31 May 2013

Nik Zainal Abidin: Part 1 @ Interpr8

A testament of his archive's quality, renowned art collector Dato' Parameswaran is able to present a meaningful artist retrospective via a stock clearing exercise.  Wayang kulit is synonymous with the Kelantanese Nik Zainal Abidin, where a substantial number of the self-taught artist's works are displayed, along with a few oil paintings and intricate wood carvings.  It is evident that the subject matter has a significant influence on Nik Zainal's aesthetic - his figures are elongated, its forms taken from a hand-crafted tradition.  Characteristically flat, its flatness is emphasised further with the use of watercolours as his primary medium.

Drupada (1992)

Beyond the historical appeal, this exhibition provides an insight into, the factors that made these works aesthetically pleasing.  Close inspection of the paintings and pencil sketches, indicates a discipline to draw within square grids, establishing structure amongst the sinuous forms and active figures.  The artist displays a keen awareness of pictorial space, where experimentation with primary and secondary colours, black and the uncoloured, coalesce in pleasant harmony.  Multiple characters gather within a canvas, each with a different colour and facing a different direction, yet the dynamism never dampens as though a wayang kulit show is really playing.

Wayang Kulit in White (1971)

Many distinguished pieces are exhibited, but I was particularly attracted to 'Rejection', a relatively quirky work that is less crowded.  The character on the left displays a priceless expression, contrasting colours harmonise beautifully, its background light yet sombre.  I never thought entertaining can be used to describe a painting, but it seems befitting for this work.  One can glance over Nik Zainal's other figurative and landscape drawings, but wayang kulit remains the main attraction for this inimitable artist.  In a world where sculptured form and surface texture is emphasised, it is fun to appreciate attractive art on a flat surface.

Rejection (1992)

29 May 2013

Flesh: Blacks & Whites @ Wei-Ling Contemporary

My understatement: Albinistic and melanistic animals are not common subject matters in oil paintings.
New kid on the block Sean Lean presents a mesmerising collection of beautifully rendered creatures, and a dead pig.  A crown-less cock and a horn-less unicorn project a deep sense of loss, imbuing a fantastical mysticism to these works, which act as an allegorical expression by the artist.  The large format is powerful and surprisingly not wasteful, even for a diptych like 'Black Dragon: Black Lizard'.  The komodo's tail occupies a full canvas, where rich details can be appreciated despite the dark tones and bleached background.

Work in progress snapshots for 'Black Fighting Teenage Cock: Crownless, Queenless' (2013)

Sean's Tumblr site is revealing and useful to understand his work process, especially for the paintings with varied colours hidden below the blacks and whites.  In 'Black Fighting Teenage Cock: Crownless, Queenless', the chicken is first outlined realistically in light colours, followed by opaque tones in confident brush strokes.  'Black Goldfish: I Have 11 Brilliant Ideas' begins with ochre outlines then bluish shades, eventually coated with dark colours that result in a painting where the blue is no longer visible. Mutation is illustrated as a literal process, with the objective to achieve perfection at all costs.  The visible incisions made into the creatures, is a deprivative action not unlike castration.

White Piglet: When I grow up, I want to be an Astronaut (2012)

Interestingly in both paintings, the colourful background is painted over with white as an after-event, a forceful typecasting exercise that further alienates the creature and its hapless situation.  A close-up appreciation of the cock's hair, piglet's head, and lizard skin, has me anticipating Sean's figurative works in the future.  The effort and care that goes into painting a realist subject, in the tradition of Dutch masters, is perhaps as rare as the animals depicted in this exhibition.
Oscar Wilde's understatement: Art finds her own perfection within, and not outside of, herself.

Work in progress snapshots for 'Black Goldfish: I Have 11 Brilliant Ideas' (2013)

27 May 2013

叶健一, 点。线。圈 @ Wisma Kebudayaan SGM

"Dots.Lines.Circles" presents father-daughter artists Yap Hong Ngee and Jane Yap, where I was drawn mostly to Jane's works amid the many on display.  Vertical space is exploited in the "Comfort In Shade" and "Window" series, both exhibited on the ground floor.  In the former series, emerging tree shadows span the entire length of paper scroll, the artist skilfully projecting depth via a liquid medium.  Grid-like birdcages in the latter series evince a balanced sense of space, where one expects the sparrows rendered in a few brush strokes, to begin chirping aloud at any time.

