Launceston dentist and artist ‘struggles with identity’ as he lives double life

When Dr Yong walks up the stairs of his dental surgery, he steps into a large room overlooking Launceston, in northern Tasmania, where he spends hours at a time painting.

“I try to get up here as often as I can,” Dr Yong said.

“I spend most of the Fridays up here, half the day and the weekend up here and after work, I’m up here, sometimes just looking out the window or reading a book.”

Some may consider the skills of dentistry and art as quite different and Dr Yong agreed there were times when he “felt conflicted”.

Chee Yong sitting in his art studio in Launceston
PHOTO: Dr Yong says he often spends time in his art studio to relax and unwind after a day of dentistry. (ABC Northern Tasmania: Fred Hooper)
“Most days I struggle with my own identity I suppose, [about] whether I’m an artist or a dentist,” Dr Yong said dental curing light.

“Sometimes I’m lost for words. Society has a way to try and put you in a box.

“I was told that I don’t know what I want to be and I’m not serious enough as an artist to spend my full time as an artist [but] I think that view is wrong.

“Most artists I know have day jobs as a floor sander or antique dealer or something.”
Peering into people’s mouths may not have been Dr Yong’s first choice of career but he started studying to become a dentist after advice from his mother.

“As a Chinese child, we’re almost the extensions of mum and dad’s dreams and they always want us to have a nice and secure future,” Dr Yong said.

Piles of Mr Yong’s paintings in his studio
PHOTO: Dr Yong likes to keep his method of painting to himself because he thinks it adds to the final product. (ABC Northern Tasmania: Fred Hooper)
He started learning traditional Chinese calligraphy an eight-year-old and continued studying for 10 years.

It is something that has never left him and his art is now influenced by what he learned then.

“I still think back to the days when I was younger and I’ve tried to make my own brush marks if you will, rather than the traditional Chinese calligraphy brush marks,” he said dental vacuum forming machine.
With his work laid out on a table, Dr Yong explains more about his paintings which are about the size and shape of an average drink coaster.

“It’s a bit of a fusion between the traditional Chinese paintings and what you see in the western art,” Dr Yong said.

“I mesh the two up together to find a language of my own.”

Chee Yong in his dental surgery in Launceston
PHOTO: Dr Yong became a dentist because his mother wanted him to have a good solid occupation. (ABC Northern Tasmania: Fred Hooper)
Working in the dental surgery requires a great amount of Dr Yong’s concentration and focus — and this does not change once he is upstairs in his studio.

“I get really worked up when I’m painting Ultrasonic Scaler. I paint in silence, sometimes with music going,” he said.
Exactly how he creates these paintings is something that Dr Yong would like to keep to himself, because he believes that it adds to the finished product.

“Sometimes you have to leave out the bit on how you do things so that it’s still looks a bit mysterious to people,” he said.

Looking to the future, Dr Yong said he hoped to still be a dentist as well as an artist, but more importantly, he hoped his mother would also be happy with his artwork.

“Mum loves them, she’s my mum she has to love them,” Dr Yong said.

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