Confession time: I like this song! It’s odd cos I don’t like Maroon 5 and I don’t particularly care for Christina Aguilera. Am I selling out? But I really do like this song…
The art fair will bring together Asia Pacific’s finest and emerging artists and will be a most awesome marketplace for artists, art collectors, art lovers and those in the business (commercial/public galleries, dealers, art professionals) to converge and talk shop.
I could’ve gone — last week, Ivan Lam (Malaysian contemporary artist) dropped me a text message asking if I would love to give some coverage on the event — but the obligations of starting a new job got in the way. Speaking of Ivan. He is previewing his latest solo there, and if you know me, you know I’m a fan. I understand that the reception to his latest collection has been amazing.
In my mind’s eye, I see the iconic Marina Bay Sands filled with representatives from 90 art galleries and people from all over the world. The hubbub of conversations sound like a gentle yet electrifying hum as people share ideas and discuss and admire art.
Sure, this is no Basel, but if I know Singapore (I am proudly Malaysian, but, hey, credit has to be given where it is due), this will be one hell of a show. And I believe if things go well, regional art and its practitioners will achieve a greater integration and cohesion and be more challenged to produce better works, comparable to (or would even surpass) that of the West and Europe.
ART Stage International ends on Jan 16th. Good news for the unfortunate souls (like me) who couldn’t make it this time: the fair will be an annual one.
For more details, click here.
Photo credit in this review: Tara Sosrowardoyo, Ahmad Zakii Anwar & RogueArt
HERE’S a very readable book on contempary art. Working, published by art consultancy group RogueArt is one of those rare reads on the making of art — the process of creation, the thinking behind the making and how the artist’s space and tools correspond with the creative process and its outcome.
From a personal standpoint, literature on local contemporary art can sometimes sound a little stuffy-upper-crusty. Sharon Chin says: “Why must curators and critics write in a so-called ‘objective’ or distanced way (often resulting in the use of jargon) in order to seem authoritative?” (Read her full article here). To be fair, though, I believe that the usage of jargon is sometimes unavoidable, particularly where critical art writing is concerned.
But first, to put things into perspective. Yes, the artistic landscape has become a lot livelier in recent years with all the art shows and launches that’s been going on; however, this is not reflected in the art literature and resource material (exhibition catalogues not included) that are available. Sad, but true. There are a number of reasons for this including shortage of specialist writers, limited or inadequate funding, the lack of people to mobilise such literary endeavours, and not enough interest from the general public (but this, IMHO, presents a chicken-and-egg scenario). And because of that, I am glad for the existence of the Arteri site, as well as SentAp! and ArtMalaysia magazines which help keep Malaysians updated with what’s happening in the art world.
Back to the subject: Working makes for another interesting addition to the current stash of art literature out there.
The book is sectioned according to its 10 featured artists: painters Ahmad Fuad Osman, Ahmad Shukri Mohamed, Ahmad Zakii Anwar, Chong Siew Ying, Hamir Soib, Kow Leong Kiang, and Jalaini Abu Hassan (Jai); sculptors Raja Shariman Raja Aziddin and Ramlan Abdullah, and Yee I-Lann, who works with photomedia. In terms of selection criteria, the artists are contemporaries in their artistic maturity and standing in the industry; it would be difficult to have a fair ‘comparison’ without a level playing field, says RogueArt director Adeline Ooi.
Working is extremely accessible with no use of jargon, so even the uninitiated will find this a breeze. The writers have employed a basic question-and-answer style, giving it a very candid and, for want of a better word, intimate feel. The layout is tasteful and similar to that of high society magazines or coffee table books, with large copy and even larger photographs, many of which are spread across two pages. What also helps to set the mood is the forward, which describes how interviews were conducted as well as some important observations. This gives readers an idea of what to look out for and helps them understand why some questions were asked and how they related to the topic at large.
I was most drawn to the studio and its importance to the artists. Artists often work in solitude and the studio is, after all, the inner sanctum, the Most Holy Place to which they withdraw to do battle within themselves and begin the process of creation. Thus, the presence of cameras and strangers in their studio was a severe invasion of privacy. Asking them questions like how they made art rather than what a particular work is about (which is far more common) also presented a challenge simply because many artists work instinctively, regardless if they created from a preconceived image or from the subconscious. In many cases, the interviewers had to conduct patch interviews to ‘fill in the blanks’.
