29 September 2013

Julai in September @ HOM Art Trans

Heterogeneity in Malaysian visual arts is well exemplified in this gathering of former schoolmates, where its participants have established themselves upon graduation from UiTM. Hamir Soib, whose 'The Auctionland' was still making waves at the Art Expo, states a polarising intent by cleverly exhibiting a box. The painting inside has travelled the world via luxury goods maker Louis Vuitton, but never shown in Malaysia and remains concealed to the viewer. Success is relative, where acknowledgement of a personal achievement is space and time-dependent. Such reflections are seen in Fausin Md Isa's large series of "Metropolis" photographic collages. Others like Jefri Din Jusoh yearn for simpler times, his wilting banana tree a wonderful watercolour painting still capable of evoking the sublime.

Hamir Soib - [left] Painting Box (2013); [right] bitumen & oil painting inside (2007)

Weaving scenes from two movies into one, Masnoor Ramli Mahmud's 8-minute video is equal parts compelling and neurotic. The two films - Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai and P Ramlee's Enam Jahanam - are both excellent deconstructions of the Western genre, during a time when black & white were not deterrents to action storytelling. The business news scrollbar that comes in midway through the video, is symptomatic of this generation's short attention span and capitalist inclination. More personal are the digitally enhanced photographs by Soraya Yusof Talismail, whose documented shots of panda bears are cute to say the least. Monochromatic contrast and pixelation are manipulated, to create an effect that recall Chinese scroll paintings. Naive ink calligraphy, however, taints the otherwise excellent reproductions.

Still from Masnoor Ramli Mahmud - Mind Vision (2009/2010)

A maritime theme describes the works by Bayu Utomo Radjikin, Ahmad Shukri Mohamed, and Nizam Rahmat. Contemporary concerns and a striking blue mark 'Gulai Kawah' as a significant piece by Ahmad Shukri, where a faded Marilyn Monroe and floating grime prolong a nostalgic sentiment, contrasting with the immediacy of its central Ajinomoto motif. Nizam's engraving of nautical flags onto airline cases, plays on a preferred approach that is unexpectedly attractive. These letter flags each possess a specific meaning. When interpreted as individual characters, 'BULLSHIT' yields thoughtful statements: "Carrying dangerous goods; Running into danger; Stop and quarantine; Operate backward propulsion; Pilot on board; Alter course to port; Keep clear". I am obviously reading excessively into its presentation, but artworks that make one think too much, tend to be good art.

Nizam Rahmat - BULLSHIT (2013)

27 September 2013

The Other Malaysia: Alternative Realities @ Bangkung Row, Bangsar

Kuala Lumpur's art collectors came out to play this September - exhibiting their personal collection in private galleries, promoting selected artists at an art fair, and throwing art appreciation parties in their restaurants. The last event is part of a Malaysia Day cultural programme, a good excuse to display some great contemporary art. In an exhibition that promotes alternative national histories, the artist's storytelling prowess is put to the test. Strong visual interest consistently trumps literal references – Household curio cabinets or distorted political flag? Toiling kerbau, emblematic harimau, or sequestered polar bear? Yawn while watching a clip of people running around in circles, labelled as Malaysians from their dressing? Settling the case in favour of aesthetic value is Anurendra Jegadeva’s depictions of a Penang legend, rendered in the artist's signature figurative manner with compelling symbols.

Ismail Hashim - Bilik Mandi (1984)

Since the idea of nationhood came about, politics inadvertently affects people and their observations of life. Former UMNO branch chairman Ismail Hashim presents stunning hand-tinted photographs, where flowery fabric decorates a concrete bathroom, creating a serene yet brilliantly illuminated nostalgia. Equally evocative underneath the spotlight, Nadiah Bamadhaj’s picture of a miniature Parliament building, depicts its detachment from the local landscape. A zinc roof exaggerates the absurdity of isolated decision-making, while an ascribed song lyric cheekily comments on political party-hopping. Tracing a theme of outstanding solo exhibitions held at Richard Koh BVII over the past year, works by Justin Lim and Chang Yoong Chia feature prominently at Leonardo's stairwell. The former illustrates a beautiful allegory of the nature of man, whereas the latter zooms in on the ethnic Chinese communes known as the new village.

