30 October 2013

Modern Artists of Malaysia @ NVAG

Over the past 30 years, a singular version of local art history has persisted. Much of the credit/ blame is attributed to the authors of Modern Artists of Malaysia - T.K. Sabapathy and R. Piyadasa. As it is with the nature of history, where physical documentation takes precedence, the list of artists chosen is subjective at best. Alternative histories do exist and narrative questions will arise, as more educated persons offer their views. Nonetheless, exhibiting works which reference this accepted account of events, presents a good opportunity for the Malaysian public to appreciate seminal works from the local art canon. Patrick Ng's 'Semangat Tanah, Air dan Udara' is commonly quoted as an early masterpiece, which I am inclined to agree despite classical posturing and a dark palette. Elongated features exaggerate movement in 'The Big Fight', depicted by Patrick's student Ismail Mustam in a dynamic composition that recalls El Greco.

Ismail Mustam - The Big Fight (1962)

Oil paintings by ethnic Chinese artists typically illustrate agricultural scenes, the pastoral landscape romanticised also by Hoessein Enas in 'Memetik Daun Tembakau di Kelantan'. Creative and local approaches towards similar subjects emerge in Chuah Thean Teng's batik and Dzulkifli Buyong's naive works. In the 1960s, Jolly Koh begin painting opaque hard-edges, a feature utilised prominently by Ibrahim Hussein to frame his drawings. Joseph Tan's fancy and equivocal 'Love Me in My Batik' presents a cheeky and free-spirited commentary before the 1969 riots. One decade later, a much darker aesthetic appears in Sulaiman Esa's contemplative print 'Waiting for Godot I'. Ismail Zain completes this collection of Modern Artists, presenting an outstanding colour study and copy of Rembrandt's 'A Woman Bathing in A Stream'. Author Redza's birdcage-take on conceptual art, remains very much in one's imagination.

Syed Ahmad Jamal - Perhubungan (1964)

Anthony Lau's modern metal sculptures possess interesting forms but ultimately feel dated, in comparison with Syed Ahmad Jamal's 'Perhubungan' which melted form still resonates strongly in multi-racial Malaysia. At this critical juncture to re-establish its credibility, NVAG has a tremendous opportunity to turn this show into a permanent exhibition. Supplement introductory texts to individual works, then allow camera captures, also relieving visitors off the unpleasant scrutiny of misguided guards. Let it run for six months to a year and promote the show heavily - the crowds might just turn up to understand what Malaysian art was, which justifies the permanent showcase. Now is the time for a national institution to play catch-up, with how the rest of the modern world stages an art exhibition. Dialectical discussions about local art history will surely intensify in the future, but for now, great art on display is sufficient to feed the masses.

Ismail Zain - Woman Crossing the Stream - After Rembrandt (1967)

28 October 2013

November 2013 Auction Previews

Regional players enter the Malaysian market in a collaborative manner, where Indonesian auction house One East Larasati joins into the fray by offering 19 lots via the Henry Butcher sale. With the exception of a beautiful Chang Fee Ming, the remaining works are moderately priced, in an effort to increase public awareness towards Indonesian artists. The local auctioneer allocates a section to recently-deceased Tew Nai Tong, whose 'Lady with Orchid' is the pick of the pops with its sensual contours and lively colours. Kuo Ju Ping and Tajuddin Ismail present great paintings, while a rare gem emerges in Chew Teng Beng's handmade paper, a wonderful creation from a successful experiment. Its pristine condition contrasts with Lee Jor For's 'Monolithic Figure II', where bad framing crumpled and deteriorated the paper of a brilliant printed design.

Chew Teng Beng - Untitled (1985)

Judging from the vivid depiction of nature's sheer power, Yusof Ghani's spectacular 'Mengkuang Titi' can give Latiff Mohidin's "Gelombang" series a run for its money. However, the highlight of this auction belongs to Hamir Soib's 'A Board Game'. Hidden forces threaten the livelihood of Malaysians, where bold lines illustrate a highly tense setting and the 1:3 canvas ratio elongating the surreal composition perfectly. Matahati member Ahmad Fuad Osman displays a cerebral collection of small works which question death and its elements, while Mastura Abdul Rahman's stunning 'Second Reconstructed Composition' challenges perspectives of vision and tradition. The Henry Butcher catalogue notes contain many careless and superfluous references to renown artists, its subjective content irritating and misguided, demonstrating a decidely lesser professionalism compared to the Larasati catalogue notes.