Another highlight of great importance and interest for me was the artists’ favourite tools/objects. These often hold some kind of ‘special powers’ for the artists — a talisman, if you will — and range from ‘magic’ brushes (in Fuad’s case, it is an old, very keras brush), to a pair of ‘magic’ pants (Zakii paints with his ‘magic’ Calvin Klein khakis) and even the studio walls (Hamir, who paints large-scale works cannot do without huge spaces to prop his canvases).
Brief biographies of the artists have been thoughtfully included at the end of each section for the benefit of those interested.
Of course, pictures say a thousand words and what added to Working‘s allure was the beautiful photography by principal photographer, Indonesian Tara Sosrowardoyo whose portfolio happens to include seven TIMES covers and more. It helped that Tara is interested in and familiar with the local art scene and his photographs gave Working a warm, fuzzy kind of familiarity. Photo credit must also be given to Zakii who took quite a number of shots for the book.
Understandably, Working is not an all-encompassing representation of how Malaysian artists-at-large create art; to try and feature more artists than these 10 would deviate from its actual focus group, not to mention becoming overkill. Too much of a good thing, as they say…
Like every project, there is bound to be a naysayer or two out there. One can criticise on the selection of artists (smacking of cronyism, imbalanced, inaccurate representation), to the purpose of the project (vainglory, indulgence of ego) or even its size (too big, too difficult to read), but then we all know the saying, ‘those who can — do; those who can’t — criticise’. At the end of the day, the point is that these people have done something for art, nevermind their intentions.
It is important to add that Working was entirely self-financed from the proceeds of artworks sold by the featured artists (one artwork per artist) early this year. The book will be donated to local art educational institutions, libraries and galleries and is already available in bookstores. For more information, read my article in the Star here.
Since we’re on the subject of the article, I’d like to say that the interview process was fun. For one thing, it gave me an excuse to meet these personalities without having to rack my brains for a topic of conversation. Those of you whose internal public relations mode occasionally breaks down will agree with me that having a preset conversation topic is a blessing.
In my original copy, I had included some quotes by the project committee members which gave the story a more casual feel, and also allowed the reader a more intimate grasp of what the team had faced in the making of Working. However, space ruled (as it always does in the newsroom), and those quotes were, unfortunately, omitted — not that it in anyway altered the gist of the story.
The committee also mentioned the possibility of making the book or a part of it available online to increase its accessibility once distribution is sorted out. Keeping my fingers crossed and hoping it happens. Also hoping for more literature on Malaysian art. Keep it coming!
Attention everybody: there will be an art sale at The Gallery @ Starhill in Starhill Kuala Lumpur in November.
From the sound of it, this appears to be an event that revolves around former art students. For one, the gallery is looking for original artworks from students that cost not more than RM1,000. Art students who have graduated within the last five years are also needed to organise the event. If you happen to fulfill both criteria, here’s your lucky break — you get to organise an art sale, possibly have full control over peddling your own wares AND network, too. Who knows, you might get your lucky break here.
So, if your work falls under the category of “contemporary work across all media, from paintings, print and photographs to sculptures and more”, you can pay a visit to Chin Chin at The Gallery @ Starhill on the Muse Floor of Starhill shopping centre in Kuala Lumpur, or post a reply below with your contact details, and I will pass on the message.
But be quick about it. Time’s running out.
IF you were to study the history of Malaysian art, you will notice a dearth in figurative studies in the 1970s as a result of an Islamisation policy formed under the National Cultural Congress of 1971. Thus figurative works and portraits took a back seat; in its place, a concentration on arabesques, repeating motifs and other Islamic design elements.
I remember doing an interview with Bayu Utomo Radjikin (artist and member of the Matahati outfit) some years ago following his return from a two-year hiatus in Britain. At the time, he was co-curating a group exhibition themed Mind, Body & Soul 2 at the Wei-Ling Gallery with owner Lim Wei-Ling.
We were discussing, briefly, about the disappearance of figurative studies in the local art scene and Bayu had reasoned that one other cause was a lack of focus on the subject in local art schools — perhaps an inevitable and related outcome, in hindsight.
Thankfully enough, this was not a permanent phenomenon. For what would art be without the artistic deification of the human body?
“There are angles, proportions and even calculations involved. Contrary to popular assumption, drawing a human body, in any artistic interpretation – even abstract – is a challenge,” Bayu had said during that interview.
