27 February 2013

Barricade @ White Box

With a yellow background and traffic cones on its poster, "Barricade" clearly states its intent to comment on the upcoming general elections.  Cynical laughter-inducing pieces fill the space - a brilliant round ping-pong table, washed-up flags of a political party, and Yee I-Lann's commemorative pieces on an independence fantasy.

Sharon Chin - Weeds / Rumpai Series #1 (2012)

Chong Kim Chiew's brick wall made of "newspapier-mâché", poses a serious and potent critique about political bias in the local media.  It is a reminder that the power of media should not be underestimated, and politicians should never be allowed to meddle with it.

Chong Kim Chiew - Untitled (2013)

26 February 2013

Timeless @ Wei-Ling Contemporary

Wei-Ling Gallery celebrated it's 10th birthday with a book (to be covered in future) and this exhibition.  A most suitable greeting, as two of the gallery's long-time collaborators flank the entrance, Chin Kong Yee and Ivan Lam.  Veteran Zulkifli Yusoff's painting screams for attention in the middle, a dada-looking cassette adorned with the national flag, the Negaraku, and jelly-like rubies.  In the background, sinuous lines in different shades bring the drawing to life, imbuing a dynamic quality to the flat flags and repeating verses.

Zulkifli Yusoff - My Loving Country (2012)

Large, impressive works by artist couple Choy Chun Wei and Yau Bee Ling fill the space, another testament of the gallery's leading position in exhibiting Malaysian contemporary art.  Distorted colour hues and busy activities in Kim Ng's 'Echo of City' complete the exhibition, a sharp juxtaposition to Chen Wei Meng's serene portrayal of the Terengganu coast.  I can only hope that the next 10 years will be just as exciting, and looking forward to seeing many more art exhibitions at the Wei-Lings'.

Choy Chun Wei - City, Machine & Industry (2012)

24 February 2013

Then and Now @ Sasana Kijang

In 50 years of existence, Bank Negara has made wise investments into the local visual arts, amassing an impressive collection. Beginning with Hoessein Enas, many critically acclaimed Malaysian artists are represented, as one walks around the partitions to admire this well-hung exhibition. Chung Chen Sun's 'Tin Mine' is a beautiful Chinese ink drawing of a faded Malaysian landscape. The wet and washed-up sand in the foreground, joins up with the structures that goes on in the industrialised background. The photographic composition reminds one of the history of a diaspora - a history where we can stand far away to observe, but never far enough to forget. Choy Chun Wei's claustrophobic composition is amplified with thick Roman pillars and narrow shacks, portraying a visceral visual about a choking urban density.

Choy Chun Wei - The Living Space of the Materialist Dwellers (2003)

Displayed next to it is Hamidi Hadi's 'Drop'. A different kind of denseness, that of browns and blues, are distributed across the canvas in concentrated pockets, the thickness of the material pushing the painting's horizon further back. Yeong Seak Ling's baby cot with a kampung background is beautifully painted, and harks back to Renaissance portraiture influences (I almost wished the paddy fields were painted in sfumato). The combination of classical motives with modern execution echoes the role of a central bank, to preserve and enrich the national treasury for subsequent generations. I am hopeful that Bank Negara will continue to be a discerning collector, and proudly display these national treasures in the wonderful space of Sasana Kijang.

Hamidi Hadi - Drop (2004)

20 February 2013

Infinite Canvas @ Wei-Ling Contemporary

I possess the strange trait of being able to remember feelings during an event in the past, where memories in the form of sight & sound, is less vivid than the memory of feelings experienced.  The fleeting moment rekindles the sensory recall - the message in one's eyes, the assured grip of a hand, the melancholic buzz of nightfall, the juicy flavours in a morsel, the whiff of acidic acridity.

My Father's Noodle Shop (2012)

Chin Kong Yee's "Infinite Canvas" captures the improbable vastness of a prolonged memory, a summation of repetitive exposure to a habitual landscape.  Objects converge on multi-dimensional planes depicted through a fisheye lens; Beings are collectively shown as they are remembered, some with clearly drawn facial features, others blurred or only the colour of their trousers are shown.  Through the distortion of visual reality, Kong Yee's works trigger, distract even, the viewer to recall the timeless in his paintings, evoking the nostalgic that transcends the forms & colours on the canvas.

