31 March 2013

Snippets: Q1 2013

Artisan Roast Coffee TTDI continues to promote contemporary artists with a row of paintings hanging from the ceiling, sharing a common theme of "luwak".  Asian palm civet cats and the sensation of taste, are illustrated in these mostly quirky works.

Friendly store manager from the same café, Wandi plays keyboard for rock band They Will Kill Us All.  The artwork for their new album Vultures is illustrated by Ilham Fadhli (aka Kojek), each cover sleeve portraying elements of fantasy landscapes, smokes & clouds, and small/large size juxtapositions.  Great music accompanied with great art makes for a winning combination, and hope this is a sign of things to come for future local collaborations.

Friend and Sigur Rós fan Gabriel Lee 师君 took this picture with a Yashica 35mm auto focus, and an expired roll of Fujichrome 64T.  The amazing effects from the combination of lighting and rock textures, make for a captivating snapshot.

29 March 2013

Fabrics of Society @ Sasana Kijang

Force fitting a theme to display one's collection is the challenge each curator has, especially if there is no borrowing from other galleries or archives. With "Fabrics of Society", the national bank utilises a smart theme that has multiple contexts and layers, also as an opportunity to display new works purchased through recent auctions. The exhibition is divided into five sections displaying the illustrious textile tradition in Malaysia - livelihood, togetherness, way of life, harmony, and design. A large Hoessein Enas painting of fishermen pulling in a boat greets the visitor, leading to Yong Mun Sen's 'Kelong'. Bright orange drapes of cloth (I assume?) hang below a kampong air, the bare shore and fragile structure hardly deterring the men from going about their Livelihood.

Yong Mun Sen - Kelong (1946)

Historical accounts of high-activity locations such as markets, mosques, and barbers, are recorded in Chiang Shih Wen and Tan Choon Ghee's paintings. The representative work befitting the exhibition theme - Ismail Mat Hussin's 'Mengecat Batik' - illustrates a process in the production of batik blok. Carved blocks with intricate motifs are dipped in hot wax and stamped onto the fabric, dyed, and dipped into water. The artist literally waxes lyrical about his preferred medium, pun intended. Juhari Said's 'Baju Kurung dan Secawan Kopi' highlights the Harmony section, splashed coffee and scribbled words commenting on empty talk and kopitiam chit-chat, a favourite Malaysian past time.

Ismail Mat Hussin - Mengecat Batik (1987)

Five works by batik art pioneer Chuah Thean Teng were on display, including recent high-priced acquisitions 'Bathing Baby' and 'Durian Sellers'. What caught my attention, however, was the cubist reconstruction of 'Mother Nursing a Baby'. Elongated spaces separate the subject matter from its background, creating a desolate and self-absorbed world in pinkish hues. Contrasting this dreary scene, are the loving mothers portrayed in Yeong Seak Ling's realist "Baby Cot" series, and Dzulkifli Buyong's peaceful 'Tidurlah Anakku'. Bringing the exhibition to a close are design motifs by Fatimah Chik and others, a comforting statement as we bear witness to the evolution of Malaysian society, and its fabric in all its meanings.

Juhari Said - Baju Kurung dan Secawan Kopi (1991)

27 March 2013

Latiff Mohidin Retrospective @ NVAG (I)

Never have I seen a retrospective for a single artist so comprehensive - 340+ works spanning 60 years, exhibited in 4 galleries across 2 floors.  Latiff Mohidin went to the Ethnological Museum of Berlin in the 1960s, brought back German abstract expressionism to Malaysia, and has never looked back since.

Flower in a Tree (1962)

The "Pra-Berlin" and "Berlin" series provide an interesting insight into Latiff's early years, a decent artist that has yet to find his voice, where an instantly recognizable painterly style will emerge a decade later.  The inclination to draw nature, with clear blocks of primary colours a la Matisse, signals the advent of a great artist in 'Flower in a Tree'.  A painting nearby of a Kabuki actor, also implied the European inclination towards an Eastern romanticism.

Selections from the Pago-Pago series (1965 - 1967)

Many sketches are displayed to allow the interested viewer, an insight into the evolution of the "Pago-Pago" series.  Agave plants and regional architecture feature prominently, interlocking to create symbolic totem pole structures.  One of Malaysia's most iconic paintings was born when this individual form, was supplemented with a horizon and a sun.  However, I found many variations of the singular "Pago-pago" more interesting, either because of its vivid colour combinations, or its complex design.

