Resurrecting Paintings by Jeremy Hiah

tongue-in-cheek rebuttal to “the death of painting”

Resurrecting Paintings by Jeremy Hiah

Images with permission from the artist and post-museum

The “death of painting” was never given a proper autopsy, nor was the time of death properly pronounced. Some would have it dealt a deadly blow by photography in the 1830s as a maturing, newer technology that gave representation a new meaning and new challenge; some would add that it came when “video killed the radio star” and video art offered a new dimension to art expression.

The centre piece of the exhibition could arguably be a statement for art. Parading as a portrait for artists he admired or showed disdain for – “D. Hirst, F. Lijun, J. Koons”, it looks out of place with outlandish gold-coloured frames and hand-painted text. A soft toy is tied to the canvas and stoking the tail between its leg brings it to life, a restrained dance of sorts. Such is the humour of Jeremy Hiah, the artist of a new kind of action painting – those that move with simple toggles or switches from disassembled toys. These action paintings, like toys for the contemporary art connoisseur tackle the accusation that painting is static. Instead, they whirl, purr with blinking lights and tacky tones. It is kitsch in Jeff Koon’s sense, using Damien Hirst aesthetics ready-mades or animals in a “deconstructed” manner and as satirical and cynical like Fang Lijun’s illustrative canvases.

Unlike other bad boy painters that are all angst with little painterly consideration, Hiah’s work possess a certain lyricism and poetic charm. The titles match the mechanism, the twirls that fit the imagination of the artist. Derived from multiple popular culture and literary influences, the paintings have a certain consistency that challenges the status of the medium. Must it be realistic? Must it be static? Must it be serious, oh… please? The strongest element that creeps from the paintings are the use of animals – which we are reminded of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, and 1984. The image of a holy cow, a sacred animal to Hinduisim graces 3 paintings like Madonna would to early Christian paintings – except the narrative here is totally dreamlike and personal to the artist.

The meaning of the paintings are as eclectic as Mother Goose’ stories. To decipher his paintings is as difficult as overcoming the fear of touching the paintings – another taboo of the painterly world. Price tag aside, the fear is also entrenched by good behaviour enforced by museums and strict viewer protocols. Hiah challenges these rules, like many good artists; Pablo Picasso, Jean-Michel Basquiat or Paul McCarthy had an axe to grind against the establishment.

The better works in the exhibition dealt with the space more thoroughly and thoughtfully. The sense of depth of these allowed the singular mechanism to work un-interrupted in the uncluttered composition. here, desirably, Less is more.

6 – 18 Apr 2010, Post-Museum


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