Monthly Archives: April 2010

Harry by Ong Hui Har

The portrait of a family man

Harry Lee Kuan Yew

The recent paintings by Ong Hui Har are a far cry from her earlier, embryo-like, abstract marble-textured paintings. Resembling enigmatic studies of the microscopic realm, or far away galaxies, they marvel the viscosity of oil and water-based pigments in different medium. Both of us were trained at Goldsmiths College, and familiar with the fad of flat backgrounds, seen the works of Michael Craig-Martin or Lisa Milroy which had a familiar flat graphic element. Michael Craig-Martin and Lisa Milroy, painters, were familiar names in the teaching fraternity at Goldsmiths in the late 1990s. A greater surprise to a few who knew my paintings from a couple of years ago, Ong and I now had a common subject matter.

It would be easier to describe some of the paintings, write about the intention behind the works and their significance in the brief painterly traditions of art in Singapore.

The works in this exhibition have flat coloured backgrounds, making the subject suspend in mid-air, much like how Patrick Caulfield would have been interested in depicting flatness, and illusionary space. The foreground, consists of numerous nostalgic, grey-scale figures in various poses. The paintings depict our Minister Mentor, Mr Lee Kuan Yew in his youth and private leisure as a family man – a child, a young man, a husband, a father and a grandfather. These paintings were perhaps based on images from his numerous biographies or portraits for articles. Taken out of context, and thrown into an ambiguous flat background, we are force to speculate the original location the image was primarily situated. The new image, is dislocated. They have uncannily candid poses that are most intriguing to observe. This adds to the stark contrast of the politician identity this family man wears, a moot point of this series of paintings: to paint another perspective of the serious man we are acquainted with, mediated by the mass media. Here, we are shown a different interpretation, a family man.

The most successful paintings in the exhibition, is a pair of paintings depicting Mr and Mrs Lee posing in front of the Bridge of Sigh, St. John’s College in Cambridge, United Kingdom. The first painting, depicts the couple in their twenties, and the other, twenty years on. The sfumato successfully blurs the hard edges of his clothing and gentle wrinkles, bringing focus to an optical and painterly blur in balance. The expressions are relaxed, catching an exquisite likeness to what we know the public figures to be. The body language is telling, from a youthful slump to a sombre, confident stance. The grey scale painted couple is distinguished from the light lilac background of a duotone image of the Bridge of Sigh.

The Pop-styled use of a plain, bright background also places Ong with other Singaporean painters such as Eric Chan or David Chan. Like Chan, the plain background derives its influence form silkscreen pop art and the intention to isolate the subject matter. This is stark contrast with the socio-historical paintings of Chua Mia Tee, Lee Boon Wang, or Koh Sia Yong. Like many of the other contemporary Singapore painters, the flat background is borrowed stylistically but used to different effect and on different subject matter. It is too early to tell if this is a new stylistic innovation in painting in Singapore, as only time can tell. One can imagine that flat backgrounds are an easy way out to depicting a claustrophobic background, cluttered with activity. The flat background also simultaneously resembles sterile, clinical, studio passport photographs. A flat background does facilitate scrutiny of the subject matter. The association to kitsch or psychedelic bright colours is unavoidable but not intentional. Kitsch, an extant, outlandish appeal to youth culture, here they are not. In ‘MUJI’ aesthetics, one should consider them as minimal and more wabi-sabi in aesthetics than cost-time-cutting measures.

While a little more is desired in depicting likeness or absolute authoritarian attention to realism, the paintings as a series resonates what it sets of to do: examine on canvas, the image of the leisure of the man so iconically linked to our national identity. In that sense, it touches on issues of privacy and publicity of public figureheads. How much do we have a right to know, and not know? But one must admit, as paintings do brilliantly romanticise the subject matter These scenes are doubly selected: by the photographers that took these, omitting others, or excluded by the artists ploughing through grey-scaled photographs-illustrated biographies. One might have been more intrigued by a universal exposition or dichotomy of private versus public, leisure versus work. But by that interest, perhaps it would have been more useful to examine the lives of more people, important or less important.

As a first solo, this exhibition represents a step out of the shadows in a long while for the artist. As a first step, she could not have picked a more subtle but edgy subject matter that interests us exactly for the same reason the biographies interests us.