Pago-Pago Kelam (1966)

Latiff also explored Pago-pago configurations in a landscape setting; In 'Pago-Pago Kelam', individual totems float atop a dark background, the ochre tones and formal composition creating a sombre environment.  Strong contrasting colours and inverted pyramid heads feature in the other Pago-pago landscapes, all beautiful oil paintings in its own right.  To explore Latiff's works in a chronological manner, a detour to the smallest gallery is required at this time.  Exhibited here are the visually interesting etchings of geometrical forms, such as 'Nocturno', made during the artist's time in New York as a printmaking student.

Nocturno I (1969)

25 March 2013

The Women @ Wei-Ling Contemporary

A sea of bold colours greet the visitor into Yau Bee Ling's "The Women", a personal expression of womanhood in this contemporary world.  Four large landscapes occupy the space, none more interesting than the lack of camaraderie displayed in 'Malaysian Beauties'.  The collective mess of contrasting colours symbolises a common gender, but the different hues of polka dots and flower motifs, indicates an individualistic material preference.

Malaysian Beauties (2013)

A self-serving disposition has always prevailed in Bee Ling's works, and here it is encapsulated perfectly in the claret and azure streaks within 'Practical Day'.  Harmonisation of primary colours are seen in 'Captivating Beauty', where a more prominent scumbling technique is applied, to express an inherent vigour that binds the mother and her child.  The sprinkle of glitter adds a sparkling texture, that accentuates this model of a successful woman.

Captivating Beauty (2013)

Exhibited also are four portraits with red figures on a blue background; The predominant colour echoes a one-dimensional femininity which made these works felt unfinished, with an exception.  'Protection' is a classical composition of the Madonna plus one, the man of her life also in her embrace.  She is engulfed in a fiery red of love, the tenderness within illustrated in guava pink, and unmellow yellow marking a joyful optimism.  The colour psychology lesson continues, with a cadet grey background that anchors the portrait in an urban setting, and the irregular blocks of baby blue linking the gazes of this happy family together.  I guess that the artist found this painting as mesmerizing as I did, since it is not for sale.

Protection (2013)

'Justified' barely fits within its frame, high tension evident in the swath of blue that creates a gulf between the three figures, its green lines and raised forearms justify an unfolding human drama.  Husband Choy Chun Wei's influence seeps into the grids that permeate 'Interwoven (Love)', a tangling web of colours that masks a parental bond.  Bee Ling's dynamic expressions display an increased sophistication, in the mastery of her preferred medium.  This is one artist that will continue evolving with her personal experiences, and it is a privilege that we are allowed to bear witness to this development.

Justified (2013)

23 March 2013

Platform @ Galeri Chandan

Veteran art writer Ooi Kok Chuen asks the question "...are they original enough?", with regards to the multitude of new artists' exhibitions in Q1 2013. His article rightfully compared the individual pieces featured in "Platform", with significant works produced by past local masters. It is comforting to know that young artists have followed in the footsteps of Ahmad Shukri Mohamed and Ahmad Zakii Anwar, but the question of originality is valid, up to the point that we accept the recent interest in the Malaysian art scene. Supply increases with demand, where the consumer majority determines a minimum standard, and the discerning critic identifies the sublime aspiration.

Raja Azeem Idzham - Siri Raksasa - Pegun Si Rasuk, Serpih Cahaya (2013)

Daud Rahim comes to mind when appreciating Azzuan Osman and Haimiza Johan's works, also featured in the House of Matahati young artists' exhibition. Metallic elements intertwine to become insects, sculpting solidity from the elastic, of pesky lifeforms we love to hate. Azzuan's pieces are more crude and cynical thematically, contrasting with Haimiza's works that celebrate life and motion. A determination to replicate elastic textures in solid materials, similarly describes Nor Hidayaah Shahrun’s ceramic wrappings exhibited nearby.

Haimiza Johan - Hayat Hidup (2013)

Efforts to promote new blood may belie commercial exploitation, but a responsible gallery can increase its reputation with the right selections. Originality in illustration is seen in the paintings of Farihan Mawardi and Raja Azeem. A little girl stands amidst a greying urban landscape, the grotesque lines on her face not able to hide joyfulness, blotches of pink completing Farihan's enigmatic portrait. The mystery continues in Azeem's works, where reptilian forms and creeping lines proliferate across the canvas, creating a squeamish but deceptively attractive painting.

Farihan Mawardi - Mata (2013)

19 March 2013

Snippets: Perth, Mar 2013

Modern and beautiful etchings of the Way of the Cross @ St Mary's Cathedral; Dramatic perspectives of Christ' passion is emphasised further by the interesting wooden base.

Visceral portraits line the white walls of Venn Gallery, displaying emotionally-charged acrylic & shellac paintings, in Rhys Lee's "Cracked Pot" series.