Nadiah Bamadhaj - Lompat, Lompat, Lompat Apek Lompat (2012)

Capturing cityscapes from high above, Eiffel Chong utilises a photography technique which projects sharp focus and intense contrast. Time stops, subjects become objects, rendered in a plasticity akin to toys. The Putrajaya picture delineates the overpowering draw of urbanity - man-made structures, calm river, and roadside foliage, coalesce into an artificial whole. Contemporary concerns continue upstairs, where Carolyn Lau highlights oceanic pollution via a construct of discarded floats, its presentation mimicking fish swimming. Rahel Joseph's concise catalogue reminds, "...that there is more than one interpretation of the Malaysian story in all its complex, multi-layered variances." This exhibition leads by example, first showing art in an unconventional setting, then rejecting the authorities with its withdrawal from M50. Compared to the boring collectors' exhibits at Morne, this truly is the better, alternate, artistic reality of The Other Malaysia.

Eiffel Chong - Southern Pacific Ltd. 1 inch size (Various Colours) Pack of 8 (2012)

24 September 2013

The Weaver @ White Box

Representing the past to confirm the present, is a theme prevalent in Shia Yih Yiing's ouevre. Her latest "Homage Couture" paintings transpose familiar images from local art history onto gowns, the artist acting as both maker and model. Like mixing & matching fabric patterns, the designer selects formative works by notable artists, then amalgamates its scenes and motifs onto preconceived shapes. Two distinct series are produced - one denoted by time period (i.e. historical record), the other by people groups (i.e. personal taste). The former series documents a chronological development in line with the acknowledged narrative, when modern art made way for Postmodernism, its progressively sombre palette indicative of a maturing ambiguity. '70's' stand out as being devoid of figurative elements, equating the avant-garde with a collective shift towards abstraction.

Homage Couture !!! (2013)

Paying her respect to fellow artists in the latter series, Yih Yiing demarcates the works by artists' profile - overseas residents, ethnic Chinese, women, and ethnic Malay - the final picture a plea for national reconciliation in this hostile political landscape. 'Homage Couture !!!', a dynamic portrait where Sharmiza Abu Hassan's 'Hati Nyamuk' overlaps with heart shapes, form a wonderful multilayered pattern in this tribute to the female artist. Having narrate the Malaysian art landscape in these paintings, the artist is also keenly aware of her role as a practitioner, depicting herself as tightly-garbed in these gowns. History informs her next story, unable to loosen the reverential bodice. As Simon Soon writes in the catalogue essay, this act "...suggests the utilitarianism of art, in which the sartorial skin is taken as a costume to forge one's national identity as it envelops one's body."

The Special Day I (2010) [top half]

Yih Yiing is often described as one who assumes multiple roles in life, juggling both family and career responsibilities. Her drawings display a practical sensibility - symbols shape allegories, grids underline composition, brush strokes colour forms. In the earlier works of "An-An's Adventure", which include a pair first exhibited at WWF Art for Nature, metaphors abound. The artist's daughter represents the ethnic Chinese, holding onto its kancil social reality, backed by nationalist emblems in a hibiscus design. The hot pink seat is up for grabs, as various political players masquerade as characters from Through the Looking-Glass. Cheeky details and animal silhouettes provide visual amusement, notwithstanding the direct implications seen in the patterned fabric background (Melayu-ness) and diamond grid floor (Malaysia-ness).

0308 - 0505 (2008-2013)

The same yellow-black floor joins "The More We Get Together", a series of 4 paintings that follow on from the medieval piece 'Once Upon A Time', and must be viewed in context of older works belonging to the same series. Each girl symbolise a Malaysian profile - Malay, Chinese, Indian, Sarawakian, and Sabahan. The Borneo ladies shut their eyes throughout, rendering themselves irrelevant. Paper boats are strewn across the ground, camaraderie forsaken. The Chinese ponders throwing her freedom away in '!!', preceding the damning indictment in '!!!' where she serves tea to all at the table, the cake a symbol of the New Economic Policy. Floating bubbles and a wet floor denote a rising tension, as the girls swing above a row of religious buildings with pointed roofs. The Tetrimino hanging configuration demonstrates an incisive social critique, which projection is downright cynical when the allegory is interpreted from past symbols.

