30 April 2013

In Between: Transitions and Dead Ends @ 67 Tempinis Gallery

To a graphic illustrator, a strong mastery of drawing line is of utmost importance – its curvature, thickness, and shading, defines the familiar form and spatial depth within a graphic.  In his first solo exhibition, commercial illustrator Shahril Nizam displays another facet of his artistic talents, with an impressive selection of paintings and sculptures produced in the past 5 years.  Simon Soon's stimulating essay in the exhibition catalogue, 'Urban Flux and Inner Vortex', describes Shahril's art as "plays to (the) concept of the roving, curious and implacable eye".   A general but accurate statement that suspiciously downplays the political title, also sidestepping the issue of force-fitting a theme.

Suitors (2011)

Upon entering Seksan's art repository, one's attention is drawn towards a wall that hangs a collection of 20 small paintings with fancy frames.  These works display a strong affinity towards an early-20th century European expressionist tradition – 'The Interview' reminds one of Henri Rousseau, while 'Pompadour II' contains hints of Gustav Klimt's decorative flair.  The melancholic portraits are symbolic of a society then struggling with rapid urbanisation, not that much different from urban folk in Kuala Lumpur.  Two transgender beings embody surrealist elements in ‘Players’, one with oversized hands holding a pearl, while another dances behind with a head full of fire.  This group of highly stimulating yet eclectic paintings, provides an insight into the artist’s experimentation with his preferred aesthetic, a similar exploration akin to the wall of Rhys Lee’s works I saw in Perth a couple months back.

Melancholic portraits (clockwise from top left): Portrait with Gold & Red (2008) / Headdress (2012) / Crown (2012) / Pompadour I (2012)

Hung around the gallery are Shahril's larger paintings, imaginative and typically containing melancholic figures surrounded by sinuous and fibrous forms.  A perfect example is 'Suitors', where the blindfolded girl is surrounded by a jungle of preying creatures, each exhibiting a desire to seed the egg placed on her open palm.  'The Snake Charmer' portrays the penitent Magdalene facing up to temptation (complete with Renaissance posing), her inner struggle represented by the amorphous folds that cover her dress.  Lurid contrasting colours and an organic glob make up 'Outgrowth', a 2009 work that signifies the strong expressionist tendencies already present in the artist then.  On a whole, Shahril’s mastery in drawing contours contributes much to the attractive aesthetic in his paintings.

The Snake Charmer (2012)

The most enjoyable and impressive works are Shahril’s sculptures, beginning with 'Beneath' that welcomes the visitor; It also graces the catalogue cover.  A beautiful and calm-looking head has an organic branch sprouting out from her side, implying that fresh and vibrant ideas cannot hide beneath a shrouded exterior.  Delightfully intricate hand-crafted ornaments, accompany a set of progressively faded plaster heads in 'Dais', essentially a comment on the game of thrones.  Power is referenced also in 'Soil', where a scissors is linked to a miniature representation of our resource-rich land, the nonchalant golden bust just a witness, as we plunder God's gifts to Malaysia.

Soil (2012)

Easily the best installation artwork this year, 'Monument' calls for viewer participation to remember a political incident, of Teoh Beng Hock's death within the compounds of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.  Even without this context, the instructions to write a note and slide it within a pile of old newspapers, already triggers a sentimental reflection that is meaningful yet familiar.  The thick red rope implores the viewer to recall the victim’s circumstances, as we pay respects to the perceived sacrifice made.

Monument (2013)

An appropriate space that allows one to linger comfortably, the interested observer whom seeks to view the works exhibited in a chronological manner, will be rewarded to witness the remarkable progress of the artist's stylistic tendencies.  I just realised also the one work that stood out in G13 gallery’s “20” group exhibition earlier this year was by Shahril ('Rise', 2012).  From expressionist portraits to ink illustrations to clay sculptures, and now a transition to realist figures, this exhibition allows the artist to display his considerable all-rounded talents, and a platform that announces his arrival as an artistic force to be reckoned with.

Players (2012)

26 April 2013

Pulse: April 2013 Art Auctions

Out of good fun, I tabulated prices from previous auctions and assessed a "true value" to each lot in the April auctions, taking into account factors like significance within an artist's oeuvre, and its aesthetic value. I came out of both auctions in a sombre mood, not because of my wrong estimates, but a deep distaste towards the spectacle these events manufacture, whose aim is to fulfil a gap within the luxury market. It is depressing to realise the underdeveloped state of art consciousness amongst Malaysians, which to many is just a beautiful painting hung on a wall. The prices in these auctions reflect this thought, where fine art is just a display object for the rich.