Equally potent portraits depicting the human condition, are shown at the wonderfully eclectic café and gallery space, the Moores Building @ Fremantle.

Daveena Cox - Awash with Joy (2013)

Utilising fabric as an art medium, Elizabeth Delfs creates elegant "sculptures" of high fashion, that manipulates volume with robust forms that defy gravity.

Elizabeth Delfs - "Revolutions" series (2010)

17 March 2013

Latif Maulan @ Art Row

Settling in a pop-up studio along Publika's Art Row, Latif Maulan paints and exhibits his realist works in this very accessible location.  Working primarily with oils, Latif's more recent paintings highlight the plight of the modern Malay woman, having been inspired by the Surrah Al-Nisa (the Qur'an chapter on women).

The Ribs (2010)

A circumstantial dilemma from the Creation story is portrayed in 'The Ribs' - Eve is naked and curled up, but ready to step out of the painted frame.  However, she is positioned with the torso of man, a not-so-subtle reminder that the Female is subservient to the Male, as implied in the story of Adam & Eve.  

The Labyrinth of Nowhere (2011) and sketch

In 'The Labyrinth of Nowhere', the lady is lying down on a beautifully rendered mat, cigarette in hand.  Labyrinthine dreams of grandeur await her, chasing ideals that will eventually result in herself getting lost.  The similar-themed 'Tenggelam' is a literal dream, a struggle in vain as life drowns out the lady.  The green tonal variations of mazy hedges in the former, and drops of water frozen in mid-air in the latter, highlight the technical expertise of the artist.

Tenggelam (Frozen) (2011)

Latif provides a cynical commentary in 'Monopolygamy', where the Malay woman is subjected to "Peluang?" and "Kantoi", advancing the token on her own Monopoly life.  The woman is drawn with great realism, from the inward-folding hand & foot, to the mop of hair spread out on the board.  The drawn-out ambivalence on her face, may just be how the artist feels for his helpless characters, a one-sided empathy for the world around him.

Monopolygamy (2013)

16 March 2013

Fadilah Karim, VIII @ Segaris

The figures in Fadilah Karim's works are stuck in a perpetual state of anguish, the characters readily questioning their personal values.  Her colour palette resembles Marvin Chan, but the rendered actions seem like a technique taken from film-making, wherein a movement dissolves into its continuous motion.  These aspects combine to create a multi-dimensional painting - the perceived action demands a viewer's self-reflection, and the inanimate blocks of colour contribute to a pleasant aesthetic.

Fadilah Karim - Restless Heart (2013)

Browsing Fadilah's works in Segaris, it dawned on me that her rise to fame coincides with Chong Ai Lei, another popular figurative artist.  Ai Lei's works are pale in colour but luminous, sensual with a tinge of discontent; Contrasting nicely with Fadilah's portrayals of personal despair in pinkish hues.  Looking forward to more from these two talented individuals, and their fresh perspectives as a young woman in this generation.

Chong Ai Lei - Involuntarily / Fadilah Karim - Confuse
from Galeri Chandan's "Deceitful Truth" (2011) 

14 March 2013

Awal Hurouf, Asal Hurouf @ White Box

From an aesthetic point of view, Husin Hourmain's Jawi alphabets provide a powerful lesson in complementary colours. Layered verses form the background, in paintings that combine colours like rust-blue, white-orange, black-red, to emphasize the large and singular alphabet.

Sin (2010)

12 March 2013

Work on Paper @ University of Malaya Art Gallery

Taking a stroll inside the compounds of Universiti Malaya, it was refreshing listening to the sights & sounds of chirping students, and smiling administrators.  The enthusiasm of youth is even more evident in the art gallery, where students are encouraged to create their own works to supplement the solo exhibition by Yusof Gajah, one of the resident artist on campus.

Student creations at the exhibition

Yusof made his name with the elephant theme, and it is amazing how a single subject can be represented in a wide array of painterly preferences.  The gallery exhibited a large number of works and featured many themes - dark & fantastical, experimental perspectives, black & white ink paintings, small round works, cute watercolours.

The "Alphabet" series was exhibited in a small room, where creative depictions of alphabets and words facilitate children's learning.  Another section of colourful paintings collectively rally for preservation, be it preservation of the forests, a heritage, or of colour itself.

"Alphabet" series (2012)

Charming and enchanting are the best words to describe this exhibition, a reminder from the veteran artist, that a simple drawing and colourful forms, are enough to bring joy to our hearts.