Jane Yap - Comfort in Shade 背靠大树好乘凉 series (2010)

The same birds linger upstairs on other vertical structures, in the modern "Dots.Lines.Circles" series.  Drips of ink form volumetric circles in 'VI', where every blotch contributes a solidity to the illustrated beams.  A remarkable rendition of brick texture is seen in 'IV', where I suspect scrubbing and/or dissolving actions were employed, to create this concrete impression.  Jane's Chinese calligraphic works are unconventional, where brown paper is stained to create an impactful background, akin to the bitumen eruptions seen in Hamir Soib's works.

Jane Yap - Dots.Lines.Circles 点。线。圈 IV (2012)

Also exhibited are many drawings of cats and flowers, seeming favourite subjects of the artist.  Negative space is cleverly juxtaposed in these black and white ink paintings, each line and dot sufficient to depict familiar shapes.  While Hong Ngee's works consist of large decorative panels overladen with flowers, Jane incorporates Chinese ink and Eastern characteristics into her charming paintings, where a modern perspective complements wonderfully with a traditional art form.

Jane Yap - Calligraphy 书法 V (2000)

25 May 2013

The Door II: Plight @ HOM Art Trans

UiTM graduates have the luxury of exhibiting at various private galleries - House of Matahati, Segaris, Taksu, and Morne, assume the role of willing hosts. The four artists showing at the "The Door II: Plight" have shown in these locations recently, which allows their development to be charted closely - an example being Manisah Daud's expansion on the nature theme. Wild animals are realistically depicted in a threatening pose, set against an attractive dripping backdrop that mirrors the subject matter's colour palette. Physical mutilation and helpless circumstances provide the narrative, but the melodrama represents good intentions, a continuation from the approach employed previously in "The Door".

Manisah Daud - I am King But Where is My Power (2013)

A Volkswagen Type 2 is parked in an alley between a fire hydrant and a worn-out brick wall, Warhol's banana from The Velvet Underground & Nico's album cover stuck onto the van, raring to go. The desire to embark on a journey, to break away from what's past, is illustrated in a delightful manner by Shafiq Nordin. Precarious situations like flying 'Into the Dream' in a wooden biplane, or being tied down to 'Fate' by his bearish alter-ego, convey a nervous enthusiasm within the young artist. Playful in his approach, Shafiq adds comic-like white borders to frame his situations; Fortunately this does not conceal his flourishing talent in drawing lines of different weights, that provide volume in his works.

Shafiq Nordin - Journey Begin! (2013)

Arikwibowo Amril paints faded and blurry pop icons, overlaying it with quotes associated to the celebrity. With the exception of 'Thin-ker Twice', which forcefully splits a picture of Rodin's 'The Thinker', other works by the artist can be classified as poster material. Hisyamuddin Abdullah draws visually interesting self-portraits that attempt to address current events, the bare palette only augmenting its simplistic and literal commentary. "Not many have a clear insight to the predicament of an aspiring artist", claims curator Jessica Ho, but UiTM graduates are fortunate that their initiation into the local art scene is more accessible than others.

Hisyamuddin Abdullah - I'm Not A Monkey (2013)

23 May 2013

MukaKata @ Segaris

Portraiture has taken many forms in its long history – as a self-aggrandising object commissioned by the noble class, as a realistic portrayal of secular subjects, and as a self-expression for the artist’s inner state of mind.  An extension of figurative art, this action to immortalise oneself remains a popular choice for artists, to render both literal likeness and inner essence within the human subject.  Hence it is curious to discover what is defined as ‘beyond portraiture’, the subtitle behind the Jalaini Abu Hassan-curated “MukaKata” exhibition.