Yusof Ghani - Mengkuang Titi (2000)

Nevertheless, the irresponsible crown goes to KL Lifestyle Art Space (KLAS), who offers a poor auction collection with dubious pieces. A Hossein Enas that did not sell barely 11 months ago is back on the block. A He Baili that supposedly sold at Christie's Hong Kong cannot be found on the auction house's database. A Zhao Shao'Ang that did sell at Christie's Hong Kong consisted of 4 scrolls, but now 2 out of 4 are separated and separately sold. 47% of  the 76 lots offered have a higher estimate more than twice the lower estimate, the worst culprit being Raphael Scott Ahbeng's 'Woods' (est. RM 10,000 to RM 28,000!) Compounding the treachery is KLAS hosting the WWF Art of Nature charity show, a landmark annual event that used to feature contemporary Malaysian works at Rimbun Dahan. Now, a Cheong Lai Tong that did not sell in its previous auction is hung here for charity. Bidder beware, buyer beware.

Hamir Soib - A Board Game (2007)

25 October 2013

Convergence III: Cultural Legacy @ Galeri Petronas

After navigating landscapes, eyebrows raise when the third part of Galeri Petronas’ 2013 agenda relate Cultural Legacy with Indo-Chinese and Nusantara influences, perhaps stating a fact that escapes most Malaysians’ recognition of cultural identity. Latiff Mohidin and Nadiah Bamadhaj form a formidable feature, the curatorial decision to showcase two artists with contrasting styles, rewarding the visitor whom identifies similitude. Agave plants evolve into contemplative dots then powerful brush strokes, Latiff amalgamating figurative observations with an honest visual language. Nadiah’s 2001 monochromatic works are sprawling, panoramic, and detached – its precise lines carefully drawing a specific narrative. Cultural multiplicity and social complexity unravel to the well-travelled artist. 

Latiff Mohidin - Vientiane - Pago-pago (1967)

Utopia is irrelevant when one lives in the current, evident in this selection of works which highlight deeply personal yet contemporary expressions. The long-winded introductory essay accurately describes the condition which all Malaysian artists should aspire towards: “Confident and articulate, they have been able to match their executive and technical skills with intelligent grasps of art critical and theoretical discourse, empowered by the expansion of historic assertions of objects, space and time that bear traces of certain moments of being that have enriched our diverse culture.” Cultural legacies are acknowledged, but do not need to converge, in life and in art.

Nadiah Bamadhaj - Teguh (2001)

23 October 2013

Pulse: September / October 2013 Art Auctions

Since Henry Butcher's "The (MAS) Modernist" auction was risibly called off over the Art Expo weekend, wishful thinking is directed towards the national investment arm in hope of publicising its burgeoning art collection. The non-event was a godsend to KL Lifestyle Art Space, who secured a 90% sales ratio. 21% of lots sold at the lowest estimate or lower (excluding buyer's premium), which curiously included the last two highlights by Latiff Mohidin and Ibrahim Hussein. At Masterpiece, Nanyang pioneer Cheong Soo Pieng's moody pieces sold at 230% and 370% over the high estimates, as investors clamour over his piping hot status in the Asian secondary art market. However, the more characteristically Nanyang 'Offering in Bali' found no takers. Ib's busy 'Val Bon' recorded RM 594,000 including buyer's premium, while Latiff's 'Dark Voyage' (estimated RM 250,000 - RM 350,000) was bought in. 

Jolly Koh - Green Movement (2007)

Veteran artists Lee Jor For and Jolly Koh recorded high returns, while Chen Wen Hsi's gibbons undersold at KLAS, no doubt because of its poor condition. A similar, better quality piece went over the high estimates at the later sale, denoting that preservation does matter to bidders. Cheong Lai Tong remain unpopular due the poor condition of works on offer, despite being rarely transacted at auctions. Fellow painters Hoe Say Young and Lee Cheng Yong see their stock plummet, while Ahmad Khalid Yusoff and Jalaini Abu Hassan's increasing value buoy an enthusiastic but uneducated market. An artwork's value may be subjective, but I pity the one overpaying for Yap Chin Hoe's dishes, which RM 30,800 could have been spent on a Tan Choon Ghee and a Chia Yu Chian with change to spare. I digress.