Going up: Ismail Mat Hussin - Trishaw Stand (2005)

Observant traders will delight in the 56% and 460% returns, for Latiff Mohidin and Abdullah Ariff works bought at Christie's just two years ago. A rising demand was apparent for the works of Ahmad Zakii Anwar, Chia Yu Chian, Ismail Mat Hussin, and Awang Damit Ahmad. The artists whose market value have been going up in previous auctions, but plateaued this April, are Yusof Ghani and Ahmad Khalid Yusoff. I do not yet understand the market for Chinese artists, where the likes of Lim Kim Hai, Eng Tay, and Huang Yao, consistently fetch over-the-top prices. We have some ways to go before abstract works from the younger generation, gain more attention and a larger market share.

Tak laku: Juhari Said - Menarik Kerbau (2005)

At Henry Butcher's, many left the room after the RM 340,000 sale of Latiff's "Gelombang" landscape, the last lot before "young contemporary" works.   Latif Maulan's realist marbles did well in his debut, but the proceeding lots drew hardly any attention from the crowd.  A lack of interest in cerebral works by Zulkifli Yusoff was a surprise, since he is collected by the Singapore Art Museum. Prints in general performed dismally - printmaking maestro Juhari Said and photographer Eric Peris both commanded low prices. My favourite work from the former auction,  Nadiah Bamadhaj's set of 8 photographic collages, did not even sell. This track record reinforces the perception that  local collectors prefer paintings with figurative realism and decorative abstracts, but also implies a lack of an authoritative art fund that collects significant works in the context of Malaysia's short art history. A bright spot is the sale of Ismail Mustam's 'Ribut' four times over the estimate, my favourite piece from the latter auction, and a significant museum-worthy work.

Overpriced?  Lee Cheng Yong - In The Woods (1950s)

Art auctions are executed as a marketing event targeted at the affluent, the arrangement of lots akin to a movie storyline with multiple climaxes.  73% of HB lots sold over the estimates, which suggests poor estimating, or more likely crafty estimations that force a bidding war for certain pieces.  The low estimates are applied mostly to the superstars like Latiff, Ibrahim Hussein, and Chang Fee Ming.  The rich tend to have a big ego, and the auction house does well to capitalise on this trait.  I understand the business agenda, but I do hope KLAS become more discerning in their selections, and HB improves its estimation methodology in the future, to at least help cultivate a professional attitude in our immature art market.

Grossly underestimated: Latiff Mohidin - Pago-Pago (1965)

23 April 2013

The Urban Abyss @ Wei-Ling Contemporary

Geometrical shapes, classical allegories inspired by Caravaggio, and negative space, are not supposed to go together.  Somehow Wong Chee Meng makes this combination work, with this series of bright landscape works, painted in beautiful shades of blue and white.

Men from the Island (2013)

Trace lines that depict horizon & perspectives in a painting, are deeply embedded via cuts of varying thickness directly into the fibreboard.  In 'Men from the Island', these lines invoke movement in the group of Asian men, its horizon point drawing attention away from the underlying Western men.  A similar effect is applied to 'Emerging', where its large circles stagnates the urgency shown on the two girls' faces, and flowers cover the scene underneath that denotes progress in the physical sciences.

Emerging (2013) - 80% completed

I remain perplexed even after comparing snapshots of Chee Meng's work process shown in the catalogue,  with the actual paintings with its underlying layers.  That the start of this process begins with the cutting and colouring of the MDF, especially for the rectangular shapes in 'The Blue Melody' is truly astounding, and reveals nothing about the artist's thought process.  The straight lines carved across this work creates an impression of digital line movements, seen in the opening credits of spy thriller movies.

The Blue Melody (2013) - 30% / 60% completed

Glossy white paint illustrates the subject matter, displaying an immaculate execution by the artist in his utilisation of negative space.  In "The Urban Abyss" - classical themes and art theory are apparent, but these enigmatic paintings are contemporary in its expression.

Spreading the Fields of Justice (2013)

19 April 2013

The Peninsular Series @ Pace Gallery

Viewing Yusof Majid's exhibition "The Peninsular Series", especially after other solos earlier this year by naiveté artists Yusof Gajah and Fauzul Yusri, makes me ponder upon one's notion of the search for innocence.  The adult perspective cannot hide behind these large whimsical landscapes, but perhaps serve as an escapist fantasy to the harsh realities of daily life.


