Gladys Tay is no stranger to researching and collecting the bold pop art and unique iconography that has defined American culture – from life-size Coke bottles and Crest toothpaste signs to images that evoke Americana. Through time. The vintage art dealer, hailing from Singapore in the United States, is a connoisseur of the innovative and the evocative.
In Creatives in Conversation, a regular column making its debut in this issue, editor Nicole Crowder will join artists and designers from multiple disciplines to tap into the ethos around their creativity, work and enjoyment. that they derive from art and the creation of space. The following is an excerpt from Crowder’s conversation with Gladys Tay at the designer’s home in Shoreview.
Q: What drives you to seek out these works of art that are unconventional and could even be considered design oddities?
A: Humor is very important to me, and of course the pieces that bring back memories and mark events in my life.
Q: So do you think a lot about nostalgia in your work?
A: My father traveled a lot when I was little. When he traveled, he brought me things that I couldn’t find in Singapore. So, I remember my freshman year of elementary school, he bought me a red backpack because that was the only way I could accessorize because school was very restricted. Everyone had to have white shoes, white socks, and I was limited to how many bows I could have in my hair, what uniform I wore, etc. The way I could express myself was like a way for me to have a little fun. I love the color red and it has marked so many fun things in my life.
Q: Do you feel hyper conscious about wanting to use bright colors, bold prints and objects to step out of a design box? And if so, what makes you curious about your job to continue operating in this way?
A: It also goes back to my childhood. My dad was kind of a rule breaker. In the 90s Singapore banned chewing gum so if you were caught with chewing gum they would fine you. So he would go to Japan and bring gum back home. And I was so excited because Japanese wrappers are so good! It’s very clever, very pretty. For me, that’s when I realized that I was really in love with things that weren’t common, things that maybe wouldn’t have appealed to a lot of people. I think that’s where my love of color comes in. I think a lot of people are afraid of color too. I was brought up that way. It’s OK to take risks or break the rules. You don’t have to be so rigid. For me it’s more if I like hot pink, for example, there will be hot pink here. I don’t care what other people say.
Q: How would you encourage someone to allow themselves to break their own rules and incorporate brighter colors and larger prints into their home designs?
A: I would start by getting them to think about how colors affect them, because colors evoke so many emotions, and to remember that there are no rules when it comes to color. It’s really about your personal experience and how you feel. I always say black can be modern and dark, but it can also be very sexy. It depends how you want to express it. You don’t have to commit to a large one-color wall; sometimes just bring a little piece of what you like. If you know you want a blue sofa but don’t want to be too bold with a colorful wall, accent the space with yellow flowers rather than painting one wall yellow.
Q: With all the objects you encounter in your work, what is your thought process in deciding which objects you really want to keep or acquire?
A: [Laughs] To be honest, there isn’t even really a thought process! My rule is to buy whatever you like. Don’t overthink it, especially when it comes to vintage. When you think too much, it’s gone and you might regret it. If you see it and your husband asks you what it is, ignore it! [Laughs] If you love something, you will naturally find a place for it in your home.
Q: What creative space have you personally evolved in lately?
A: I’ve been leaning into the pop culture space lately. I’m in a space where I search for the beauty of the world and think about how the 80s and 90s were and the joy and freedom and color we had. And I try to take inspiration from those eras to see what I can bring with the designs and the objects that I source. Between all things Black Lives Matter and the current lockdown and war, I want to focus on the good and the beauty that’s happening and moving that forward and evolving.
Follow Gladys Tay’s adventures on Instagram @thegladystay and shop her finds at Foo Shoppe on Chairish.com.