Jalan Jalan Bawa Rumah (2012)

11 March 2013

Midterm @ Shalina Ganendra Fine Art

“Midterm” brings together 5 accomplished Malaysian artists into the serene confines of SGFA, displaying works covering a range of mediums and subjects.  Suhaimi Fadzir’s giant steel fish traps in the gallery’s compound attract immediate attention, a sharp contrast to the intricate marble sculptures opposite it by Jasmine Kok.  Her smaller works are laid out along the long table inside, leading on to the large photographs of Eiffel Chong.  These still and haunting seascapes, force the viewer into an extreme silence.  Eiffel's remarkable skill to elucidate empathy, towards a harmonisation with nature, is especially apparent when all 5 prints are viewed together as a panorama.

Eiffel Chong - Tanjung Sepat #2 / Sepang Goldcoast (2012)

The contemplative works are disrupted abruptly by Suhaimi’s three-dimensional works, where he literally highlights the disappearance of Orang Asli livelihood.  Razors, repeating printed objects, and faded photographs layer the canvas, topped with the neon lights of modernity.

Suhaimi Fadzir - Buah Naga (2013)

The socio-ecological commentary continue upstairs with Bibi Chew's spectacular "HomeGrown" and "HomeSoil" series.  In "HomeGrown", silhouettes are carved into woodblocks, where different lacquers are used to symbolise Malaysia's diverse ethnic make-up   Sublime topographic recreations of the 14 states are featured in "HomeSoil", the landlocked Kuala Lumpur depicted like a marked target.  Here, Bibi's individual pieces are striking enough, but these are complementary works meant to be appreciated together. Question posed is: The artist has highlighted the abundance of natural and human resources in these lands, so what are we doing about it?

Bibi Chew - HomeSoil - Sekeping Kuala Lumpur / Sekeping Selangor (2012)

Geometry and texture combine brilliantly in 'Link', Kim Ng's creation with coloured paper and a marbling effect.  The same effect is applied across the large works on display, along with many other techniques, culminating in 'Walking in the Same Direction as Others' - a collage of photographs, prints, and shapes, tinted in primary colours and grey.   However, the pieces which struck me (and has since made Kim my second favourite local artist) are the small works on display.  Thread scribbles, graphite drawings, coloured shapes, bitumen textures - each element depicts the lyricism of its medium, each form presents a stripped-down familiarity, each composition stimulates a recognition of bare aesthetic beauty.

Kim Ng - Untitled (from top left, clockwise) 87 / 83 / 92 / 84 (2012)

A truly outstanding exhibition, displaying works of the highest quality that can warrant a solo exhibition for each artist.  I hope "Midterm" will continue on as a recurring series, where a selected few can showcase the breadth of creative expressions in the Malaysian contemporary art scene.

Kim Ng - Link (2012)

05 March 2013

Kelly Gellatly @ SGFA Vision Culture Lecture

A contemporary art curator from the National Gallery of Victoria, Kelly Gellatly presented a few of the challenges faced in curating modern art.  She highlighted the dilemma of landmark architecture vs exhibition interiors, a point which I fully agree having experienced the incoherent spaces within the Guggenheim New York, and the Pompidou Centre in Paris.  However, I look back to the mesmerising installations by Yayoi Kusama at the Tate Modern, as proof that great architecture and engaging spaces can coexist.

Water Wall @ NGV, Melbourne

Kelly spoke at length about the participatory nature of contemporary works, many of which overwhelm its viewer in size/colour/context.  This caters to the short attention span and social-media culture today, but I do think if not done correctly, these works will undermine the revelatory and reflective nature of art.  One quoted example was Jeff Koons' kitsch sculptures at the Versailles, where purple balloon dogs and red aluminium lobsters hang in lavish French salons.

Yayoi Kusama - Infinity Mirrored Room (Filled with the Brilliance of Life) (2011)

Another example mentioned by Kelly was Rirkrit Tiravanija's 'Untitled (Lunch Box)', a ridiculous sequence where visitors are invited to sit down, read Thai newspapers, and wait for piping-hot Thai food to be served from a tiffin carrier.  I understand the artist's intent, but perhaps I am not desensitized enough yet as a middle-class Malaysian.  Art does not play a function to remind me of the awkward time spent waiting for food to be served, nor should art appreciation be required to experience good company or a sense of joie de vivre.

Rosalie Gascoigne - Grassfest (1999)

Curating a museum has more consideration factors compared to curating a gallery, and this is where Kelly's anecdotes and observations provided an interesting viewpoint to take in.  Making art accessible while maintaining an impartiality towards artistic integrity,  is a tough job, but also an admirable one.

Gordon Bennett - Notes to Basquiat (The coming of the light) (2001)