Frasers Hill (2013)

A delightful nangka perches atop Fraser's Hill, providing its occupant a cool respite from the city, hidden below underneath thick white clouds.  Three large Rafflesia flowers emerge from the Kelantan forests, while an oversized chilli floats down the Perak river, threatening to throw thrill-seeking children overboard.  In 'Raub Honey Tree', a central composition complements the artists's skill in drawing night, creating a mystical yet familiar atmosphere that envelops the moonlit summit.  

Kelantan River and It's Three Giants (2013)

Yusof illustrates his admiration of West Malaysia's natural beauty, each painting populated with few Lilliputian figures, that narrate a human condition or current event.  Amusingly quirky scenes like cooking pans floating in Penang waters may attract a viewer's immediate attention, but it is the works with an individual object, that faciliates a personal search towards the ideal untainted notion of innocence.
A Colossus Late Evening in Shah Alam (2013)

14 April 2013

Henry Butcher Malaysian & SEA Auction Preview @ White Box

The art auctioneer threads cautiously in this uncertain economic climate, quoting curiously low estimates for small works by Latiff Mohidin and Ibrahim Hussein.  The Chang Fee Ming that graces its catalogue cover is new and grossly expensive, while the smaller but more interesting painting of a Bali wedding scene is under-valued.  Ethnic Chinese artists typically fetch unpredictably high prices, but a gem is spotted in Chia Yu Chian's 'Calligrapher at Work'.  Red + black, and Chinese calligraphy cover the painting, whilst the middle-aged man hones this traditional craft for a living, oblivious to his immediate surroundings.

Chia Yu Chian - Calligrapher at Work (1970)

A scratching technique carves through the oil paint in Ismail Mustam's 'Ribut', illustrating an active landscape where trees sway in the violent wind.  It is remarkable that this skilful execution was by the artist when he was only 16 years old!  Ismail's mentor Patrick Ng elongates his dancing subjects El Greco-style, manipulating space to create a calm gracefulness.  Older works like Abdullah Ariff's violet swirls, and Tan Choon Ghee's ink temple, are excellent representations of their respective styles.  A timeless quality pervades Khalil Ibrahim's abstract work, where its sinuous forms combine to make a beautiful aesthetic.

Ismail Mustam - Ribut (1959)

Viewing the living artists represented, I felt the estimates provided were conservative for Ahmad Zakii Anwar, Ismail Mat Hussin, and Chong Siew Ying.  Ahmad Zakii's monoprint + etching is a show stopper, and Siew Ying's laughing figures draw parallels with the famous Yue Minjun.  Artists that display a potential to command rising prices in the local art auctions are Fauzul Yusri and Haron Mokhtar.  Among young contemporaries, I think Najib Ahmad Bamadhaj's 'Black Figure' should easily command a price five times its estimate.  The mysterious shadow is a simple drawing, but cuts a potent figure that forces the viewer into a state of deeper self-awareness.

Khalil Ibrahim - Untitled (Abstract) (1969)

Only one sculpture and two photographs are on the block, indicating that Malaysian collectors still hold painting as a superior form of fine art.  With 90% sold in the past five Henry Butcher auctions, the art auction fever shows no signs of cooling down, and kudos to HB for producing its best catalogue yet, with sufficiently informative and interesting write-ups for each lot.

Najib Ahmad Bamadhaj - Black Figure Series (2010)

12 April 2013

Compilation of Ilse Noor Works from 1992-97 @ Art Accent

One cannot talk about printmaking in Malaysia without the mention of Ilse Noor's etchings, and this exhibition presents an opportunity to appreciate her works that are neither buildings or fantastical shapes.  Broken eggshells and folded papers are still-life centrepieces, subjected to aqua-tinting with 2 or 3 plates of colour.  The clean lines and tonal gradations of this series, display a disciplined approach that is beautiful in its clarity.

Susunan (1994)

A couple of original drawings stand out with its simplicity, indicating the maturity of its creator, and her determination to convert these drawings onto a metal plate.  A lovely insight into Ilse's creative methods, but potential buyers should take note of the editions on sale.

Perpisahan (1995) - Original colour pencil; Etching & aquatint

10 April 2013

Malaysian Art Auction III Preview @ KL Lifestyle Art Space

The ambitious gallery trudges on in with the third edition of its art auction, featuring many sketches, and works in underwhelming conditions.  10% of artworks are from the past 3 years, not including 7 undated pieces.  Collectors look to cash in on Yusof Ghani and Khalil Ibrahim, while the organizers tempt potential Asian investors with an early lithograph by auction house favourite Zao Wou-Ki.