The More We Get Together !!! (2009-2013)

Occupying another sectional area are illustrations from the 2010 children's book The Special Day. Cats represent 10 Malaysian races, each painting depicted with reference to Chinese paper cut-outs, European masters, and Wong Hoy Cheong. "The Weaver" stands apart from recent figurative exhibitions participated by the artist, suggesting that nude women and animal heads are only draught practice. Cryptic symbolism declare livelihood issues, where its pretty approach disguises a combative stance. With Art Expo happening nearby, the comparison with Eng Hwee Chu is inevitable, a female artist peer whose expressions are also rich in allegories, albeit more personal. Yih Yiing displays a pessimistic thread in her woven fables, but her art reflects a passionate woman clearly aware of life's priorities, a disposition seen in the early work 'Slave to Love and Art'. Her homages then are now woven into the central figure, the Artist embodied.

70's Homage Couture (2013)

Note: Anybody interested to de-construct the references in the "Homage Couture" paintings, feel free to comment/populate this spreadsheet [click link, list in two tabs].

20 September 2013

End of the Line @ Kedai Bikin Pop-Up

This progressive exhibition displays architectural drawings, extending the phenomena of appreciating such drafts last seen at the Royal Academy of Arts. Human progress is restated in functional lines, deviating from the natural contours that art typically espouses. Straight rules define multiple layers of space, from concept to plan to cross-sectional detail, cumulatively depicting dimensions that extend beyond the flat surface. Muhammad Muhsin's quirky dissection of an April Fools' news (swimming fishes generate electricity), are presented earnestly and employs dramatic forms. The sketchbooks of Syukri Syairi and pencilled notes by Farah Azizan, exhibit pragmatic innovation in progress. Art is emotive as compared to these analytical drawings, but that should not prevent oneself from appreciating its beautiful aesthetic, especially in this utilitarian world we live in.

Muhammad Muhsin - The System of Myth: Retreat for Gavin Roach's Cult; (from left to right) plan view, sectional view, isometric view 

18 September 2013

Multilayered Realities @ Galeri Chandan

Employing an augmented reality application that provides only web links, this exhibition comes across as a test environment for a programming student, and not "art moves alongside the technology" as stated in the introduction text. Rather than appreciating these exhibits, travelling is a better option to experience different layers of local society. Not to be ignored are the peculiar projections presented by Halim Rahim, a project which stemmed from the artist taking an unfamiliar snapshot of his wife - her side profile. Viewing these photographs of prominent individuals prove remarkably unsettling, where visual familiarity becomes a function of the intellect instead of perceptive sense. Bridging an unintentional link to the side profile portraits from 14th century Europe, these pictures explore the inherent human intrigue with portraiture, from recording method to positional angles to absolute truths.

Halim Rahim - Faces We Know: (clockwise from top left) Marina Mahathir, Jalaini Abu Hassan, Jo Kukathas, Anurendra Jegadeva

16 September 2013

September 2013 Auction Previews

Forced to move its auction day to avoid a lose-lose situation, KL Lifestyle Art Space (KLAS) one-ups Henry Butcher with its better quality highlights, notwithstanding its mediocre collection. The former avenges submission by offering a more beautiful painting by Ahmad Khalid Yusof, despite the latter's attempts to trump up its lot which bears the same reference to Tasik Cini. The pioneering auction house facilitates a corporate disposal exercise that includes encyclopaedic bird drawings, and poor renditions by Chong Siew Ying and Jalaini Abu Hassan. Among the auction débuts promoted, private collectors could favour the colourful exuberance of Yusof Gajah, over Ismail Zain's digital collage that belongs more in a museum. Latiff Mohidin's 'Kembali Ke Air' presents great vigour among the blue chip artists, whose works offered in both auctions are uninspiring, especially the many Ibrahim Husseins.