Raining Day (2012)

If the objective of a heritage museum is to preserve the essence of a city, these paintings of 茨场街 and its surroundings should be kept in the museum of Kuala Lumpur's history.  Time waits for no one, as the buildings erected in Kapitan Yap Ah Loy's time, are now in a steady state of decay. Touts lead tourists into visiting KL's Chinatown, where less than 40% of its occupants are of Chinese descent.  However, Kong Yee's paintings stay above these undercurrents of lost heritage, only retaining the memory of a generic now - migrants wait in the shade as the rain pours, exhaust fumes choke pedestrians waiting to cross the road.

Jalan Cheng Loke / Kedai Kopi Li Fong (2012)

The artist's deeply personal work 'My Father's Noodle Shop' illustrates the interior of a Chinese kopitiam with its blue plastic chairs and alert waiters, a touching tribute to a deceased father.  Another kopitiam drawing 'Kedai Kopi Li Fong' made my mouth water, the awaiting smells of beef tripe soup as I (the viewer) am about to step into the shop.

Timeless (2012)

'Infinite Canvas' is a combination of the 'Jalan Tun HS Lee' drawings, preserving a memory of one walking in these parts of old KL.  The canvases are romanticised, from the beautifully rendered pastel-coloured pavement tiles, to the cerulean skies and gleaming golden bamboo blinds.  Roadside hawkers, pedestrians, and motorists, share the large panorama in a harmoniously non-crowded arrangement.  These drawings can be arranged in multiple permutations, hence the repetition of pictorial motives successfully creates its own infinity, a recollection of memories in a looping format.

Infinite Canvas (2012)

Inclusion of a few older drawings of the Petaling Street area by Kong Yee, complete this stunning exhibition.  From the earliest yellow houses to the awkward composition of 'Infinite', the  artistic progression is apparent, especially in the confident colouring of buildings, and the beautiful fisheye distortion of pedestrians and pavements.  In "Infinite Canvas", fleeting moments culminate into a nostalgic experience, where time stands still in the memory of the beholder.

Infinite (2003)

17 February 2013

Taman Nurani @ Galeri Petronas

Being a non-Muslim hence also a non-Malay, it is sometimes difficult to understand the difference in cultural / ethnic beauty and religious symbolism.  "Taman Nurani" i.e. the garden of Eden, exhibits its works based on 4 general groups defined in seni Islam: Imitation of nature, Conception, Stylisation, and Abstraction.

Latiff Mohidin - Voyage I

Heavyweights like Syed Ahmad Jamal, Ahmad Khalid Yusof, Ilse Noor, and Sharifah Fatimah Syed Zubir feature prominently in this exhibition.  A large Ramlan Abdullah steel construct laid on the floor, but I was more absorbed with the metal & glass displayed on nearby pedestals, stunning sculptures that utilise material and form to induce reflection of the immaterial, in its viewers.

Ramlan Abdullah - Minaret IX

The unexpected masterpiece is Raja Zahabuddin's green boxes in a mosque, interior markings in a place of worship, that facilitates a devout's prayer and inner peace.  This deeply spiritual work celebrates the beauty of religious architecture, but infers also the importance of human participation, in the existence of religion itself.  I wonder what green boxes will I mind-map in the many churches that I have been into.

Raja Zahabuddin Raja Yaacob - Keagungan Tuhan Yang Satu (1991)

My ignorance makes it difficult to appreciate Islamic art such as those that incorporate calligraphy, but it is an unquestionable fact that the pursuit of aesthetics is perhaps, part of the journey of one's pursuit of the divine.

Sulaiman Esa - Garden of Mystery 6 (1993)

16 February 2013

Introspection: Looking Back at Auctions in Q2/Q3 2012

Looking through the two earlier Henry Butcher auctions in the year, it is ironic that I see captivating contemporary works in the modern art auction; Whereas mature, reflective works are spotted in the young contemporary auction.  A common theme of the following paintings is its ability to invoke self-reflection, examining one's position in this world at that particular moment.

Puah Kok Yew - Kelantanese Boats (1996)

Puah Kok Yew's 'Kelantanese Boats' stagnates the viewer in his/her position at the bow of a sampan, looking out to blue sea, sky, and boats.  The guardian spirits in the foreground, also blue,  forces the viewer to pause, before we trudge along with the momentum of life.

Juhari Said - Katak Nak Jadi Lembu (1999)

A more in-your-face reminder is the black & white woodblock print, of a frog mutating into a bull.  The absurdity of being someone outside your true self, is successfully visualised by Juhairi Said, who infuses the print with a progressive style deriving from a traditional art form.