Khoo Sui Hoe - The Wedding 1 (1980)

Instead of promoting Ibrahim Hussein and Latiff Mohidin each time, Malaysian art auction organisers should recognise logical groupings in the works being offered, and promote artistic merit when the opportunity arises.  Three accomplished and distinct pieces from Khoo Sui Hoe provide a good avenue to display the artist's portfolio - a fauvist palette complements the mysterious portraits in 'The Wedding 1', perspective and texture take centre stage in 'Clouds over the Rocks', and child-like drawings represent the 'Innocence Series'.

Fauzul Yusri - Pamah - Titian Lembah (2001)

Naiveté lines appear also in Fauzul Yusri's pair of dark Lembah Bujang temples, contrasting with the vivid colours on 'Pamah - Titian Lembah', where Fauzul's signature mark-making techniques are already evident.  Two abstract pieces by Awang Damit Ahmad are on the block - 'Childhood Memory' displays a raw emotion that is consistently powerful as part of the "Essence of Culture" series, and 'Kemarau' evokes thirst from its viewer with dry/cracked soil colours.

Awang Damit Ahmad - EOC - Childhood Memory (1993)

A delightful set of re-arranged photographs by Nadiah Bamadhaj, highlight the irony of urban development in a cheeky manner.  Like previous auctions, this collection is a mixed bag with limited goodies, and it is up to the discerning bidder to assess an artwork's value before the hammer strikes.  Also, the gallery should permanently fix its regular website downtime, to be seen that they do take their auction business seriously.

Nadiah Bamadhaj - Journey to the Interior 1 (2007)

08 April 2013

Permanent Collection @ Universiti Malaya Art Gallery (UMAG)

It is with shock when one hears of news that an Ibrahim Hussein mural was painted over with lime paint, but thankfully the university has taken restorative actions, while continuing to invest in Malaysian art.  A cosy gallery with good lighting, visitors to UMAG are greeted through a small doorway into the collection, where significant pieces by Ib, MF Husain, Suzlee Ibrahim, and Latiff Mohidin are on display.

Awang Damit Ahmad - Iraga (Dari Jendela Ini) (2007)

Awang Damit Ahmad's 'Iraga' stares out to the viewer with a nasty gnarl, its nightmarish palette and powerful lines make for a startling impression.  At both ends of the gallery hang giant canvases by Zulkifli Yusoff, his patriotic sympathies beautifully drawn out within monochrome spaces.  With 4 mid-career artists in residence currently, including the likes of Juhari Said and Maamor Jantan, the university is taking all the right steps towards establishing itself, as a champion of the visual arts among other local institutions.

Zulkifli Yusoff - Permintaan Parajurit (2010)

Not for Sale @ White Box

"Not for Sale" exhorts artists and collectors to exhibit in public a personal artwork, which they have no intention of selling (for now).  A-list artists like Jalaini Abu Hassan and Ahmad Zakii Anwar display pivotal works significant to their respective careers, while others generously offer sketchbooks to allow a peek into their thought process.  Statement works by Gan Chin Lee and Marvin Chan denote a strong social conscience, while Izan Tahir's lip-smacking papier-mâché masks are probably too irresistible for the artist to part with.

Nazli Aziz - Malaysia Airlines (1972) / Fauzul Yusri - Once Upon A Time (2006)

The interesting works exhibited are mostly from collectors, as they narrate the significance of some very personal choices.  Intriguing stories lie behind the loaned pieces by Vincent Sim and Joshua Lim - the former a touching tale of respect and belief, and the mysterious coincidence of a missing Chang Fee Ming painting in the latter.  Local director U-Wei Haji Shaari presented three theatre posters that never got printed, the third linocut particularly attractive with its framed snapshot and cryptic gate.

Riaz Ahmad Jamil - Main Api (2001)

RuPé collectors Pakhruddin and Fatimah Sulaiman chose a fascinating unfinished work by Amron Omar, a beautiful figurative painting that comments on western influence in the local psyche.  Gallery owner Valentine Wille contributed a questionable installation, that harbours a sad tale from Thai artist Montien Boonma.  Nazli Aziz from Galeri Chandan picked a fascinating pair of aeroplane paintings, one he painted as a child, the other a gift by Fauzul Yusri of the same theme.  Overall, an interesting insight into the choices of art collectors, although I do have my reservations if they will ever exhibit their most personal pieces.