I couldn’t agree more. Particularly since my artistic talent encapsulates all of stick figure drawings and other sketches and doodles of indeterminate nature. It would be sad if people like me could no longer admire the talents of those who can do (far) more justice to the human figure.
Ostensibly then, Mind, Body & Soul 2 was meant to resurrect artistic appreciation of the human body.
I’ve always loved figurative and portrait paintings — not the sort you find at Central Market, mind you. No offence meant to all CM artists, of course. I do respect their talent; however, I am no fan of such..umm…’literal’ art. I was referring to works of our crop of contemporary or ‘higher’ artists, for want of a better term: there is that much more flair in their painterly oeuvre, so to speak.
But, I digress.
It was at Wei-Ling Gallery that I first came across Marvin Chan; I was there to do an announcement piece on a show entitled 3 New Voices in 2008. His series of works entitled Letters to my Unborn Child — Mercurial Times, was shown alongside those of two other emerging artists, Hasanul Idris and Liong Mei-Yin. A self-taught artist with an illustrious (and award-winning) advertising background, Marvin concentrates mainly on figurative paintings.
I was awed by the detail of his work, his talent and the fact that a man with so much going on in his day job would give it all up for the unpredictable world of painting (yes, and while we’re at it, let’s go back to the word ‘self-taught’). While it’s rather trite (and disparaging) to presume that full-time artists barely make a decent buck, it is a fact that not all artists earn a huge packet from their work. Not everyone can command a five- or six-figure paycheck like, oh, say… Syed Ahmad Jamal? Ibrahim Hussein? Jai? Jolly Koh? Latiff Mohidin? Or Bayu. The road to creating a painting worth more than the total sale of me and my grandmother is a long and arduous one. For some, it is virtually impossible. Heh.
Marvin, to me, demonstrates a firm grasp of his subject. He has used various approaches to depict the human form and, at times, humanity through the human body/expression — from paintings and backgrounds of bold colour and full form to monochromatic and chiaroscuro-esque hues, or that which include white spaces, unfinished lines and some degree of effects.
See, the beauty about being a self-taught artist is this: you have nothing to lose, not as much as those who have gone to art school or who descend from a family of prodigious artists. You can experiment however you wish and none of those toffee-nosed gits can say “Hey, don’t you know this colour/stroke/technique is not right?” because, well, you didn’t know! Ignorance is bliss and you can pretty much try out whatever and wing it. And if it works, whoa, that’s what we call talent and a great eye. But if it sucks, you never knew anyway since you’re pretty fresh on the block. Nobody could blame you. Still, being a freshie and going at it with guns blazing into the fray with old-timers and their brand of politics can be pretty daunting.
Not that Marvin is too perturbed (some degree of thick skin doth go a long way). He’s plodded on since, hasn’t he? In 2010, he began to concentrate solely on the face and its myriad expressions. “Faces in some ways are a kind of anamorphic mirror showing us our location in their perception, by showing us signs in their expression or the way they turn their faces,” he says. Compared to his earlier work, the 2010 collection of portraits are executed using thick brushstrokes against stark, white background. It’s all about beauty in the ordinary; the expression of the face telling a million stories to the viewer.
Come Oct 25, Marvin will be graduating into a different hierarchy, so to speak: his first solo exhibition will be showing at Wei-Ling Gallery. The solo collection — fresh off the mint — is the result of a self-discovery process which unfolded amid his desire to have children and the realisation of how his mind works. The show, entitled The Inconsequential Consequence of Hope depicts close-up images of children’s faces constructed through a collection of multi-hued triangles — a reflection of how the artist triangulates marks to locate and render an image (watch video here).
What makes Marvin’s work interesting is also his fascinating personality. Behind the quirky, playful facade and witty banter, lies a highly critical and creative mind.
A recent participation in an art residency programme in Vermont this year resulted in another slew of cleverly executed and ‘interactive’ paintings of his fellow artists-in-residence. This, for me, has taken Marvin a step further from the academic, conventional style of portrait painting. The Vermont works are constructed or accompanied by recycled material which describes his perception of the subject’s idiosyncrasies, personality and character — to a certain extent.