Kow Leong Kiang - Mizell (2010)

At KLAS, modern painters Chia Yu Chian and Jolly Koh present great colour juxtapositions and confident brush work, whose contemporary evolution are manifest in the wonderful melancholic portraits of Kow Leong Kiang and Bayu Utomo Radjikin. Seah Kim Joo's batik nod to Louise Bourgeois' phallic sculpture promises laugh-out-loud hilarity, while the prehistoric cave painting by Najib Ahmad Bamadhaj delights in its naive tribute to art. Entering the Singapore market after this event, its reputation remains shaky when one notices the couple of Khoo Sui Hoe paintings in poor condition. In a brave but foolish attempt at claiming authenticity, KLAS states its own exhibitions (held within the past year) as literature reference. Recent emergence of other art auctions in Malaysia has both companies struggling to stay relevant, as one hopes that more professionalism can save the secondary art market from another early demise.

Najib Ahmad Bamadhaj - Secluded (2009)

13 September 2013

Entering KL Art Galleries

Time is precious. In this Postmodernist era, the value of an experience (within the constraints of time and space) become increasingly significant to the individual, whose regard of material value decreases with rising affluence. People expect a time-bound satisfaction as reward, from the mere effort of employing human perceptive sense. Hence the frustration felt when engaging with a literal and obvious artwork, or one promising insight but is concealed. The same applies to the experience of visiting an art space. In Kuala Lumpur, spatial allotments for art displays are limited to enclosed areas, an exclusivity that mirrors the local visual arts scene. Many private dealers ply their active trade in wall hangings, cramping works into confined spaces, with no concern about an authentic experience. KL Lifestyle Art Space, Purplehouz, and Art Accent, fall into this category of galleries and cannot qualify as valid art spaces.

Ground floor of Shalini Ganendra Fine Art [picture from Facebook page]

The modus operandi of galleries which occupy a commercial lot, is to work around practical concerns for displaying art. Apparent particularly in "art mall" Publika, private galleries design layout and interiors that put visitors at ease. Good examples include Segaris with its industrial theme and warm lighting, and the flexible configuration utilised by Galeri Chandan. Elsewhere, one encounters peaceful privacy in well-lit demarcated areas at Richard Koh, Wei-Ling Contemporary, and G13 Gallery. These features help negate a window shopping sentiment, that stems from the immediate presentation of art. Also situated in a mall is Galeri Petronas, which wonderful circle-within-a-circle layout, is handicapped by task lighting with a small projection radius. Employing a creative approach in its presentation, Pinkguy exhibits modern and commercial artworks on display stands, which flank the water feature at Marc Residency.

Sep 2013 @ Art Row, Publika: Pop-up studios used to host a single installation - Yee I-Lann's 'Commemorate' (L); Ng Seksan's 'Malaysian Spring' (R)

Natural elements provide aesthetic solace from the daily grind, an advantage exploited by galleries located in bungalows. Sutra Gallery enchants with its leafy surroundings and wooden build-up. White terrazzo floors invoke homeliness at Taksu and Core Design Gallery. Shalini Ganendra’s splendid architecture allows natural light to fill its aerated spaces. Housed in a burnt architects office, Wei-Ling Gallery stands out among KL art spaces, where visiting it requires one to pass by strong scents emitting from banana leaf rice restaurants, and an Indian temple. Antique furniture greets the visitor, while silence and a nostalgic early painting by Chin Kong Yee, accompanies the act of ascending stairs. These distractions nullify presumptions and shapes an open mind, where by the time one is exposed to the gallery's ample skylight, art takes control. The transient separation from reality to art space, should not be underestimated for what it contributes to a visitor's experience. 