Cheong Soo Pieng - Fishing Village (1974)

21 October 2013

Favourites from the Zain Azahari Collection @ The Edge Galerie

Pastoral, sensual, vigorous - these common descriptions surmise the prominent art collection of Zain Azahari, where a selection of 38 pieces are displayed at this exhibition. Large works by Ibrahim Hussein and Hendra Gunawan greet the visitor with titillating intent, where Fauvist colours and sinuous contours excite primitive human senses. Flanking both sides of the lobby, Latiff Mohidin and Anuar Rashid arouse the spiritual with abstract illustrations of great control and harmonious beauty, easily subjugating works by young artists hung in the same area. Ramlan Abdullah's aluminium sculpture also blends into the gallery's medieval design, as the contemporary takes a back seat to master artists belonging to the Modern era. Earth and human form an unbreakable bond in these works, implying the collector as one whom possess deep faith and a resilient outlook of life. 

Kampung truths: Jalaini Abu Hassan - Di Murahkan Rezeki, Di Berkatkan Hati (2011)

This philosophy is clearly specified in Jalaini Abu Hassan's meditative 'Di Murahkan Rezeki, Di Berkatkan Hati', a minimal juxtaposition of objects (by Jai's standards) beautifully rendered, where words elucidate Malay sayings and its connotations. When utilised correctly, writing creates additional dimensions on a canvas, Mangu Putra's picture of utter despair being a good example. Academic painting typify depictions of toil and hard work, contrasting with the creative expressions of Mount Merapi by Affandi and Srihadi Soedarsono. Illustrations of human feet seem to captivate the collector, who own a couple of high-priced watercolour masterpieces by Chang Fee Ming. Among the elegant dancing figures shown, including Latiff's curious 'Bird Dance' sculpture, a menacing 'Barong' by Popo Iskandar emerges proudly from the shadows. 

Crimson tide: Latiff Mohidin - Malam Merah (1968)

Zain's collection boasts many works by the renown Latiff, none more significant than 'Malam Merah'. Lively strokes of purple, yellow, and white, provide an inherent energy to the amalgamated Pago-pago, as a single horizontal line allows the sun / moon to set. The remaining areas are painted crimson red, while darker brush strokes sketch movement that augments the powerful picture. Cheong Soo Pieng's tender 'Mother & Child' follows in the Nanyang tradition, which the pioneer artist updates via a rare oil painting. Previously unseen to the public is Ib's 'Farewell to New York', a witty nude done in his characteristic Pop manner, where the curious usage of brown as its background has me polishing my chin while pondering the rationale. More sensuality is exhibited in Anthony Lau's 'Exstacy', a wooden pair of smooth forms that recall natural contours, its overt tension depicted in the horizontal gap. 

From Kahlo, Van Gogh, Bueys, Sudjojono, Freud, to Hiroshige: Agus Suwage - Pemandangan Dunia Wi (Earthly Landscape) (2011)

Hung low to provide viewer clarity, many works from this collection are museum-worthy, with the occasional odd gem standing out beyond Nusantara motives. Dzulkifli Buyong's quirky 'Four Friends' "captures that single moment that is the birth of our Malaysian Modern art movement", as described by curator Anurendra Jegadeva. Simple pastel colours, gliding sarongs, lily buds in the air, and innocent human gestures - I will not be surprised if the artist was in fact drawing 4 versions of his self. Moving from flying figures to floating heads, Agus Suwage's brilliant red fields pay tribute to artistic influences in an unconventional manner, the depiction like a tinted collage filtered through a computer program. Singling out figurative subjects is Ahmad Zakii Anwar's contemporary approach, the huge portrait of a hippopotamus beckoning the viewer to come closer and swat flies, while the logical me clamour to inject meaning into a successful aesthetic.