“These works are a combination of painting, recycled materials and found objects which I put together to make portraits of people I meet. I use the packaging from the things they use or consume, I sometimes supplement the work with found objects to underscore an aspect or a story of the person. I did these in Vermont studio center to make a cumulative representation of the artist community there,” Marvin explains. And because these boxes contained the food consumed by the artists, there is therefore a more personal connection with the subjects. Oh well, but that’s just be me trying to sound clever 🙂
For instance, Ginny S. who comes from a long line of puritans, covers herself with layers of clothing and walks with a slouch to hide her well-endowed body. Marvin describes her character as being “closed up”. His commentary of the ‘restrictions’ she lives with is depicted through a wine box framed around her portrait, on which he has also pasted labels of wholesome food products in a deliberate pun on the contradictions which seem to form part and parcel of her life. Yep. Ginny in a box.
Now, this particular piece is one of my favourites from his Vermont series. I find the concept of painting on a bottle so quaint! Here, Marvin takes a more personal approach with his then house mate, Victor Castro, a Peruvian who is currently a curator at the Tamayo Museum in Mexico. Instead of boxes and labels, Marvin pays tribute to Victor with a Jack Daniels bottle. “We shared a moment and that was the bottle we drank from,” he says. Suffice to say Marv and Vic had some great times together in Vermont.
Not all Marvin’s residency mates got their mugs on his wall of fame, however. Almaz W. was one of them; an egg box was used as a substitute. “Being around Almaz is like treading on eggshells,” Marvin remembers. He recalls their first encounter: “When we first met, I complimented her on her beauty — her hair, her eyes. She immediately accused me of objectifying her. The eggs represent the delicate relationship we shared in that brief moment.” The statement he had painted on the wall next to ‘Almaz’ (“Network interrupted. There has been an error in connection”) is indicative of the delicate nature of their friendship. Perhaps Marvin did right to refrain from painting her.
There is more, but then there’d be no end to this post. But since a picture says a thousand words, here’s more from Marvin’s Vermont series:
This year, I nominated Marvin for the Sovereign (Asian) Art Prize. No news yet. Keeping my fingers crossed.
For a glimpse of Marvin’s Magical World, check out http://marvinchan.tumblr.com.
IT MUST be wonderful thing to be an artist, because even the artistically challenged know how to appreciate creative genius and beauty.
Aesthetics do count for plenty, no matter how much intelligence an artist wants to inject into his work. Doesn’t matter if the audience doesn’t identify with the emotions motivating those painterly expressions, or do not make suitable academic comments on the artist’s style, etc.
If you look at my profile, you will see a painting of a woman with her hands behind her head. The generous view of her cleavage is enhanced by the way her head is inclined to her right. The only colour used in the painting, aside from black and white (which is supposedly a non-colour) is a vivid lime-ish green.
This is Reena – both the name of the painting, and the muse. She is the wife of artist Khairul Azmir Shoib – one of Malaysia’s upcoming contemporary artists, and one of my favourites (I do admit the heavy influence of Tim Burton and other artists like Dave McKean can obscure his own personal touches to some of his work, but he’s good, no doubt about it).
I love this painting. I love the way the woman is depicted in a tardy gown, her wings tattered and her face bearing a slightly world-weary expression; yet in spite of it all, there is a sensuality emanating from the picture.
For me, Khairul, or Meme, as he is known, is a consummate artist, constantly telling a story in all his works. He speaks not only through colour and stroke, or the expressions and movements of his subjects; the diminutive and soft-spoken chap occasionally pens his thoughts, words and phrases on his paintings, to sort of guide the viewer along.
Meme is not known for the ubiquitous landscape works, neither is he a portrait artist in the most conventional sense. His works are quirky, although often exuding a dark and sombre feel resulting from the choice of colour and imagery. Think Dave McKean, and you will know what I mean. Yet, they are compelling — at least to me.
There are many other artists (or rather, their works) that I totally adore (Jai, Bayu and the entire Matahati outfit, I-Lan, Kok Hooi, Eston, Marvin, Latiff, Kon Yit, Nadia, Ivan, Bee Ling, and the list goes on…) but the reason I have chosen to highlight Meme in this post is because credit must be given to the creator of my profile picture.
Incidentally, ‘Reena’ was the first painting by a local artist that I had wanted so badly to acquire, but lacked the funds to do so. I found out eventually that Nabil (of NN Gallery) bought it.. oh well, at least it is in good hands.
This, I guess, is as close as I can get to owning ‘Reena’. That’s good enough for a poor woman with sometimes expensive tastes.
Check out more of Meme’s work and thoughts at http://verame.blogspot.com/