Green environment in Sutra Gallery

Institutions like the National Visual Arts Gallery and Bank Negara tend to underutilise its art spaces. The former location is cold and calculating, the agency itself suffering an inability to curate and exhibit within a white box. Visitors learn nothing during a visit because of the lack of expository texts, an issue not seen in any other public art institution. Within the serene confines of Sasana Kijang, art occupies an entire floor in the latter establishment, a space its administrator should consider letting out since it rarely hosts exhibitions. A popular art space for rent is Publika’s White Box, where constructing an aesthetic experience largely depends on the curators. The intentional blockades of “Barricade”, and fantasy environment of “Jojo in the Wonderland”, spring to mind as successful exhibitions that maximise the display area. Recent transformation of the nearby pop-up studios into individual installation areas, are also a welcome sight.

Inside Galeri Petronas [picture from Facebook page]

Ultimately, the individual quality of artwork is what matters. However, the experience of appreciating art cannot be discounted, which can be the difference between a good exhibition and an unforgettable one. Minor distractions of beautiful non-art objects, before and during one’s entering an art space, helps heighten self-awareness.  This process of entering can be ritualised to prepare an observer physically and mentally, before s/he is subjected to the wilful visual projections called art. Introducing a purposeful 'cut' (kire 切れ), liberates the visitor of dominating or preconceived thoughts. Since art in public spaces are non-existent in KL, it is perhaps time, that private galleries pay more attention in cultivating a personal experience for visitors. 
"Where we hope to land (and where we do land, though only for a fleeting moment, enough for tired wings to catch the wind anew) is a 'there' which we thought of little and knew of even less.” - Zygmunt Bauman, Postmodernity and Its Discontents

Ground floor of Wei-Ling Gallery

10 September 2013

Suarasa 2 @ Segaris

UiTM alumni gather post-Eid to showcase its diversity, regardless that most artists still hold on faithfully to their established styles. Fascinating insect prints by Abdul Mansoor Ibrahim deserve a second look, while obvious political commentaries are thankfully few. A children theme crops up in a number of works, notably in Mastura Abdul Rahman's green playpen collage, and Fauzulyusri's new body of work that feature enlarged exercise book squares. Naïveté drawings still rule the latter, where the infusion of harmonious colours, capture a joyful snapshot of childhood. Exercise book pages also appear in the background of Fauzin Mustafa's 'Muka Bermuka', where the inclusion of celebrity images and cryptic symbols, seem to comment about the growing-up pains of a Malaysian. Invasive hands extend the warmly-painted central motif, imbuing a great sense of volume within horizontal borders.

Fauzin Mustafa - Muka Bermuka (2013)

07 September 2013

Absurd(C)ity @ NVAG

A respectable attempt to trace Surrealism’s influence on local visual arts, is corrupted by the mingling of immature works with established artists, no organised groupings, and an absurd exhibition title. Originating as a literal movement, Surrealism encourages the unbridled expression of the subconscious. However, art development over the past century has relegated this philosophical assertion, to a simplistic juxtaposition of imagery that make people go “WTF?” This intention is obvious in Samsudin Wahab’s horse head that protrudes from a high brick wall, an installation as pointless as Damien Hirst’s shark in a formaldehyde tank. The same can be said about Khairul Azmir Shoib, whose up-cycled wood sculptures are more Corpse Bride than surreal.

Chang Yoong Chia - Happy Garden (2005)

In Malaysian modern art, a surreal tendency is seen in the naked red men of Zulkifli Dahalan’s ‘Kedai-Kedai’ and Anthony Lau’s fiery head sculpture. A hellish mood similarly pervades the paintings of couple Tan Chin Kwan and Eng Hwee Chu, where emotional gesturing and daring use of colour create a disconcerting effect. Hamir Soib’s monumental image of an evil clown, projects a nightmarish panorama that sneers sinisterly upon its audience, who ponders the context of this work in this exhibition. Classifications aside, the Surrealist method of free association is best exemplified in Imanordin Mohd Shah’s ‘Di Belakang’, where dangling limbs emerge from the clothesline in this dream-like scene.