Why brown? Ibrahim Hussein - Farewell to New York (1969)

Despite having a shorter tradition in picture making, the Malaysian works hold their own when compared to the diversity displayed in the Indonesian paintings. Among the many natural landscapes, a hazy wetland and a vertically-stretched Batu Caves signify personal importance, the former a nostalgic memory and the latter being Zain's first collected artwork (a wedding gift!). Zain's stories and passion are expounded and repeated across few essays in the catalogue, inspiring all who appreciate art. Having amassed 400 works over the past 50 years, Zain Azahari's collection is a testament of one's relentless pursuit of art on one's personal terms. Not a luxury item, never an asset type, consistent in vision, absorbing one's soul and intellect. I may not share Zain's taste in art, but I do share a similar passion, which makes him my Art Collector idol for years to come.

Gliding sarongs: Dzulkifli Buyong - Four Friends (1964)

18 October 2013

September 2013 @ Wei-Ling Contemporary

Choy Chun Wei’s collage diptych ‘Global Citizens’ grabs attention, but the works from Hamidi Hadi’s “Antara” series capture the imagination, all 3 successfully sold at this showing. Enlarged photographic prints recall Roy Lichtenstein’s appropriation of comic drawings, although the pixellations seen here imply a vague memory. Spreading a low-resolution picture seems contrary to the Ben-Day dots technique, but both essentially employ the same approach of re-framing, in this case a mechanical reproduction of a personal destination. Enamel paints demarcate a picture horizon with utmost simplicity, a splash of colour sufficient to depict pathways and elements. Hamidi tilts and flips the canvas to render naturalistic forms, his method limited in control and subjected to a randomness, that augments the objectification of its background.

Choy Chun Wei - Global Citizens (2011)

The result of playing with polyurethane is most memorable in ‘Untitled (home)’, where drops of liquid protrude from the canvas like stalagmites, frozen in space and time. These crystalline projections echo the mechanics of inkjet printing, a reference to the physics phenomena known as the Rayleigh instability. Fear of fragility forces the viewer to stand at a distance, ever further from the nondescript image, yet the powerful aesthetic encompasses the individual within its viewing radius. Minimal, cerebral, beautiful – these emotions and thoughts commonly emerge when I view a Hamidi Hadi, which these 3 works successfully invoke. Appropriating a lucid description from literature critic Sarah Churchwell: “...And yet they convey ideas about how to depict the most physical of our realities: motion, time, collision.” Well, here he goes.

Hamidi Hadi - Untitled (home) (2011)

16 October 2013

Opening of the National Portrait Gallery

While awaiting a young artist based in Paris to stage a solo show, the National Portrait Gallery opens its doors amidst little fanfare to the public, hopefully signalling an effort to initiate a permanent exhibition. Upon entry, animistic masks and colonial outfits indicate a chronological arrangement, an early highlight being O Don Peris' 'Portrait of My Wife in Wedding Dress'. Despite displaying a preference for Hoessein Enas and Angkatan Pelukis SeMalaysia artists, exhibited works remain diverse and of high quality. Khoo Sui Hoe's well-composed 'Gadis Memegang Bunga', Amron Omar's silent drama 'Potret Diri', and Bayu Utomo Radjikin's free-standing 'Bujang Berani', share the same room corner without issues. Prominent Malaysians line one wall where the majority are depicted respectfully, notable personalities including academics Ungku Aziz and Syed Hussein Al-Attas.

O Don Peris - Portrait of My Wife in Wedding Dress (1933)

At Balai's lobby, young artists display a collective poor attempt at drawing the personality out of individuals, easily singling out Samsudin Wahab's bright installation as the most attractive. Although many countries have a national portrait gallery, this exhibition space risks irrelevance in the age of experiential art. Notwithstanding a time warp, I remain hopeful that a permanent display can henceforth be established, followed by modern Malaysian masters exhibited in the main gallery. Works such as Askandar Unglert's 'Reflection on Sir Stamford Raffles', or Redza Piyadasa's 'To Be Completed (for Krishen Jit)' can be included, to extend the notion that portraiture can be interesting beyond the typical royal or political subjects. The last thing anyone wants are for portraits to resemble wall hangings in a bank branch, ephemeral in its existence as display objects.

