Henry Butcher Malaysian & SEA Auction Preview @ White Box

The art auctioneer threads cautiously in this uncertain economic climate, quoting curiously low estimates for small works by Latiff Mohidin and Ibrahim Hussein.  The Chang Fee Ming that graces its catalogue cover is new and grossly expensive, while the smaller but more interesting painting of a Bali wedding scene is under-valued.  Ethnic Chinese artists typically fetch unpredictably high prices, but a gem is spotted in Chia Yu Chian's 'Calligrapher at Work'.  Red + black, and Chinese calligraphy cover the painting, whilst the middle-aged man hones this traditional craft for a living, oblivious to his immediate surroundings.

Chia Yu Chian - Calligrapher at Work (1970)

A scratching technique carves through the oil paint in Ismail Mustam's 'Ribut', illustrating an active landscape where trees sway in the violent wind.  It is remarkable that this skilful execution was by the artist when he was only 16 years old!  Ismail's mentor Patrick Ng elongates his dancing subjects El Greco-style, manipulating space to create a calm gracefulness.  Older works like Abdullah Ariff's violet swirls, and Tan Choon Ghee's ink temple, are excellent representations of their respective styles.  A timeless quality pervades Khalil Ibrahim's abstract work, where its sinuous forms combine to make a beautiful aesthetic.

Ismail Mustam - Ribut (1959)

Viewing the living artists represented, I felt the estimates provided were conservative for Ahmad Zakii Anwar, Ismail Mat Hussin, and Chong Siew Ying.  Ahmad Zakii's monoprint + etching is a show stopper, and Siew Ying's laughing figures draw parallels with the famous Yue Minjun.  Artists that display a potential to command rising prices in the local art auctions are Fauzul Yusri and Haron Mokhtar.  Among young contemporaries, I think Najib Ahmad Bamadhaj's 'Black Figure' should easily command a price five times its estimate.  The mysterious shadow is a simple drawing, but cuts a potent figure that forces the viewer into a state of deeper self-awareness.

Khalil Ibrahim - Untitled (Abstract) (1969)

Only one sculpture and two photographs are on the block, indicating that Malaysian collectors still hold painting as a superior form of fine art.  With 90% sold in the past five Henry Butcher auctions, the art auction fever shows no signs of cooling down, and kudos to HB for producing its best catalogue yet, with sufficiently informative and interesting write-ups for each lot.

Najib Ahmad Bamadhaj - Black Figure Series (2010)