Play Dead by Guo Liang

Resonance of Painting Painting

Play Dead by Tan Guo Liang. Images with permission from the artist

The title of this private exhibition made reference to Paul Delaroche’s much quoted remarks  after seeing a Daguerreotype in 1839:” … from today, painting is dead.” Then, Delaroche was concerned with painting as a tool and ‘technology’ to represent the visible world.  Painting straddled the dual purpose of serving as historical markers, bearers of historical events or persons, as well as serving churches, rich merchants and aristocrats, as symbols of authority, wealth and power. With the invention of the Daguerreotype, the predecessor of film photography, and grandfather of digital photography as we know it, Delaroche feared painting would fall from grace, become less ‘useful’ or ‘relevant’ to the world. Like a period pre-revolution drama, Delaroche feared the execution of painting.

The title playfully suggest the opposite. It suggests instead an escape. A tongue in cheek defiance and reprisal of  issues with painting as a media of representation – painting wasn’t simply left for dead, it was freed and no longer constrained. Painting, both the physical act, and as an object never quite left the contemporaneous art scene either. Paintings instead, have become important markers and references for art in itself — art for art sake. As important markers, they often represented the audience, their state of acceptance for what is art more so than what art means to the artist.

The paintings by Guoliang bear a certain resemblance to his source of inspiration, Edouard Manet’s more obscure subject matter, flowers. On closer inspection, the paintings are as much a study on flowers as they are about a study on texture, brush strokes and subtle colour combinations. The controlled brushstrokes appear liberated and adrift. They appear to form, and break away again, held only by our preconception of how an image is constructed. Delivering the essence of painting, flowers are an excuse to paint painting itself.

This private exhibition is significant in two ways. Firstly, it is the first time the series painted over 6 years has seen the light of day collectively. The series never looked better, resonating convincingly the intended demeanor of what it means to practise painting today. Painting today meant embracing the historical baggages of painting, yet taking liberties to circumvent it. Secondly, it challenges the issue of viewership, the inherent need for art to be seen, recognised and appreciated. The series here is intended for a small invited viewership, the information broadcasted to a select audience through email and Facebook. Throngs of spectators were kept out, only participants were invited. This is an intriguing thought, deferring from our regular obsession with viewership numbers.

The status of painting in Singapore have always been perceived as a fad, ebbing within different spheres of influences. In art schools, you could be a painter, but not painting because painting just isn’t hip enough sometimes. In the news,  only record sales of paintings in the millions at overseas auctions hit the headlines. Other art forms will arguably be more sensational and news worthy. But art, at the heart of the matter, isn’t about catching or seizing the fad. For the artist, it is about bringing an intended message through an artwork; to the viewer, it is finding a connection with an artwork, a resonance with themselves.

7.0 of 10 stars

Link to a Quicktime VR movie of the exhibition space. You will need a quicktime plugin to play the file.
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