Azman Yusof - Ismail Zain (2013)

14 October 2013

Media/Art Kitchen: Reality Distortion Field @ Publika

No thanks to semantic descriptions, science and art have drifted apart. To say that Leonardo did not adopt a systematic approach towards perfecting the sfumato technique, is like saying Galileo was not creative. "Media/Art Kitchen" reminds one that the innovative use of media, is an endeavour as significant as the re-engineering of an artistic concept. Translation features heavily in many works, its aim to communicate something previously not understood into one comprehensible to human senses, albeit with mixed success. Interactive workshops along Art Row include making music from non-Art objects, while sounds emitting from plants and physical movements presume sonic engineering. Inside Black Box, the need for acceptance is questioned by Hagihara Kenichi, whose short videos of people posing for camera pictures, are ridiculous yet universally recognised.

Seen it real-life: Kuwakubo Ryota - The Tenth Sentiment 10番目の感傷 (2011)

Indisputably the exhibition highlight, Kuwakubo Ryota's 'The Tenth Sentiment' is a 7-minute shadow sequence that mesmerises visitors with familiar contours and precise set up. A miniature train travels pass people and structures, rooftops and tunnels, its perspective changing discreetly from the window to the driver's seat. Invoking the familiar activity of a journey, the meditative ride seem to echo words by the architect Christopher Alexander: "We are searching for some kind of harmony between two intangibles: a form which we have not yet designed and a context which we cannot properly describe." Better defined are Yagi Lyota's instructive work about focus, where wooden frames stress the prerequisite availability of a surface area, for light rays to converge onto. This clever installation denotes a physical law that mirrors the mental need to navigate concentration levels, for one to focus and comprehend a message at hand.

Stills from The Propeller Group - The Dream (2012)

With representing artists from ASEAN countries, social commentaries abound in distinct works by The Propeller Group and Oomleo. A hidden camera captures the Vietnamese dream of owning Honda motorcycles in the former, while low-resolution pixels in the latter depict a subverted narrative of the Indonesian commoner. Fairuz Sulaiman leads the Malaysian contingent with his reconstruction of a back-to-basics slide projector, which together with the activity of illustrating film, ought to be taught in all Malaysian schools as part of the creative agenda. Strangely appropriate inclusions into this well-curated exhibition, are explorations of anthropology and the metaphysical. Operasi Cassava's online project implores a search for one's roots implied via a vegetable plant; Tamura Yuichiro's animistic mask is an output from his otherworldly experience of residing in the rainforest jungle. Reality distortion field may be corporate hogwash, but the tireless pursuit of truth in one's own language, is synonymous in both art and science.

Top left & middle: Tribal masks from the Mah Meri tribe; Top right: Tamura Yuichiro - A Dream I Dreamt in the Forest (2013); Bottom: Still from video record of Tamura's visit to the Mah Meri tribe

12 October 2013

Snippets: Q3 2013

The NAFAS art residency program offers a platform for young artists to exchange ideas, and develop their maturity within a regional art practice. Indonesians Anton Subiyanto and Rocka Radipa present interesting projects, of dream-like paintings and brass portrait etchings, respectively. Malaysian Syahbandi Samat excels in his pencil and ballpoint drawings, infusing folklore into figurative illustrations that present  contemporary concerns.

Syahbandi Samat - Sehingga (2012)

Hidden in the shadows of Petronas Twin Towers, the MIA Art Centre hosted "Theatre of Absurdities", a solo exhibition by Filipino artist Jason Montinola that features dream characters painted in a Spanish Renaissance manner. Surreal and dramatic, but confined within an academic style, Jason's dream inspirations culminate in the larger paintings of 'The Rite of Passage' and 'The Specialist'. Christian imagery and medieval horror combine in the former; In the latter - insects, demons, and the all-seeing eye, are grouped harmoniously in a small area to produce a disconcerting effect.

