When Come Spring (?) @ Shalini Ganendra Fine Art
Malaysian Spring and GE13 had come and gone, so has Zac Lee's blue tigers and the yellow cat, from his last solo exhibition a year ago. Attempts to stimulate political conscience, are now replaced by a personal and sarcastic commentary, about the sorry state of current affairs. Expressing Chinese idioms and figurative sayings in a literal manner, Zac employs other animals as his subject matter. Only one tiger returns to this show in 'Stripes of Arrogance' - stuffed, taxidermied, and outfitted with a saddle - alluding to a political stalwart already dead and resting on borrowed time. The blue seen previously also features in only one painting, forming the background of the title work, which stencilled words mark it as the weakest exhibit. A horse and a stag are assimilated in a pair of displays, humorously depicting the Qin dynasty tale about royal deception 赵高指鹿为马 ("To call a stag a horse: to deliberately mislead.").
|Threat of Threat (2013)|
As the monochromatic statement-making dissolves into brilliant contrasts and skilful execution, Zac's remaining works elevate his status to among the few local contemporary painters whom effortlessly combine technical expertise with social commentary. In 'Threat of Threat', traces of the artist's Chinese calligraphy training are evident in the fins of fighting fishes, stunningly rendered in black on a white background. Blue liquid wisps rise up and draws the viewer in, its intentionally aged Polaroid borders an irrelevant afterthought. Hammering a blue crab claw to reveal red flesh in 'One Fine Day', political reality is laid bare in a powerful illustration of a discrete now and an overt future. Such ordinary gestures reinforce the up-close-and-personal perspective the artist favours, pulling the audience closer into a realistic and empathetic setting, a more effective strategy compared to the wild animals depicted previously.
'Listen' juxtaposes a black magpie facing a red hibiscus at close distance, a funny yet meaningful picture which references a popular online video at a university event, generalised further to a symbol of citizen lamentations. These social concerns are condensed and packed into one blue flower crab, plastic-wrapped and tagged with a Tesco price tag, in the exhibition masterpiece 'Crabwise'. Realistic and familiar to the urban consumer, caution towards a living creature's pincers, transforms into carnivorous intent after the threat is relabelled as food. The yolk is deliciously portrayed, as Zac's painterly skills manifest within the moist and clinging wrap. Traditional still life, contemporary magnified subject, and the democratisation of art lend its influences to form this magnificent picture. Contemporary painting has progressed to reveal increasing layers of truths, where intellectual hunger can be satisfied in analytical morsels of a static visual.
Among the artist's favourite subjects, the national monument is imposed with plasticity via a cartoon logo this time round, marking a playful but serious jibe. Witty with a lusciously painted water surface, 'Duck in the Dark' displays an optimistic contentment as Malaysians drift upon tainted waters for another 5 years. Departing from an observed political leitmotif enhances Zac's works, as the tiny golden figurine of a founding father is no longer present to remind of an imagined nostalgia. This collection's works are smaller in size but more concise in its presentation, clearly rendered without the distraction of words, although Mandarin wordplay is still evident in a few artworks. Priced at RM 22,000 a pop, the figure seems reasonable for one whom increasingly forsakes abstraction for figuration, to communicate both aesthetic and socio political truths.