Gan Chin Lee - Lebuh Pudu (2013)

Two large paintings by Jai feature a stern-looking Malay man in a striped purple sarong, one facing the viewer holding a pair of garden shears, the other with his back turned and a pistol in hand.  The former portrait is incised within a garden-motif wallpaper that covers the canvas, while a black & white traditional Malay house is rendered in detail behind the latter portrait.  A simmering undertone of abomination pervades these works, where the Malay man struggles with tradition and urbanity, a consistent theme in the artist's pop-figurative works.

Jalaini Abu Hassan - Hang Kebun (2013)

The curator is also the portrait subject for established figurative artists Chong Siew Ying and Kow Leong Kiang.  Perhaps working towards a deadline, both paintings fail to depict a deeper sense of Jai's personality or state of mind, which is a pity as I suspect both artists are well-acquainted with the sitter.  Azman Yusof's 'Serenade' illustrates a young couple, an informal and simple drawing that departs from the artist's official role as a painter of royal subjects.  The standing stainless steel blocks of Ramlan Abdullah are intentionally dented, serving as a distorted mirror to its viewer, its oddity magnified where exhibited amongst paintings.

Azman Yusof - Serenade (2013)

In Anurendra Jegadeva's works, found objects are put together to form romantic narratives, such as for one Burmese monk in 'The Third Estate'. Utilising items like Air KBZ (Myanmar) envelopes with Chinese paper cutting, this artwork demonstrates the resourcefulness of its artist without compromising on its aesthetic. Contemporary expression of portraiture has moved away from a historical emphasis on human anatomy (e.g. depicting emotion via manipulating the eyebrow), which is evident in this exhibition. Leaving the gallery thinking of certain works yet still confounded by the subtitle, I concur with Alexandra Tan's review in The Edge that "...such curatorial direction and discursive intent should be appreciated".

Anurendra Jegadeva - The Third Estate (2013)

21 May 2013

Art Criticism Today and Tomorrow

Recently came across a 2012 academic paper by USM lecturer Sarena Abdullah, that highlights the lack of art criticism in this country, where art writings are confined to catalogue essays and newspaper reviews.  The failure by any cultural institution to document Malaysian (art) history in a comprehensive manner, and that most art writings are commissioned by gallery owners, have collectively contribute to an industry that disapproves of criticism, much like the present government.  An inspiring read that reminds me to exercise my role as a neutral observer, for commenting on art from both subjective (aesthetic-appeal-emotion) and objective (tradition-technique-knowledge) perspectives.  I need to be consistently aware that I am writing for myself, ultimately.

Azliza Ayob - The Makings of A La-La Land (2010)

"Today and Tomorrow: Emerging Practices in Malaysian Art" is a book project by the folks at RogueArt, featuring a number of visual artists, and others who employ art practices that go beyond a flat canvas.  The 'Collectives' section confirmed my thoughts that artist groups are divided by language and race, mostly preoccupied with individual agendas.  Public art engagements are covered in the final section, highlighting commendable events that typically reach out to a small demographic.  Selection of the featured artists in this book are done by the curatorial team, where an effort to be inclusive of all forms of art, take precedence over other contemporaries whom may be pushing the aesthetic boundaries of visual art.

Wallpaper detail: Vincent Leong - Tropical Paradise AG32 (2006)

19 May 2013

Scent of Bali @ G13

The Bali Field Trip made by 4 Nanyang exponents is a famous event documented in Singapore art history, and it is no wonder that artists continue to flock to this idyllic location. Figurative arts collective The F Klub travelled there to practice live drawings with nude models, an experience uncommon in our conservative country. Working within the constraints of time, space, and one's canvas, live drawings require the visual artist to capture the essence of the moment, environment, and forms. This exhibition lays bare each artist's capability to do just that, where further insight can be assimilated via a comparison with the body of works presented in "Seated", The F Klub's previous live drawing endeavour.