Eng Hwee Chu - Black Moon (1995)

Ilham Fadhli is showcased as the contemporary champion of this style, with his well-painted moody landscapes and Lilliputian figures. Kojek’s newer works demonstrate a more harmonious palette, perhaps influenced by wife Azliza Ayob’s pretty collages. The original but raw execution of Haslin Ismail's mecha-fantasies, pays tribute to art in the early 20th century, where papier collé and unexpected imagery were popular. Chang Yoong Chia’s ceramic plates comment on China and being Chinese, a curious inclusion among this collection and exhibited together with his giant rabbit painting. Chan Kok Hooi illustrates a gross allegory which introduce absurd characters and nonsensical details into his crowded canvas, a recipe of success that has unfortunately found young followers in Tey Beng Tze and Lim Keh Soon. 

Imanordin Mohd Shah - Di Belakang (1994)

Exhibited also are a collection of prints by significant proponents of printmaking, such as Lee Kian Seng, Ilse Noor, and Raja Zahabuddin. Long Thien Shih contributes 3 works that pay homage to Salvador Dalí, where blue skies and unique perspectives, form the background for unexpectedly juxtaposed elements. Yee I-Lann's cleverly manipulated photographs of bridges and waste, look unfortunately dated under a glaring spotlight. The decision to feature many young artists dilutes the show’s impact, the major culprits being Meme and Shahrul Hisham, whose works proliferate the show but are self-serving and visually flat. Who you know matters is an inevitable suspicion in this project, where an artist like Shahril Nizam could have contributed more, whose drawings have a higher aesthetic value and emotional resonance with the exhibition theme. 

Long Thieh Shih - Western Figures in Oriental Clouds and Waves (1970)

As Alexandra Tan observed, “...surrealism exists elsewhere as idiosyncratic cultural movements or schools of art – France and Spain in the 1920s, and more recently in China and Yogyakarta –  it might be beneficial not only to think about surrealism in relation to other artistic styles but how or why it exists in a Malaysian context.” This intention to capture a relevant snapshot of an aesthetic preference in the local visual arts, is nullified by the lackadaisical curatorial effort, evident from the lack of explanatory texts and demarcation of artworks into logical groups. This unrealised ambition is perhaps, what is most absurd, about this exhibition.

Haslin Ismail - The Way It All Works (2010) [Pictures from Today & Tomorrow]

05 September 2013

Snippets: Beijing, Jul 2013

Chaochangdi 草场地, a suburban area where common folk go about their daily routine, is also home to serious art galleries like Three Shadows, Urs Meile, and the China Art Archives. White Space was exhibiting 4 artists at the time, one whom is Liu Ren 刘任. The 'Sea Grain' 海粒 installation involves cutting a large poster of the sea into squares, folding each square into a cube, then scattering these cubes onto a bed of salt. The blue background and white salt/sand (representing evaporated sea water), transports the viewer to a beach, where this play on sensory-colour triggers a human memory. A commentary on colour association, time, and space, this cerebral work was immensely fulfilling - its surreal presentation making it all the more memorable.

 Liu Ren 刘任 - Sea Grain 海粒 (2013)

Performance artist Ma Liuming 马六明 gives the perception of suffering schizophrenia, where his obsession to decipher the eventuality of human reaction, led to the creation of androgynous alter-ego Fen-Ma Liuming. Having retired from performance art, the artist's latest showcase "Tenth of a Second 十分之一秒" at White Box features the amazing "leaking paintings". Pigment is pushed through mesh from the back, to create portraits that glisten with light and airflow, imbuing an ethereal quality into his works. With its plain background and centred subjects, Liuming's paintings are vivid depictions of a recollection, a mesmerising tribute to the fleeting moment.

Ma Liuming 马六明 portrait; close-up view of "leaking painting" technique

798 Art District is a demarcated area filled with art galleries, home to great spaces like the Long March Space (a former warehouse with Mao-ist slogans still ins cribed on its walls), and the high ceilings of Pace Beijing. Galleria Continua consists of 3 floors with ample natural light, a perfect setting to show Loris Cecchini's works. Metallic sculptures that mimic nature adorn the large space, occupying one's visual interest like wonderful interior decoration. The incredible "Wallwave Vibrations" series sculpts harmonic symmetry onto white walls, where polyester resin manifests a liquid yet tactile representation, of an organic phenomena. 

