Being Human @ White Box

Despite the significant calibre of exhibiting artists, it is difficult to take huge paintings of human beings seriously, especially when the catalogue essay takes one pop-rock song as a reference point. For many working with the same motifs, the oversized portraits only panders to friendly collectors – one can imagine Kow Leong Kiang drawing the larger-than-life Ahmad Zakii Anwar holding a revolver, as an inside joke. Chong Siew Ying’s idyllic couple is meant to hang above a holiday villa settee, while the moody avatar by Zakii and Arif Fauzan’s hesitant women suit house owners looking for less cheery but more atmospheric pictures. Less discerning folks may opt for yet another heroic gesture by Bayu Utomo Radjikin, or the crude and awkwardly executed nude by Chong Ai Lei.

Shia Yih Yiing (2014) -
under SCORE
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Representing the Fklub collective, Bayu talks about obscured countenance in an interview, “(…) while faces easily give up their tales, the body speaks in a different language”, but the true subject matter here is scale. Referencing a popular theme from artists past, Fadilah Karim’s ‘The Lonesome Painter’ depicts her small figure curled up on a chair in the painting’s centre, its composition circumventing the need to enlarge the body, as surrounding easels are captured from a straightforward angle. More adventurous is Gan Chin Lee, who chooses a more difficult perspective to illustrate two sisters, the foreshortening of the figure done well but less so for the bed frame. One revelation is how nostalgic pictures fail when scale is amplified, as seen in the lacklustre fish-eye views presented by Chin Kong Yee, and in Cheong Tuck Wai’s peeling texture on a giant boy’s face.

Gan Chin Lee - Self and other (2014) [picture from 速寫本子 web log]

Despite its grandiose display at Singapore Art Stage, Marvin Chan’s crucifix creation gets the white wall treatment in the Malaysian show, his self-censorship contributing to the ongoing narrative about figuration within local art history. The best works project contemporary concerns, from Hisyamuddin Abdullah’s surprisingly appealing ‘DramaKing’, to one bleak painting with bleached animals by Shia Yih Yiing, to the framed mind maps of Phuan Thai Meng’s students. Recent aeroplane tragedies imbue “So Close yet So Far” by Chan Kok Hooi with an unintentional sense of longing, neutralising perversion with introspection. The realisation here is not that large figurative depictions are outmoded; rather, it is the capitalist mode of art trading that renders such artful statement-making individual property, which is the issue at hand.

Installation snapshot of Marvin Chan - Desecration of the Temple (2014) [painting at Marvin Chan's tumblr]