People say it was a rocky start, poor Mrs. Ng spent a full day in labour that finally resulted in a C Section and Mrs. Ng on oxygen before baby Lisa arrived -perhaps determining her personality early on, rather shy and hard to figure out in the beginning, but otherwise likeable. Her father, a primary care physician, along with her mother, a medical secretary, together supported the family of two children opening and running a family medical practice, largely looking after the growing Chinese, Mandarin and Vietnamese speaking immigrant population in the area.
Lisa, the younger sister to an elder brother, both children grew up with a strict and regimented upbringing with a concentration on academic vigour from an early age. Education was everything to Dr. and Mrs. Ng. As soon as they could hold their pencils, both were made to copy and memorize the dictionary, along with extra math, piano and Chinese language lessons. This heavily disciplined upbringing would later prepare both children for a very much needed expressive outlet -staging protests around the family living room for more free time, and Lisa producing a painting titled, Tiger Mom, followed by another titled, Tiger Empress, complete with metronome. Lisa’s older brother later became an ER physician and a patron and collector of the arts along with being one of Lisa’s biggest supporters, mimicking the supportive sibling relationship of Vincent and his brother Theo. Lisa also later became a registered nurse, carrying on the family tradition of providing accessible healthcare, on top of being a painter.
From a young age, little Lisa always had a curious, creative mind, pouring over picture books from the public library and mesmerized by the endless flow of patterned fabrics from her mother’s wardrobe. Mother Ng was a skilled seamstress and fashion, interior designer at heart. She decorated the family home with floral print drapes, leopard patterned couches, even her brother’s room was fashioned with zebra patterned curtains and bedding (see Zebraville below). Granny, on her mother’s side, also lived with the family, doing the bulk of the baby sitting and letting Lisa indulge in her early morning cartoon habit. Father Ng was a more logistical and disciplined man who also held a degree in engineering on top of a career in medicine, he wanted nothing less than top marks in math and science! It is perhaps the qualities of the two combined that gave Lisa the gumption to be the Renaissance women she dared to be, looking up to the stories of Leonardo Da Vinci from a young age. An early memory places her with a red artist’s beret, a gift from her mother, and showing little Lisa a picture of the Mona Lisa from the back of Reader’s Digest Magazine, also the same place wherein she discovered her first Magritte painting. Lisa likes to claim she was named after the Mona Lisa, though her mother tells her she was named after a character in a movie she once saw who prioritized family. Interesting tidbit, back in olden times, Mona meant Madam, so the name of the lady in the painting is simply Lisa, and not Mona Lisa. The Mona Lisa was also painted in celebration of Mona Lisa’s second child, so again, a celebration of family.
Throughout school, Lisa excelled in art and formed life long bonds with classmates wowed by her work and with similar interests. These characters still appear today in her life, offering emotional support and tips on how to sustain a living. Another life changing moment during her teen years was a trip she took to Italy’s Guggenheim museum wherein she witnessed Rene Magritte’s wall size painting, the Empire of Lights.
Wanting a more stable life for their daughter however, one without financial woes, the Ng parental units initially had their reservations about sending their daughter to art school. It was her late, high school art teacher, Doug Moore, that made the convincing case that Lisa had talent and that allowing her to pursue a dream would teach her hard work and rigorous discipline, pillars of the Ng family motto. Not only did Mr. Moore put her on a life path of becoming an artist, he showed her the basic skills of painting too. Eventually the Ng’s succumbed and off she went with her family’s blessing, but not before an inspiring 2 week trip she took backpacking through Spain with some friends, financed with money she made folding towels at Homesense. Here she visited the Dali museum in Figueres, Spain, this would later prove to be an epic life altering experience.