Chin Kong Yee - Madie (2013)

Chin Kong Yee's charcoal drawings have thin curves that outline a model's posture, which the artist then draws and rubs thick lines into it, to create depth and volume. This ostensible search for the definite line within a human position, ensues from the thick Chinese ink brush strokes seen in "Seated". Two oil paintings feature portraits that resemble Picasso's blue period, its seated figures slightly uncomfortable in a cerulean sea of steely blue. A curious observation is that none of Kong Yee's works were sold yet during my visit, perhaps due to the dirty traces that cover his drawings. Bayu Utomo Radjikin maintains a high level of realism in his drawings, where portraits embellished with interesting backgrounds are displayed.

Bayu Utomo Radjikin - Scent of Seminyak 4 (2013)

Exploration of the strokes and directions in the act of drawing, are manifested in the models depicted on brown paper. Face-less figures denote Bayu's focus on the human body, which he complements with Balinese pattern cloth and paper cut-outs, capturing the environs as an after-event. Fellow veteran figurative artist Kow Leong Kiang makes a welcome deviation from his trademark pastel palette, drawing scarlet portraits against a dirty ochre background. A fiery passion radiates from the topless nudes, further emphasised in the confident poses exhibited in 'Yunda I' and 'Nita'. Even the earth-tone figures are drawn and coloured in rough strokes, a departure from smoothly rendered girls that the artist is famous for, but admittedly less attractive in its aesthetic.

Kow Leong Kiang - Nita (2013)
Perhaps struggling with the constraints of live drawings, experimenting with new ideas, or just lethargy, Chong Ai Lei's figures are plainly inferior compared to the other exhibited works. The youngest member of The F Klub seemingly imitates Leong Kiang's brush strokes, evident when one compares his "Seated" paintings with Ai Lei's "Scent of Bali" paintings. Acclaimed for her sensual depictions of a woman in a domestic setting, these works display an irresoluteness and inhibition, especially in the model poses and thick incoherent strokes of paint. 'Nita III' is the sole commendable work with its visible tinge of discontent; Nonetheless Ai Lei's work still sold well, a reminder that reputation is always important in the art market.

Chong Ai Lei - Nita III (2013)

No pointed criticisms can be made against Shia Yih Yiing's beautiful portraits, the artist being the other female member in this collective. Clean lines and delightful colours are employed with great effect, as seen in 'Yunda!'s tropical sarong and 'Anggiy!!!'s vegetation. A confident combination of blue, green, yellow, and orange, are used to colour the models' skin, providing a fresh perspective to the Balinese woman, a favourite art subject amongst regional artists. In the background, monochromatic lines depict flowers, Barong, and mountains, setting off a wonderful context which refers to the model's environment. Gan Chin Lee's oil pastels are a disappointment - although the figures are decently drawn, the dark shades of coloured paper used reduce these drawings to hardly visible sketches.

Shia Yih Yiing - Yunda! (2013)

Distracted by the raw wooden frames, I had to refocus to appreciate Chin Lee's interesting usage of colours - pinks on the lower body, and whites on the face and shoulders. Complaint aside, these drawings culminate into two pretty but irreverent oil paintings. Marvin Chan wraps up the exhibition with a mischievous but refreshing take on figurative portraiture, experimenting with zigzag lines and capturing the informal, during the formal activity of a live drawing. Marvin's pastels and watercolours clearly captures a hidden optimism in the models' psyche, despite the graphic illustration style and muted colours. "Scent of Bali" proves to be another successful project by The F Klub, where sketches and drawings are acknowledged with greater significance within an artist's oeuvre.

Marvin Chan - Nita #1 & #2 (2013)

17 May 2013

The Art of Giving @ Shalini Ganendra Fine Art

To comprehend life, one observes death.  A doctor has the opportunity to understand both phenomena, especially when one is the pioneer organ transplantation surgeon Sir Roy Calne.  Since an encounter with Scottish painter and patient John Bellany, whom gave the good doctor painting lessons, Dr. Roy has pursued his interest in art with similar vigour, as he does with expanding new insights into graft rejection.  This skill has come in handy in helping calm anxieties in patients, especially children, when he offers to draw or sketch them.