Jason Montinola - The Specialist (2013)

Curated by prominent film director and art collector U-wei Hj Saari, "Wajah M50 Kini" exhibits a good snapshot of a distinct demographic among Malaysian art collectors. Hossein Enas portraiture, Redza Piyadasa in-your-face, historical Syed Thajudeen, or Rosli Zakaria's bizarre metal sculpture - pick your poison. Mad Anuar Ismail's magnificent 'Perentas Ribut No.19' greets the visitor, its raw texture and forceful gesture overshadowing the Raja Shahriman erected beside it. Beyond these sculptures are plain works, which unfortunately include the heart-shaped constructs by Zulkifli Yusoff that recall Jeff Koons. Among the boredom, expert brushwork by veteran painter Raphael Scott Ahbeng draws an expressionist portrait, its garishness toned down by a lovely turquoise & maroon background.

Raphael Scott Ahbeng - Toyang (2013)

Commissioned by a German liberal foundation, "Never Ending Struggle" features actress-homeless author Mislina Mustaffa, mural and performance artist Aisyah Baharuddin, and Iman, whose delightful 6-feet hammer made of nails comment on the orthodoxy of binaries. Aisyah's 13-year output covers the entire gallery wall, an attractive arrangement of drawings, murals, and installation pieces. The sum of these parts are a sight to behold, as this retrospective of sorts narrates an artist with a feminist inclination and democratic beliefs.

Installation view of Aisyah Baharuddin's works

10 October 2013

Young Malaysian Artists: New Object(ion) II @ Galeri Petronas

New Media is repeated across the curatorial statements, which one will do well to ignore terminology and focus on the many interesting works instead. Astrological diagrams and over-saturated pictures attract visitors to monitor screens, yet the most whimsical show on television belongs to Izat Arif. 'Rahsia Menjadi Kurator yang Mengyakinkan' displays a clever video that follows the inquiry where "curating follows art" - its picture, voice-over, and subtitles each projecting a different message. The end result questions phenomenology and its relation to art, less so about curating as an activity. Such intent is however evident in Shahariah Roshdi's room full of bric-a-brac, a presentation less cluttered but also less attractive, than the magnificent graduation project last exhibited at Segaris. The aesthetic of science bridges being and enlightenment, at least in one's individual pursuit.

Louise Low - Fatal Attraction (2013)

Personal demons are exorcised in Shaliza Juanna's 'Monsters in My Closet', where stuffed animals and home interiors recall the shock art of Mike Kelley. Ominous at first sight, Gan Tee Sheng places a large ball of hair on a single-sized bed, locks scattered across the ground. Its surreal projection consistent with the artist's output, there remains the curious question of hair's purpose as a human organ. Occasionally lovely on a woman's head, hair transcends time and corporeal decay, its enduring quality perhaps making it repulsive to view when detached from the human body. Bedroom worries are forgotten after one looks past pink wax warriors, at a floating shark made of colourful brassieres. Attractive and multi-layered, Louise Low presents fatalism in all its connotations - the independent but overexposed woman, the carnivorous but diminishing animal, the invigorating but elastic notion of the feminist

Chong Kim Chiew - Here is His, Here is Yours, Here is Mine. There is His, There is Yours, There is Mine (2013) [Selections stuck on gallery surfaces]

The ambitious and most rewarding work in this exhibition belongs to Tang Yeok Khang, who hangs a steel construct over a gravel pile. Better known for his melancholic paintings, the artist moves on from the fun 'Are You Ready?' installation, to an incisive socio-political commentary post General Elections. A human form is suspended over stagnant water, its drainage blocked by a twisted tube while a larger pipe opening lays bare nearby. Enclosed within a lantern frame are pointed steel joint with bearings and marbles, its literal reference as powerful as the aesthetic contribution. Giving away its interpretation via the title, hope springs alive in the form of budding seeds, nurtured from a bed of moisture-absorbing cotton. Sincere and well-executed, plaudits must be given to Galeri Petronas for staging installation art and promoting budding talent. Allowing visitors to photograph these artworks is also a progressive step towards cultivating public interest.

Tang Yeok Khang - The Balancing Game 2013 (2013); Close-up of budding seeds; Twisted tube

Dominating the gallery space is Chong Kim Chiew's forte, where his ability here to discreetly do so, singles the artist out as a unifying element in this show. Stickers of electrical switches, door handles, peeling cracks, and even drain covers dot the gallery's surface area, denoting not only a transformative art space, but the breakdown of conventions as expounded by the curatorial theme. Hanging at the exit is a light-hearted recreation of a 7-11 store front, renamed The Art Factory by Haris Abadi. A product of modernity that fulfils needs and wants, the appropriation exaggerates the world of possibilities existing in art. Implied conversely, only selected items that fulfil market demand are available at the convenience store / art factory. This intelligent subversion celebrates artists whom bravely object conventional attitudes towards art, a great rallying call that rounds up this superb feature of Malaysia's next generation.