Mohamed Razif - Pick It Up, Read It, Have Faith and It Will Guide You to The Right Path (2007)

As a young boy that read my comic-style picture bible daily, I wondered at times how the Word of God can lead me to an enriching life, especially since the more action-packed biblical stories revolve around warmongering kings.  This reflection is re-created in Mohamed Razif's work, where pillars of faith are denoted by bright colours, lighting the dark & bumpy tunnel ahead.

Gan Chin Lee - Status Anxiety VI (2010)

Capturing a similar sentiment as Degas 'L'Absinthe', but set in a modern Malaysian context, Gan Chin Lee's portrayal of a lady staring off into space while waiting for her lunch, is a masterpiece in its depiction of urban isolation.  Degas' salon & absinthe is replaced by a mamak place & teh o' limau.  The office tag freezes the painting in a moment of time, creating an uneasiness to us all as we realise this familiar expression, from many a lunch break.

Khalil Ibrahim - Abstract (1983)

Two abstract pieces from the first MIMC auction in September highlight skilful works from Khalil Ibrahim and Umibaizurah Mahir.  The former has fantastical batik patterns superimposed on a Rothko-like background, resulting in a powerful aesthetic of colour, lines, and depth.  The latter combines geometrical colourful shapes with painted flowers in the background, creating a whimsical work that celebrates joyful feminity and regal fantasies.

Umibaizurah Mahir - Moving Horses (2000)

14 February 2013

MIMC Art Auction Dec 2012

Gary Thanasan and his magazine going about business as usual - some quality and value-for-money works on the block, but my main gripe is that there are too many new works from 2011-2012 (14/108, 13%), making it look like a stock clearance sale disguised as an auction.  Complaints aside, there are some admirable works, like Wong Perng Fey's 'New Village VII'.  It is amazing how the outline of a roof, sketchy lines to represent fences, and a dirty yellow palette, can visually channel the environments of many a Malaysian-Chinese diaspora - the New Village 新村.

Wong Perng Fey - New Village VII (2007)

Malaysian art pioneer Abdullah Ariff's watercolour mastery is displayed in its full glory in 'Misty'.  The dark, deep hues had me confused initially for an oil/acrylic painting, but Abdullah's ability to smudge colours successfully illustrates this mysterious atmosphere.  Going under the hammer also are a number of established artists and their signature styles - Lye Yau Fatt's realist depictions of Chinese objects, Tay Mo Leong's double-resist batik technique, and Yusof Ghani's mystic faces in the"Topeng" series.

Tay Mo Leong - Stone Flower Series (1975)

11 February 2013

Satu Eksplorasi @ Purple Houz

Recommended by the Edge-Options (Jan 28 ed.), I visited the Purple Houz gallery off Jalan Gasing for Ronnie Mohamad's solo exhibition.  Before that I had the opportunity to browse its stockroom, which had a few interesting pieces, including a lovely cat drawing by Dzulkifli Buyong.

Portrait series: Fighters (2012)

Ronnie honed his craft at Kompleks Kraftangan, and it looks like he has put in his 10,000 hours to achieve mastery in drawing.  Two framed rows of pastels depicting silat exponents greet the visitor, its firm & precise strokes leaving an immediate impression.  Beside it is the large-sized 'Fighters', an interesting take of the pertarungan subject matter - is he fighting another person, or is the opponent his own phantom?  The blurred exponent facing us provides a startling contrast, to the fighter's rippling muscles in the foreground.

Portrait series: Bubble Boy 1 (2012)

The monochromatic palette continues with some amazing charcoal portraits, some of which water and skin tone are drawn with great realism.  Colour makes a surprising entrance in the accomplished "WIP" series.  As the name implies, blank unfinished spaces surround well drawn figures of local subjects, drawing the viewer in.  The cheeky "Playground" series re-imagines drawing from a child's perspective, its forced amateur-ism producing delightful compositions full of heart.

WIP series: Nelayan (2012)

Wrapping up this great solo exhibition is more cheekiness in the form of 'Masked Man', a portrait of Nizar Kamal Ariffin and his trademark thick abstract lines hovering over the artist's head.  If this show is anything to go by, Ronnie Mohamad can expect a promising future ahead, perhaps finding a new workplace away from Jalan Conlay.

Playground series

07 February 2013

31 December 2012 @ Wei-Ling's

This year's 18@8 was held in Singapore, but it was nice to see the works on display back at the Gardens.  Many large pieces occupied the space, including Hamidi Hadi's curiously white canvas, Ivan Lam's on-the-dot criticism in "Y.Z.X", and Kim Ng's collage of modern landscape's forgotten areas disguised as a dream.