Amron Omar - Di Bebuai Mimpiku Mentari Bersinar Terang (1991)

06 April 2013

马中友好美术交流展 @ Wisma Kebudayaan SGM

A couple of tranquil pieces by Syed Thajudeen and Hoe Say Young are displayed, but what I find most interesting in this cultural exchange exercise, is from a young Chinese artist.  The construction of a house is illustrated, a sombre palette indicating the cold weather and hazy sky.  A common sight in China, the painting infers that its society is also a work in progress, its outcome very much an unknown quantity, like this building.

涂咏虹 - 岁月 II [Tu Yong Hong - Years II]

04 April 2013

Coreng @ Taksu

Perception drives a reality, where the creative mind reacts to this reality with a multi-tiered response, that is formal and scientific in its experimental approach.  Fauzul Yusri is one such visual artist, who reacts to the environment, but remains clear-headed about his artistic progression, without veering away unnecessarily from an established style.

Kroni (2012)

Political gibberish and deference to power, are the obvious themes on display as one enters the living hall area.  Dark ugly figures are surrounded by random floating objects, where the occasional vibrant colour emerges from an underlying layer of paint, via Fauzul's signature scratching technique.  Tubes of colours stack atop each other like lizard shit, that form the tiny brain within 'Ketua Kata'.  This approach towards creating texture, makes use of the medium's quality to diffract light and create an active body, used to represent a figure's heart within this series.

Mimpi Jadi Star (2012)

'Mimpi Jadi Star' is a delightful landscape of a sleeping dreamer, her passionate heart contrasting with the mild tones of the moon, and a grey-green night.  A welcome respite from the dirty figures portrayed in the space before, one gets to appreciate the artist's exceptional handling of oil paints, as seen on the scar at the girl's knee, and the ribbons on her sleeping gown.  The gentle irony depicted also balances out, the strong social commentaries in the "Jelata" and 'Si Jelita' pictures, forlorn figures that linger at the edges of society.
Close-ups in the "Coreng" series

The majestic 'Character' completes this exhibition, where a Picasso-like figure demarcates the visual space, unveiling the compartmentalised mind and persona of the artist's ideal protagonist.  This search for perfection in the imperfect lines and thick oil impastos, marks another progression in Fauzul Yusri's primitive works.

Character (2012)

02 April 2013

Latiff Mohidin Retrospective @ NVAG (II)

Moving on from the Pago-pago figures in part I, is the meditative period of Latiff Mohidin.  Lauded by some, I find the domed doors of "Mindscape" series, and the fishing boats of "Langkawi" series, to be outwardly boring.  In "Mindscape", archways that draw the viewer in with its content, display a highly-controlled approach towards painting, despite the flicks of colour that dot the canvas. 

Mindscape 18 (1983)

A couple decades of introspective works later, Latiff paints his observations of nature in a large-scale format, that make up the "Gelombang" and "Rimba" landscapes.  Powerful waves are marked in bright colours in the former series, creating textural layers that imbue a dynamic quality into the paintings.  In the latter series, the dense and humid tropical forest, is illustrated in broad strokes of earthy colours, where dark branches suffocate the space within.

Pemandangan 5 (1986)

In the early-1990s paintings that bear titles with Qur'an-ic references, one gets to peek into the dynamic worlds within the "Mindscape" universe.  The action paintings of Jackson Pollock seem to have been an influence, as majestic forms emerge from the macrocosm of colours.  Boats and waves reappear in the poignant "Voyage" series, where swirling shapes are painted in confident strokes over marine blue backgrounds.  The remaining later works on display are large and similarly abstract pieces, bound to appear in art auctions.  This retrospective provides a good history lesson, although admittedly I was only enthralled by the "Berlin", "Pago-pago" and "Gelombang" series.  Latiff has since made a welcome return to figurative works in "Serangga".

Surah Al-Anbia' (1991)

Reflecting after two visits, I find abstract paintings that portay a perceptive calm, more attractive than works that exhibit vigour.  Maybe that is why I love the tonal variations of Mark Rothko, and prefer Hamidi Hadi's "Antara" series over the "Timang-timang" series.  Swift brushstrokes however may not be a factor, as I am inspired by the paintings of JWW Turner and Yusof Ghani.  Perhaps my appreciation is swayed by an artwork's subject, preferring the depiction of a metaphysical instance, than the illustration of an empirical observation.  In essence, the eternal within an artwork.

Rawa-Rawang III (2005)