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)

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