Monthly Archives: December 2007

drawing breath: 10 years of the Jerwood Drawing Prize

For once, I am at peace with the context and content of the traveling exhibition “drawing breath”. The title relates to the energy and excitement the possibilities that drawing holds, and the range of possibilities that drawing presents to any artist. The over 90 works presented a strong and meticulous survey of the exploratory nature of drawing, as well as an art form on par with oil painting. Drawing, at the root of any artistic production is necessary. It remains the sanctity of creative processes to the visual person, often being the first contact between an idea and fruition.

From the educator’s perspective, drawing lies in the precarious position of introducing ‘art’ to a child. Drawing constitutes a child’s first experience with art making. It entertains, animates and stirs imaginations of the young.

Pablo Picasso once said “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up”. Everybody was once a child. Taking the quote further, we stop being artists when we stop drawing. To continue to be creative individuals, we have to continue to indulge in in creating; drawing, in its various guises and degrees of finish.

The finishing, hanging and body of work is impressive, perhaps even superseding that of the local withdrawing exhibition in 2006, also at the NAFA galleries. For those who have seen this exhibition, and I do wish more art students could have seen this if not for the school holidays, would have found this more than a breath of fresh air to our visual understanding of drawing.

7.0 of 10 stars, more if only it was better timed, and had better supporting educational activities

NAFA galleries 1&2
Dec 1 – 21, 2007

Other link and review of the same travelling exhibition:
Wimbledon College of Art exhibition listing, 2006
John McDonald’s review in The Sydney Morning Herald, March 17, 2007


Estranged and disappointingly ambitious


Singaporeans are hardly ironic as a nation. The title is immediately at odds with the display when you enter the gallery. Tourists, yes, we want them, but irony is evasive, and conservative mostly we are. But that’s besides the point to make this a disappointing show. The recent work by local artist Dan Yeo may shock the average viewer, challenge mild gallery goers, raise an eyebrow or two in the art practising community for different reasons.


The work features a make believe gallow, complete with a noose stuck to the neck of a comic wooden cut-out to pop your head through. In the background, a cut-out collage of the City Hall, fireworks, presumably appropriated from the Singapore Tourism Board publicity material, accompanied by the soundtrack of happy national day songs. The message is not subtle, presenting a suggestion of death penalties as a tourist attraction.  I was told public executions or punishments are possible grim visits at certain places on this planet. It is shocking and unacceptable because it is simply too grim to juxtaposed our beloved “uniquely Singapore” with an image of the gallows, no matter how hilarious the comic-style is, and how juvenile this is compared to ‘Happy Tree Friends” in a horror rating index. No, we are too serious for that.

The work is challenging to the average gallery goer because the visuals are very tacky, raw and, almost work in progress. the edginess, as I would like to call it, is there in concept but hardly in its execution (sic). The works may remind us of the threat of global terrorism, a very irrational phenomenon to few but very real to many. This work tries to jolt us from our comfortable realities, or at least distract us from the rising costs of living, by placing a backdrop of materialism and national propaganda, against a foreground of possible ‘random death’ symbolised by the noose and gallows.

This work may disturb those in the artistic circles because of the finish of the work, failing in persistence. This falls short of using a real city skyline, as opposed to transparency projections and taking to the streets to push the irony of ‘tourism by death’. Instead, it is safely tucked aside, promising none of the role play stated in the press release, and offering none of the picturesque tourist attractions, or conceptual, quaint, macabre humour of conquering the fear of death.

The work has potential, best appreciated as a work in progress and with a large dosage of salt.

See Your Mother Gallery’s website for the press release:

Exhibition is open to public until 7 January 2008.
By appointment only, please contact the following: Your MOTHER Gallery, Tel:+65-6396 3310 or (+65) 97877874.

The Big Picture Show

In line with Singapore Art Museum’s mission which is dedicated to the collection and display of Southeast Asian modern and contemporary art, a selection of large paintings from the Singapore Art Museum’s collection representing many countries in Southeast Asia and Asia will be on display.

The show has been divided into four themes. They are: Imagined Spaces; Larger than Life; Horizon: Poetic Landscapes and finally Horizon: The Built Up City.

(Imagined Spaces Room, image with the kind permission of SAM)

Blatantly obvious, straight to the point, kitsch title aside, the exhibition is an impressive collection of large two dimensional works, highlighting the museum’s commitment to collect significant works, representative of South East Asia. For a painter, embarking on a large painting is no dimple feat of enlarging your work. Special considerations like viewing distance, height clearance through the doorways, enormous costs of framing, even lighting are paramount, and well thought through here.

For the art viewer, the concept of ‘horizon’ is explored by the curators, where larger paintings allow the viewer to be engulfed by their peripheral vision, and this occurs not just in an illusionary perspective sense, but in an abstract sense – shaped filled colours, stoked splashes and evocative strokes suggesting a need for formalistic appreciation of the paintings as a record of spontaneity. The peripheral is also explored by the suggestion of ills of a developing asia, using complex symbolism and layered compositions in the room Horizon: A Built Up City.

For local artists, the works do inspire, bringing new scope and scale to possibilities within the surfaces of painting. Strategies like ‘paneling’, dividing the massive picture plane into smaller manageable rectangles are new possibilities for many.

If the practical issues of provenance and ownership were not limited, other large painters like German artist Georg Baselitz (click here for a link to a December show at the Royal Academy, London), famous for his up-side down paintings, or even American artist Julian Schnabel, that once made room filled installations child’s play compared to the scale of his paintings in an exhibition at the South London Gallery in 1999.

As a strong curatorial contrast, and a more appealing title the Hayward Gallery in London is staging The Painting of Modern Life (Oct 3 – Dec 30, 2007) , highlighting the development of contemporary painting from the angle of a translation and manipulation of photographic images into paintings. [Click on the link to see an interview with Ralph Rugoff, Director of the Hayward, giving insight into how large ‘realistic’ paintings are made]

While the interests of the artists are wide ranging, the 4 rooms do serve as reference points to appreciate the scale of the works. While a big success of the exhibition is not guaranteed where big is necessarily better, and  because of the title, the size is emphasized more than content, it is a block buster exhibition with something for everyone and not to be missed.

(Students in front of Unfinished Painting Of The Present by Edgar Talusan Fernandez, 3.67m by 6.12m, Collection of Singapore Art Museum, image with the kind permission of SAM)

7.0 of 10 stars

Singapore Art Museum
14 September 2007 to 23 March 2008