Haris Abadi - The Factory (2013)

08 October 2013

Masterpiece October 2013 Fine Art Auction Preview

Masterpiece Auction offers an astounding 160 lots, where landscapes and Penang-ites are the order of the day. Common modes of depicting temples and tropical life are abundant - Tan Choon Ghee watercolours, Tew Nai Tong oils, Chuah Seow Keng batiks, and a couple of wonderful girl portraits by Chia Yu Chian. Raja Azhar Idris' Mak Yong dancers trump in elegance over Khaw Sia's rigid Balinese girls, whose idyllic picture is an obsolete choice for the catalogue cover. Abstracts are limited and middling in quality with the typical Latiff Mohidin and Awang Damits. Breaking the norm are Raphael Scott Ahbeng's majestic 'Fairy Mountain', and Khoo Sui Hoe's contemplative 'A Portrait of A Man Under the Sea'. Lack of contemporary works signify the profit-making intent, notwithstanding local collectors' taste for Malaysian modern art.

Lee Man Fong - Reclining Nude

Among 40 Indonesian works, the 3 by Lee Man Fong stand out with its vivid presentation. Be it an impressionist pagoda, a sensual nude, or a pair of chickens, confident brushwork impose clarity and asserts Man Fong's position as a master painter. Tone creates depth via Chinese ink in Cheah Thiensong's 'Bamboo Trees', while Li Baoyi injects pastel colours onto his scroll to illustrate atmosphere in a pastoral scene. Huang Yao's 'A Lone Ranger' strikes a poignant chord in my observations of the local visual arts scene, quoting Song dynasty poet Ouyang Xiu from《春日西湖寄谢法曹歌》:
万里思春尚有情, 忽逢春至客心惊。 雪消门外千山绿, 花发江边二月晴。
少年把酒逢春色, 今日逢春头已白。 异乡物态与人殊, 惟有东风旧相识。

Huang Yao - A Lone Ranger 独醉 (1979)

06 October 2013

Art Expo Malaysia 2013 @ Matrade

Despite news of an auction withdrawal, the mood at Art Expo was casual, where quality works are spotted at a number of booths. Without the distractions of an Ibrahim Hussein or a giant koi fish nearby, Hamir Soib's 'A Board Game' looks to be a steal at Henry Butcher's November auction, with estimates around RM 50k. Parallel passages reveal Chuah Seow Keng's batik roosters and Raja Shahriman's metal sculptures, Malaysian made and visually attractive. Hidden in a nook is Chan Kok Hooi's wonderfully surreal 'Painting for Sale', while nude drawings by Gan Chin Lee flank Gan Tee Sheng's elderly portrait in another cranny. G13 Gallery also showcased a large-sized work from Marvin Chan's "Pendekar Jari" series, as visitors gape at the oil & pastel work by Haslin Ismail.

Chan Kok Hooi - Painting for Sale (2013)

The hyped-up GCMA exhibition displayed Ahmad Fuad Osman's steel construct with a printed American dollar note, its shining curvature and projected idea synonymous with the artist's cerebral output, although the intended wordplay was too literal. Taiwanese artist Chang Rui Pin 張瑞頻 also draws on this familiar image, her superimposed Bucketheads onto enlarged currency notes posing an absurd commentary, best exemplified in the USD 100 decorated with gold paint. Hailing from the same island and represented by Chit Fung Art (HK), Ye Jian 叶健 paints figurative subjects in a light pastel palette, which melancholic sentiment is stronger than Kow Leong Kiang's girl portraits. Notwithstanding, the majority of Chinese exhibitors disappoint with its decorative or uninspiring works, especially the paintings of jade urinals and grenades.