Loris Cecchini - Wallwave Vibration (Ears particle tingles) (2012): front view + side view

A room documenting Hsieh Tehching's “Time Clock Piece” (One Year Performance 1980-1981) was memorable, but the marquee exhibition at Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, was Wang Xingwei's retrospective. Cleverly divided into sections titled Front / Side / Back, which indicates the painted subject's orientation, the exhibition shows an artist who is well-versed in Western art history and loves to inject a sharp dose of irony into his works. A remarkable trait is the non-commitment to a single style, yet the emotional undertone in his works are strong. From early works featuring Duchamp's urinal and Beuy's rabbit, to the current series of an old lady at the window, 王兴伟 appropriates painterly traditions with personal commentaries on contemporary art. Surreal projections mask the overarching influence of great modern painters, yet the lack of originality is no hindrance, but celebrates a visual and cerebral delight in this age of reactionary art.

Wang Xingwei 王兴伟 - Untitled (Flowerpot) 无题(花盆) (2009)

03 September 2013

Great Malaysia Contemporary Art (GMCA) Preview @ Core Design Gallery

Ambitious in scale and intent, gallery director Scarlette Lee brings together an impressive group of Malaysian artists to exhibit at the upcoming Art Expo 2013. Huge canvases occupy the gallery space, where a call for museum-worthy pieces yield large-format works. Md Fadli Yusoff and Husin Hourmain contribute the figurative and calligraphic respectively, imbuing a spiritual substance into their paintings. An undulating texture describes Mohd Noor Mahmud's sawdust & acrylic creation 'Alun', but relates also to the symmetrical constructs by Multhalib Musa. Anuar Rashid conveys an otherworldly space with his radiant phoenix, while Hamir Soib comments cynically on the preferences of art auction bidders, via a Chinese landscape materialising within a giant koi. Seminal is repeatedly mentioned, employed perhaps as a marketing term since all displayed works are relatively new, notwithstanding its sublime quality.

[Art Expo 2013 update] Ahmad Fuad Osman - Hantuhantuhantuhantuhantu... (2013)

Tan Chin Kuan isolates a forlorn figure in shimmering rain, its expressionist projection executed with precision, although such imagery can no longer be interpreted in a fresh manner. Wife Eng Hwee Chu, however, exhibits a splendid painting that signifies the culmination of a lifetime's work. A golden flood parts in the middle where a river leads to coliseum steps and a bright sunset, flanked by oblong doors that illustrate a subversive Chinese culture. Fronted by familiar characters - the red figure and a textured shadow - this allegory highlights the adverse insecurities encountered by an ethnic-Chinese Malaysian woman. Realistic rendering of the human figure (look at the hands!) coupled with a thoughtful composition, mark this an instant masterpiece. Mature and confident brush strokes define this collection of paintings, as one eagerly anticipates Ahmad Fuad Osman's works, absent from the gallery but to be revealed at the Art Expo.

Eng Hwee Chu - Searching: Facing the New Edge (2012)

‘Pahang Warriors’, an installation by Zulkifli Yusoff, protrudes softly from the wall with its symmetric configuration and wonderfully warm domes. The patriotic artist displays an intuitive understanding of colour relationships and design forms, while maintaining his expert command of materials. Accompanying this exhibition are summarised artist biographies expounded by Zena Khan, one associated to Malaysia's most significant private art collection. While a single gathering of works can neither encompass all local contemporary art practices, nor sidestep the debate of what is contemporary, the gallery's effort and perseverance look likely to pay handsome dividends. Large attention-grabbing artworks and concise text, are cleverly publicised to attract prominent collectors and art fairs. It is my sincere hope that this promotional effort, will grant these artists the international recognition they deserve.

