Style and Imagination, NAFA Collection

A  Considerable Arrangement of Titillating figures

Curator’s text quotes: 

“The fourth installment of Style & Imagination, A Changeling Form takes a thematic view of figurative works from the academy’s collection. Artists such as Cheong Soo Pieng, Chen Chong Swee and Tay Chee Toh, grounded in the traditions of western painting, find new vigour in presenting the asian figure in the nude, portraiture and its socio-cultural contexts. Representations of the human figure in both western and eastern styles can be comparatively different, offering us a new perspective and appreciation in culture and art making.”

This is a pretty, straight forward exhibition that will intrigue artists and audiences alike, comparing the stylistic differences across a range of traditional fine art media in the depiction body, portrait, and of identities. The media include woodcut prints, Chinese traditional inks on paper, watercolours, and oils on canvases.

What is intriguing is perhaps the dfferences of ‘representation’ of the human form – direct, abstract, direct-anonymous (where the identity of the sitter is of little concern), abstract-anonymous – and the technical competency of these works.  For example, Nelson Calderon’s “Sin Titulo”, best described as ‘abstract anonymous’, marbling application of acrylic paint in a surreal landscape with rock-like nudes are a little kitsch but enjoying to look at. Chua Say Hua’s “Happiness with Joy”, a cubist-like rendering of 2 figures, or possible a confused person, could also be described as ‘abstract anonymous’. I think the interest and intention of the artist was in the fragmentation of the picture plane, more than recording any ‘real’ scene. The confusion here, is perhaps the interest point of the work.

The advantages of recording a real scene, can perhaps be seen in the watercolour portrait of the pregnant wife Tay Chee Toh (I hope I got the artist’s name remembered correctly). It radiates because it heightens our memory of how such a scene will look like, more than what a straight photograph or confusing painting or paintings that need a look of work to decipher can offer.  The strokes in the traditional ink portraits contain a certain life-force, an aggregation of calligraphy and mild action-painting. The other direct paintings in the show,  nudes are contemplative rather than shocking, though a younger audience may still squirm a little.

The arrangement of the works are considered by subject matter and media. What is most disturbing to me is, the empty white wall that faces the door leading to the streets. The second most disturbing thing, is the dodgy poor lighting, my mother with poor eye sight will complain of.  

This exhibition is not like unveiling Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon “(1907). Scandalous and subsequently revolutionary. It is really a brief survey into the fragmentation of representation, the fragmentation of life as we view it, in pace with modernity. What will be a good follow-up, will be a contemporary rendition of ‘style and imagnation’ in the shelters of art, in the arena of contemporary photography, video, and installation. It is perhaps in this shelter, we can take stock of what means most to artists, and how they see and represent our collective contemporary lives.

3.0 of 5 stars 

Till March 2007

NAFA Gallery 3

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