Arts House Gallery
31 Mar – 4 April, 2010

With Love by KC Poh

threading music with colour and tone

With Love by KC Poh

Click the image above to see more pictures.

The recent works by printmaker KC Poh may startle a few, resembling an orchestrated installation with thread, resembling ledger lines on a musical score, home-made rope, a nest-like mesh wrapped around a pillar, and a cone of discarded yarn. Lit unsatisfactorily by a mix of fluorescent and incandescent halogen spots, these threads hug the wall, revealing the uneven imperfections of the rough wall. They remind one of Khiew Huey Chian’s installation (Eg. seen in Found & Lost)  with thread, creating a near invisible rainbow that separates a space. But here, they are used for a different purpose, perhaps a symbolism of love in Chinese folklore,  such as the story of Cowherd and the Weaver, or symbolism of knowledge in Mencius’ Mother Cuts Threads on the Loom.

As part of the Mosaic festival, one can safely assume that the artist wanted an association with music. The different parts of the installation could perhaps be interpreted as suggesting different genres of music: classical, baroque, jazz; or resemblance to musical string instruments, such as the 17 string Japanese zither, the koto seen in the 17 spindle of industrial sized thread of harmonious colours and tones.

The title of the installation does not stitch as much one would love to see. Another possible interpretation of the title, is the suggestion that the work was ‘created with love’, for the passerby. The threads mean untangling, or being tangled in, relaxing, busking in music. Despite most of the crowd hurrying pass the work, some tourists and locals alike stop to take gleeful candid portraits, showing appreciation of the artist’s unusual signature of affection for 3 dimensional lines drawn in space. The work in this simple light, does provide some colours and tones and a near perfect rest, an interval of silence, in the transitional passageway.

12 Mar – 4 Apr, 2010
Esplanade Tunnel

Green City II: A Collective Memory of Moving Images in Contemporary Painting

“…Conceptual as they are painterly, and signaling a clear break with material awareness…” (exhibition text)

The recent paintings by Ng Joon Kiat break new ground, challenging the norm of layering the canvas with progressive layers of oil paint. Instead, he has used can-full of paint to create the ultimate sculptural brush mark. Behind the green impasto paint, lie painted television stills or anonymous stills of ‘destruction’, ‘national identity’, ‘landscapes’. This series is enigmatic and a subtle critique of the pace of atrophy, decay and loss of memory, not unlike alzheimer’s, represented in pictorial form.

Like his earlier works from the exhibition Imagining a Geographical Presence (2007), there is a conceptual and physical play with notions of landscape. The textured, impasto oil paint seem to form macro landscapes, themselves floating on the canvas. His preoccupation with geographical landscapes is understandable, given the limitation of land in Singapore. Those with the privilege of travel to other continents, would recall the sense of being overwhelmed by vast mountain ranges, clear blue unbound sea or majestic untamed forests. Or the 2 minute fly over our island when departing would be sufficient contrast against the time it takes to cross from Perth to Sydney, crossing timezones and unfamiliar land forms. The idea of the ‘moving images’ isn’t as well represented, as one is denied immediate recognition, or intimacy with familiar stills from local television. One questions the anonymity of these images, as well as the realism, attention to detail in which they fail to achieve. The only vaguely familiar ones are those depicting ‘national television icons’ related to national identity such as “Teamy, the Productivity Bee” and Singapore Broadcasting Corporation’s Wu Suo Nan Yang (1980s).

The more successful paintings in the series do not try to be pictorially complicated. The two Untitled large paintings by the entrance,  the diptych titled World is made by TV Programme and the last painting in the curved Jendela space have differences that worked pictorially: the use of a monochrome background image, rhythmic pattern-like background, or  flat, plain background.  This allows the foreground impasto paint to standout, and balance the pictorial depth of the painting. The elegant, curious balance of background and immediate impasto surface is held in harmony. The diptych is perhaps the most iconic of what the artist wanted to achieve. Using a simple image of a cartesian world map, the green land masses start to disintegrate against the black ocean. The deliberate green drips and ‘cracks’ add to the aesthetic appeal, and suggests a more powerful treatment of the kind of abstraction, simplification yet reminisce of a television image not found in the other paintings in the series.

Jendela (Visual Arts Space)

12 MAR 2010, FRI –
4 APR 2010, SUN