Close-up of Zulkifli Yusoff - Pahang Warriors (2013)

01 September 2013

Towards the Nebula @ The Edge Galerie

One of Malaysia's prominent visual artist working since the 1960s, Jolly Koh has always vehemently reject the label of Abstract Expressionist, assigned by virtue of his participation in the 1967 GRUP exhibition. Coined by Redza Piyadasa then, this view has unfortunately persisted and accepted into the canon of Malaysian art history. Interestingly, Redza is remembered as one who initiated many movements in the local arts scene, including the 1974 manifesto with Sulaiman Esa called "Towards a Mystical Reality". It is perhaps coincidence that Jolly's latest solo exhibition is titled "Towards the Nebula", as viewers collectively keep their tongues firmly planted in cheek. Displayed in plain silver frames within the swanky gallery space, new "Nebula" works are shown together with older landscapes, including a number of "Nightscapes" last seen in June's inaugural auction by the business newspaper.

Rosette Nebula (2013)

Jolly openly acknowledges his influences, one of whom is Helen Frankenthaler, evident in the diluted background of 'Sunrise for Tristan and Isolde'. A similar characteristic is detected in 'Cerulean Sky', which soft blending of magenta and canary yellow is heart-achingly beautiful, its tranquillity broken by the mountainous swirls common within the artist's oeuvre. Two landscapes from 2008, 'Red Fall' and 'The Road Not Taken', convey action in a powerful and absorbing manner. Swathes of colour project different depths across the canvas, while splashes and drips inject verve. This preoccupation with atmosphere and energy, two elements that permeate the artist's expression, are derived from inspiration found in Zhang Daqian's landscapes. The Modern Chinese painter infuses his calligraphic strokes with an expressionist purpose, a technique Jolly employs and further develops into his own.

Red Fall (2008)

Serenity in the few "Nightscapes" are disturbed by luminous birds, its sentient presence adulterating the fantastical landscape, regardless of its ethereal appearance. The less crowded picture and smaller size of 'Shooting Star', transports the viewer to a personal space and perspective, not attainable in larger paintings of the same series. Mesmerising illustrations of night clouds spread across the sky in 'The Big Dipper', its bright moon recalling 'Starry Night' drawn a decade ago, whilst relegating 'Terang Bulan' to a foregone history. An artist who classifies black as a colour family, Jolly demonstrates great restrain not to overpopulate 'If there are any heavens, my mother will (all by herself) have one'. Colour juxtapositions of different intensity and tone, illustrate a sunken abyss encircled by glorious warm hues, the faded embers invoking hot smoke which mists up vision.

Shooting Star (2013)

Boasting a thorough exhibition catalogue complete with descriptions of Jolly's 8 schemata, Marbling & Lava-like Effect stands out as the most visually-rich technique. A complex blend of colours and brush strokes represent molten heat, when paired with a dark background, take on an extraterrestrial quality. Manifest throughout the "Nebula" series, this approach imbues large canvases with hydrous volume and sustained activity. The mythical and astronomical combine seamlessly, as the phoenix's outline appears among the fiery clouds. Notwithstanding its magnificence, the employed perspectives remain resolutely third-person, a distant view that justifies the idea that a painter is ultimately working on a flat canvas. This creates dissonance in the large-format works, which capture the entire field of vision but leave viewers dwelling on the periphery, like a nonchalant observer.

If there are any heavens, my mother will (all by herself) have one (2013)

Claiming that the marbling effect cannot be replicated, it is interesting that these images recall chemical reactions (which is what a nebula is) - will a high-resolution photograph of a real nebula or chemical reaction offer the same visual aesthetic? Questions also arise whether the artist's excessive tinkering made a picture less "right", a colloquialism quoted in the catalogue essay. Small impurities are invariably visible on large surfaces, in the continuous synthesizing of oil & acrylic paints. The outlines of 'Star Balloons' lack the natural contours one expects from nature, an observation applicable also to the bright strokes that define the rocky terrain of 'The New Dawn'. Nevertheless, Jolly Koh's successful career ought to remind the current generation of visual artists, that being well-travelled and well-read are useful principles to survive this kampung industry. Also, a sharp dose of humour helps.
"Best of all you work with love and desire, next with will, and finally, if all else fails, it is bloody obstinacy!" - Bridget Riley, The Eye's Mind [quoted in Jolly Koh's jottings in self-titled 2010 picture book]

Flame Nebula (2013)