Manolo Chrétien - Kennedy

French artists occupy the best collection on view at Redsea Gallery. Val’s bronze sculptures seem like an evolution of the Giacometti statuette, traversing demarcated spaces carved out from the air around it. Manolo Chrétien prints close-ups of aeroplane bodies onto brushed aluminium, its shimmery projection capturing the human fascination with reflecting and changing light. A different aesthetic tradition prevails in the textured works by Japanese artists. Powdered rock illustrate melancholic figures, which Yamada Kumiko explains her intent to “paint these transitions of feeling” as translated in the brochure. Represented by H-art Beat, Masayuki Tsubota’s minimalist constructs had me reaching for an empty wallet. Gesso and tin foil is utilised brilliantly to create texture and light, the small-sized installations evoking a contemporary sense of equilibrium in itself, despite the singular colours applied.

Masayuki Tsubota 坪田昌之 - The Wall of Self (2013): YT-687 [left]; YT-689 [right]

05 October 2013

A Journey of Self Discovery @ Nalanda Buddhist Centre

A group of notable Malaysian artists contribute their works for a fund-raising event, with half the proceeds going to the making of a documentary film. Personal conflict is inevitable in one's search for better spiritual being, a sentiment evident in the evolution of two artists. Marvin Chan continues his use of the epoxy layer, this time depicting a child's face from his 2011 "Inconsequential Consequence of Hope" series. Windows of the soul are composed in triangles, framing a rule of three for universal representation. First seen in the 2010 "Intimate Collisions" series, Kow Leong Kiang's nude pairs endure a physical struggle within a confined space. Realistic and life-sized, the charcoal illustration draws the tension in human relationships, its interpretation dependant on the hanging configuration. I remember viewing both exhibitions and being awestruck, also the first time setting foot into the best KL contemporary art galleries at that time.

Bibi Chew - Secret Garden I, II, III, IV (2012)

Beautifully crafted by Chong Kit Leong, lotus flowers made of pewter entice the viewer into an aesthetic surprise perhaps unintended. Chong Siew Ying's large painting of fireflies and jungles are typically melancholic, its visual projection denoting a passive serenity. Meaning is found in simple designs of cut-out paper, which Bibi Chew's "Secret Garden" series depicts life as stemming from the earth beneath us. Clustered words from the Heart Sutra 般若波羅蜜多心經 occupy the bare canvas of Shia Yih Yiing, her red-dominant ideograms illustrating a soothing mantra. Colourful and mesmerizing, Noor Mahnun Mohamed's lady portrait gazes at heart-shaped flowers with a deer nearby, its cryptic Buddhist references slowly unveiling to the intentional viewer. Filled with great art, the gallery space accentuates a collective goodwill, only betrayed by the ridiculous high prices of Sharifah Fatimah Syed Zubir's works.

Noor Mahnun Mohamed - Lanterns (2013)

02 October 2013

Sabri Idrus, Water @ Taksu

A false door in an Egyptian tomb, serves as a historical example where geometric shapes were imposed onto flat vertical surfaces. Now, interior designers expose brick to create visual interest, notwithstanding more traditional methods of installing wainscoting or wallpaper. However, these methods do not project spatial depth like a false door. Evident since his "Lorek-lorek" series a decade ago, Sabri Idrus displays a preoccupation with utilising forms to create functional space. The "Karat" series shows colour manipulations that recall a visual familiarity with material elements. In the "Antara" series, spatial depth is illustrated via lines that project architectural perspectives. At this group show, "Water" exhibits a culmination of the artist's oeuvre, an amalgamated result from previous experiments. 

Sabri Idrus - Tinggalan (2013)

Constrained by the flat surface, Sabri employs a vigorous method of apply-destroy to replicate texture, via exploitation of plaster and house paint. The colours are not pretty - mouldy green, rust brown, cement grey, dirt black; Yet his constructs evoke a strong tactile intensity, where superimposed shapes imply its reference object, commenting on the consequences of infrastructure development. Lines converge into an eternal horizon within the canvas ('Tinggalan' and 'Dried'), or extend outwards beyond the rectangular borders ('Underground' and 'After the Rain', featured & repeated as this web log's wallpaper). Producing artworks that hold attention and allow immediate immersion, Sabri Idrus stands above his class as an inquisitive artist, with an innate desire to create and innovate.

Sabri Idrus - Underground (2013); Close-up of surface texture