Yau Bee Ling - Mother and Child 4 (2012)

Stopping me in my tracks is the hanging cocoon by Yim Yen Sum, an incredible textile fabrication of form, colour, and texture.  Yau Bee Ling's 'Mother and Child' series provide a more poignant, and equally skilful in execution, drawings that juxtaposes a mother's love with her internal struggles.

Yim Yen Sum - Where I Come From (2012)

At Brickfields, Noor Azizan Rahman Paiman's "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" series was still being exhibited.  A more textured colour palette drew my attention away from, the usual satirical situations that the artist is famous for.  I found this to be an artistic growth that is very welcome, where his characters are now more attractive on the surface, but portrays an ugliness that is even more intrinsic.

Noor Azizan Rahman Paiman - [K] XXXXXX, Cekap & Amanah (2012)

06 February 2013

Glories @ Pinkguy

It is not often that a 70+ year old Malaysian-Chinese artist puts on a solo show.  I am fascinated with the history of Nanyang-style art in this region, although not a fan of it.  Tew Nai Tong is a Nanyang master, where his paintings are centred around hardworking, dark-skinned women from the villages, with trademark sepet eyes and apparent brushwork.  'Life of Freedom' caught my eye with its reflective subject matter - persons that have toiled through the years heading towards a swirling heaven.  Unintentional as it is, this may just be a most fitting illustration of the Chinese artists in Malaysia, many of whom have been sidelined during the 1971 National Cultural Policy, which promoted Malay art instead of Malaysian art.

Tew Nai Tong - Life of Freedom (2008)

04 February 2013

Figure Out @ Galeri Petronas

"Figure Out" figures to be an ambitious effort to exhibit Malaysian figurative works, grouped via the general themes of portrait/ leisure/ work/ politics. Unfortunately these logical groupings do not serve much purpose apart from convenience. My interests were piqued only at the beginning, and at the end of the gallery's circular plan. Bayu Utomo Radjikin provides a powerful welcome with 'Qiblat', a giant triptych that reflects on Malay values. The Silat exponent readies himself in a disciplined pose, flanked by an empty;Qur'an stand and a cogan (malay royal sceptre). Neither object will come in handy during combat, than the holy verses inscribed across it.

Bayu Utomo Radjikin - Qiblat (2006)

Hung opposite is 'The Heart Surgery' by Hoessein Enas, an intimate and touching work done in a surprisingly modern and abstract fashion. Around the bend is a remarkable portrait of a young lady with flowing hair, by batik master Chuah Thean Teng. A couple of Shia Yih Yiing's works stand out from its borders with sharp social commentary. Nik Zainal Abidin's and Syed Thajudeen's respective takes on the Ramayana legend are good representations of their respective signature styles. The former's wayang kulit characters are intricately drawn and lively in form; The latter's colourful and thick blended palette evokes a metallic sheen on top of its earthy tones.

Hoessein Enas - The Heart Surgery (1980)

A blown-up Lat comic strip about a Chinese ceremony describes an enriching experience. Among the final paintings hung is Jalaini Abu Hassan's 'Halal', a wonderful example of Malaysian pop-art. Only Jai can make a buffalo, two half-naked figures, and some Chinese ideograms - make a symbolic statement on the awkwardness of being religious, carnivorous, and Malay, all at the same time. The last installation is a slideshow of 71 historical photographs by Ahmad Fuad Osman, doctored to include a long-haired hippie in each picture. This manipulation of historical moments appear irreverent, yet its underlying yearning for a different history, round up a bland exhibition.

Jalaini Abu Hassan - Halal (2007)

02 February 2013

Snippets: 2H 2012

I took this picture at Pasar Seni after watching Banksy's 'Exit Through the Gift Shop'.  The isolation and youthful discontent in the boy's face, is a cautious reflection of our times.


From NVAG's "Tiga Sezaman" exhibition, this depiction of siblings having durian, is reminiscent of past masters depicting home life with a tinge of melancholy.

Hamidah Suhaimi - Menjamu Selera

Metallic sculptures of twisting figures and food by Zainudin Hazir, coupled with the gluttony  in Adeputra Masri's painting in the background, make for a squeamish experience exhibited at NVAG's recent acquisitions.

Zainudin Hazir - Makan (2009)

Having always been fascinated with the store decoration in Tang's, I was delighted to come across this installation which can already be elevated to "Art" status.  The composition of painted wooden clothes pegs glued into the shape of a ribbon, celebrates a joyful pairing of femininity and fashion.