Nude Kneeling from Behind (2005)

Possessing a deep knowledge of the human anatomy, has evidently helped Roy the artist in drawing figurative works.  The charcoal 'Nude Kneeling from Behind' depicts a rather crude position, but its shading is spot-on in creating volume.  The pastel 'Model Study II' takes advantage of its medium to draw unnatural yet beautiful colours on a bare back.  The watercolour '"Toti Bird", Cuba' has an exotic bird taking up one third of the horizontal space, its remaining area occupied by a hibiscus mat, and a disproportionately drawn nude.  'Butterfly Tummy' is the most beautiful painting on display, where bruise-like colours and scrawny arms, depict a fragility in the model's confident pose.

Butterfly Tummy (1999)

Perhaps seeking an appreciation of life's beauty in a sterile environment, Dr. Roy also loved painting flowers.  'Trailing Flowers in Blue Vase' is exemplary of his art methods - colourful, sketch-like, with simple but precise shading.  No surprises that his first sculpture was a liver, Roy's bronze works resembles Degas in crystallising a human action, his ballet and football figures defined right in the middle of a motion.  This exhibition showcases a comprehensive collection in different media, where upon surveying, becomes obvious that this surgeon not only has the ability to recover one's physical pain, but also to enrich one's spiritual well-being.

Flower paintings + bronze sculptures @ SGFA

15 May 2013

Loo Foh Sang Solo Show @ Samadee Studio

A week after prominent Nanyang artist Tew Nai Tong passed on, it is curious to view another Malaysian artist of the same generation who worked regularly in Paris - printmaker Loo Foh Sang.  Monoprints made in the early 1990s feature along the walls of this small studio space, where seasons and flowers are depicted in ripped gauze-like forms.  Hints of an artist in transition is detected in the repeating characteristics of a centred composition, a flat dissolving background, and forcefully created bubbles.  An exception is the landscape 'In the Calm Night', where the Chinese painting-trained artist layers chunks of shapes, to create a serene night scene in muted tones.

In the Calm Night (1994)

More interesting prints are kept in the small rooms, one displaying small silkscreen prints of swirling abstracts, 'Opera' being particularly attractive where the troupe is clearly discernible in colourful blocks.  'Tales of Dancing Sutra VI' is a perfect display of the artist's etching prowess, the stick-thin dancer beautifully traced (look at her feet!), and set in a stony background that lends further authenticity to the scene.  A significant contributor to printmaking in Malaysia, this exhibition draws attention to Foh Sang who is under-collected locally, although potential buyers should look to the smaller works that possess a more universal aesthetic.

Tales of Dancing Sutra VI (2005)

13 May 2013

Collective of Young Malaysia Contemporary Artists @ Core Design Gallery

On display are works from the gallery's previous exhibition, "Zaman Batu Kontemporari", a diverse collection of visually interesting, occasionally irrelevant, and ultimately incoherent art works.  However, that does not take away the amazing details one can observe if one looks harder.  Azli Wahid's illustrations of rock & ground are powerful, but the artist goes further with the environmental message in 'Gerhana Duka Sangkakala'.  Planet Earth is recreated with rubbish and miniature display models, emphasising the sorry state of affairs that our consumerism leads to.

Location at Gallery porch; Surface details: Azli Wahid - Gerhana Duka Sangkakala (2012) 

Haafiz Shahimi experiments heavily with multiple mediums across his paintings, none as successful as the metallic fishes burnt into 'Kembali Bernafas'.  Two layers of canvas are overlaid with enamel spray paint depicting a mermaid, where carved metal blocks of fishes are then burnt into the canvas.  A beautiful work that employs a revolutionary technique similar to pyrography, the fact that this work is still available indicates the conservative nature of Malaysian art purchases.  Exhibited together with works like Ali Bebit's household-metal-objects sculpture, this delightful collection brings to bear the question of what is contemporary in the local visual arts scene.

Top: Haafiz Shahimi - Kembali Bernafas (2012)
Bottom: Close up details of burnt fishes with metallic bars

10 May 2013

Embodied Elegance @ Sutra Gallery

Nice-based artist Michel Anthony's exhibition features a beautiful leaf-shaped sculpture, that resembles a duit pohon but in actuality contains 4 pairs of animals among twisting branches.  These beautiful natural textures, contrasts with the sharp forms depicted in Michel's dance sculptures, where line accentuates the active motion.  The smooth sheen on these expensive bronzes may imply perfection, but become a sterilised representation of the vigour in dance.

