Gladys Tay is no stranger to sourcing and collecting bold pop art and unique iconography that has defined American culture—from life-size Coke bottles and Crest toothpaste signage to imagery that evokes Americana across time. The vintage art dealer, who came to the States from Singapore, is a connoisseur of the innovative and evocative.
In Creatives in Conversation, a regular column debuting this issue, editor at large Nicole Crowder will join artists and designers across multiple disciplines to tap into the ethos around their creativity, their work, and the pleasure they derive from art and space making. The following is an excerpt of Crowder’s conversation with Gladys Tay at the designer’s home in Shoreview.
Q: What inspires you to seek out those artworks that are unconventional and could even be considered oddities of design?
A: Humor is very important to me, and of course pieces that bring back memories and that mark events in my life.
Q: So do you find yourself thinking a lot about nostalgia in your work?
A: My dad traveled a lot when I was growing up. When he traveled, he would bring me things that I could not find in Singapore. So I remember my first year of grade school, he bought me a red backpack because that was the only way I could accessorize myself, because school was very restricted. Everybody had to have white shoes, white socks, and I was restricted to how many bows I could have in my hair, the uniform I wore, etcetera. The way I could express myself was like a way for me to have a little bit of fun. I love the color red, and it has marked so many fun things in my life.
Q: Do you find yourself being hyperaware of wanting to use bold colors, bold prints and objects to break outside of a design box? And if so, what keeps you curious in your line of work to continue operating in such a way?
A: This goes back to my childhood, too. My dad was kind of a rule breaker. In the ’90s, Singapore banned chewing gum, so if you were caught with gum, they would fine you. So he would travel to Japan and bring gum home. And I got so excited because Japanese packaging is so good! It’s very clever, very pretty. For me, that’s when I realized that I was really in love with things that were uncommon, things that not many people might have been drawn to. I think that is where my love of color comes in. Many people, I think, are afraid of color, too. I was brought up in this way. It’s OK to take risks or break rules. You don’t have to be so rigid. For me, it’s more about if I love 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 give themselves permission to break their own rules and incorporate bolder color, bigger prints in their home designs?
A: I would start by having them think about how colors affect them, because colors evoke so much emotion, and to remember that there are no rules when it comes to color. It’s really about your individual experience with it and how it makes you feel. I always say black can be modern and dark, but it can also be so sexy. It depends how you want to express it. You don’t have to commit to a big wall that is one color; sometimes just bring a little piece of what you love. If you know that you want a blue sofa but you don’t want to go too bold with a colorful wall, then accent the space with yellow flowers rather than paint a wall yellow.
Q: With all the objects that you encounter in your work, what is your thought process for deciding on which objects you actually want to keep or acquire?
A: [Laughs] To be honest, there really isn’t even a thought process! My rule is buy anything that you love. 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 him! [Laughs] If you love something, you will naturally find a place for it in your home.
Q: What creative space have you found yourself evolving into or out of personally as of late?
A: I’m leaning into the pop culture space lately. I am in a space where I am looking for the beauty that the world has and thinking about how the ’80s and the ’90s were and how much joy and freedom and color we had. And I’m trying to draw inspiration from those eras to see what I can bring forward with the designs and the objects that I’m sourcing. Between everything with Black Lives Matter and the lockdown and the current war, I want to focus on the good and the beauty that is happening and bring that forward and evolve.
Follow Gladys Tay’s adventures on Instagram @thegladystay and shop her finds at Foo Shoppe on Chairish.com.