19 August 2014

Equilibrium @ Richard Koh Fine Art

Despite reading essays about art and abstraction, it is a struggle to describe my fascination with this category of painting, or why I get lost in Mark Rothko’s colour fields but walk past Jackson Pollock’s allover drips. Referring to Wong Perng Fey’s “Equilibrium” body of work, Martina Ziesse writes that “(t)he fascination of abstract art lies in the idea that the work might offer a glimpse into a different reality, a reality subjective to the artist and to each individual beholder. A painting on the wall may offer a gateway into an unknown but strangely familiar world.” Relocated to Beijing four years ago, the artist moves on from melancholic plants and awful Chinese zodiac animals, to a less figurative yet very powerful group of paintings. Utilising slow-drying oils as the bottom layer and glossy hard enamel paints on top, Perng Fey sculpts his materials to create forms and visual depth.

Paintings prefiguring the Equilibrium body of work

This process is better explained by Haffendi Annuar, “(t)hrough a wide variety of techniques such as painting, pouring, scraping, sprinkling and spraying, he would carefully lay and peel away skins of paint, each gesture a response to a specific piece’s image build-up, physicality and material presence. These tactile, richly coloured works are created through the acts of image erasure and layering, echoing the process of palimpsest. The unstable surfaces crack, revealing vivid colours below and creating sculptural and seductive palpable bodies.” Hung behind the office table and opposite it, are five smaller works that mark the start of this series, its horizontal brushstrokes a fit example about “erasure and layering” and “crack, revealing”. Fatuous discussions about materiality, however, are irrelevant.

Untitled #003 (2013)

Amanda Lai wrote for a previous solo exhibition, “...Perng Fey tries to capture and make permanent the fleeting nature of change, and of transitions.” Swathes of paint are typically used to surround or cover the subject, which depicts a wistful presentation that recalls neither an observed scene that long ago, nor a spell as short as a fleeted moment. Now, broad strips boldly occupy the foreground, which outline the picture composition only after rich layers of oils have been painted. The exhibited untitled works denote the transition from initial approach to current result, where specific textures and brushstrokes are applied and scraped away, on a black background. Traces of the old approach are obvious in the beautiful colours underlying ‘Untitled #003’, while ‘Untitled #004’ contains parallel horizontal lines like ridges on folded paper.

Luminous Silver #1 (2014)

Thick dripping paint from such tactile effects augment diagonal blocks in ‘Luminous Silver #9’, the pièce de résistance among the major exhibited series painted in metallic silver. Geometric forms indicate a human barrier, and act as an effective foil to the abraded surface present in other works, a characteristic easily interpreted as time’s passing. On the contrary, the decrepit presentation is more progressive than just illustrating nostalgia, as visual memory is recounted in a contemporary sense via inscription. Perng Fey’s approach towards layering has always portrayed such anecdotal notions, but when impastos are scraped away to reveal stalks and mountains (like in ‘Luminous Silver #1’ and ‘Luminous Silver #6’, respectively), the representation of visual cues become even more powerful. Not sure why, though.

Details of painting surfaces in Perng Fey's works

Personally, pictures of new village houses, vast grasslands, and isolated palm trees, are more attractive. Nevertheless, Perng Fey charts a compelling development in his artistic output that is worth appreciating. Beijing’s dreary landscape and hard-nosed people are memorable, but is that environment really the impetus behind the artist’s change in style? Or is exposure to a challenging contemporary art scene the driving force? Figuration takes a minimalist turn, the immediate compositions are more striking and tactile, but also less sentimental. "Equilibrium” includes paintings with pink and red splashes, to be exhibited later in Beijing and Korea. Judging by the positive bookings, Ronald Kiwitt's pronouncement is perhaps only half correct. “Now, Perng Fey can undoubtedly be defined as an international artist.” Did the curator missed out one word on purpose - abstract?

Luminous Silver #9 (2014)

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