Minerva (2013)

08 May 2013

Sibylle Bergemann @ White Box

Deceased Berlin-based photographer Sibylle Bergemann captures a lyrical attachment to the past, similar to Wim Wenders' cinematography in Wings of Desire.  The coloured African portraits are visually captivating, but it's the black & white bare landscapes of Hollywood and post-war Berlin, that strikes a chord within the nostalgic viewer.  Bubble-wrapped statues in communist East Germany, are made more irreverent with an unintended whirlpool of light between both statues.

Unintended camera flash: The Monument (1980s)

06 May 2013

SAGE Residency III @ HOM Art Trans

Plain and boring paintings by the Indonesian participants, contrasts with the Filipino works - Mervin Pimentel's 'Spoiled Saliva' is gross with rottenness and decay, but the painted folds & wrinkles reveal a skilled artist; Guenivere Decena's mirror image of a naked lady pondering life's questions is an outstanding work, its sinuous background linking a duality that projects a third dimension outwards to the viewer.

Guenivere Decena - Breaking Waves (2013)

Malaysian representative Seah Zelin paints his fellow residents and a chair, but a most striking insight into his work process is presented in 'Face of Phases'. The triptych displays a self portrait that starts with a black drawing, then layered with whites that emphasise form and texture in Zelin's signature style.

Seah Zelin - Face of Phases (2012)

03 May 2013

Arcane Fantasies for the Flesh and the Sublime @ Richard Koh Fine Art

I am inclined to call Justin Lim a young Chinese version of Jalaini Abu Hassan.  Excellent technique, strong pop sensibilities, tendency to draw still life objects, and in-your-face compositions, are the painterly traits both artists possess.  Entering the exhibition space, many will immediately recognise the scene of police beating up street protesters, on a large landscape painting that bears the same title as this exhibition.  The most irreverent work in this otherwise engaging collection, it feels like a collage of random drawings, despite having many of the artist's signature icons like butchered meat and substituted heads.

Manimal (2013)

To better appreciate Justin's work and his obsession with decay, one only needs to look at the masterpiece 'Hunter Gatherer'.  The human skull retains its shape, but inside it are browning plants and dead animals, the fall of man depicted literally in the upside-down person forming the skull's mandible.  Attractive vivid colours contrasts dramatically with macabre symbols, illustrating an allegory of the (human) hunter that gathers death in order to stay alive.  This theme permeates the rest of the exhibition, where a condensed commentary on the hunter psyche is apparent in 'Black Heart'.  A fallen raven and her nest of eggs make up the inner workings of a dark heart, the obvious symbolism not able to hide beneath the elegant and beautifully drawn painting.

Hunter Gatherer (2012)

On a more playful note, Justin implants visual trickery into 'Manimal', the bristles at the back of an iguana doubling as hair on a boar's head.  In the "Trophies" triptychs, singular objects are enclosed within a perspex box, the viewer having to peer through a printed cage.  The objects - a beating heart, a slab of meat, a bouquet of wilting roses, are depicted in trompe-l'œil fashion, showcasing the artist's draughtsmanship.  Placing objects squarely in the middle of the canvas, creates a disorientated sense of appreciating a museum exhibit, confusing the viewer with its modern expression yet archaic sentiment.  The ability to invoke such reactions is Justin's forte, and these "Trophies" showcases him at his best.

Trophies #2 (2012)

Ever the clever artist, progress on Justin's terms refers to an integration of previous pet themes, where multiple still life elements combine into a single work.  As mentioned in Suraya Warden's catalogue essay, 'Life after Decay', Justin acknowledges that "...each work in the show is also a coveted object of competing art buyers."  In juxtaposing the hunter and the gatherer, we scratch our heads trying to understand, the artist-collector dynamic that he alludes to.  In an exhibition which sold out by its opening, these questions remain unanswered, leaving us all at the mercy of Justin Lim's pop-exhibitionist genius.

Black Heart (2013)