Attending the Ontario College Of Art, Lisa took little formal painting classes, preferring to instead immerse herself in time based art, video, performance, zines and the use of computers to manipulate images. It is this that may contribute to the story telling narrative and symbolic quality her paintings carry today. Primed with a superior work ethic from a young age and crazy about studying something she loved, Lisa would often finish her essays and projects weeks early. With all the extra time left over she spent a good portion smoking reefer with her buds (illegal at the time), and forming new artistic friendships that would support her in her later years psychologically, authentically and theoretically. It was in these hazey times her work with two art bands, the Pablo Jueves Foundation and the Spooky Astronauts Drawing Club began to form, further encouraging her interest in employing a dream like quality and humour within her art.
After graduating art school in 2007, Lisa woke up one day and suddenly decided she was going to go back to her first love, colour and painting. From that moment on Lisa dedicated herself to painting every day. She began first with a series of Cannibal paintings that were later exhibited at Toronto’s now defunct AWOL Gallery. Although generating some fanfare, selling 2 that year -1 for charity, Lisa continued to flounder between several precarious occupations for money. Fun Fact: Lisa Ng did a brief stint as a caricature artist for one spring/summer season at Ontario Place. Her best seller was drawing your portrait with piles of money. Finally, Lisa Ng woke up one morning and very much alike how she suddenly decided she would dedicate herself to painting everyday almost suddenly, and overnight, decided she’d do something she’d never do, enrol herself in nursing school.
Miraculously and but more probably due to the classic Ng work ethic drilled into her from a young age, Lisa passed through nursing school with flying colours in 2013. It was also during this time she painted one of her best gems, Lunch Time, later referrrd to as Zebraville by the late poet RM Vaughan -the first art critic to write about her work.
After passing her licensing exam and while sending out resumes in search for her first job as a nurse, Lisa also paints her perhaps most famous work, Flamingos In The Bathroom during this time. Eventually being auctioned off after collecting dust in the corner of her bedroom at the foot of her bed for a couple years, Lisa still enjoys a continuous stream of royalties from selling prints of this painting, financing her teeny tiny paint brush addiction. In 2015, by her early 30s, Lisa lands a flexible job as a visiting nurse and no longer having to worry about finances, Lisa enjoys a new found freedom, working a few days a week and painting whatever she feels like in between.
Beginning with a more contour line drawing technique, with the use of India ink employed in her early Cannibal Series, to scraping the India ink altogether and only using layers and layers of acrylic paint to create the contours, textures and patterns, a technique more in line with some of her favourite painters, Lisa continues to evolve, develop and be excited by painting.
After exhibiting at dozens of art shows and fairs, Lisa Ng remains a free agent, now largely selling direct or online. Serving her community as a nurse through the 2020 global pandemic and watching her online revenue climb as the art market changes, Lisa Ng begins to thrive. Her paintings gain a following and begin to be collected from all over North America to Australia, Switzerland, Vienna, Germany and Hong Kong. Even her Cannibal paintings from over 10 years ago have since garnered a cult like following and have begun to nearly sell out. Notable collectors include the Anonymous Wealthy Arab, the Accountant and Family, the Brown Family, the Mother and Son Team, the German Banker, Hannibal Lector and the Mysterious Shape Shifter.
Today Lisa Ng is working on her 251st painting inspired by and currently carrying her first child. Something she again just woke up one morning and decided to dedicate herself to. Happily married to the local mail man, rumour has it she paints with the elixir of life. At 37, clients claim she doesn’t look a day over 27 – 29, maybe 30. A liking for making things up and telling stories, Lisa claims she’s actually 101 and a wizard, and her magic wand? The paint brush!
Her work has been described anywhere from Calvin and Hobbes meets Salvador Dali to the words of the late poet and art critic RM Vaughan:
“As playful as a rabid kitten, Ng’s visual gags are a Marx Brothers skit crossed with Willy Wonka.”
“Ng’s deliciously detailed, David Lynch-like paintings present the mundane interiors and domestic lives of decidedly not mundane creatures. Ng is the David Sedaris of figurative painting.“