Published: Sunday May 11, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Friday October 31, 2014 MYT 4:19:08 PM

Golden generation: Gan Tee Sheng's first solo exhibition

Isolated figures drift in an empty, endless space in Gan Tee Sheng's first solo exhibition. 

He shuffles along in slippers and shorts, the sounds and sights passing by in a blur. Lost in his thoughts, little does he know that he is being watched, singled out from the heat and humidity of the day.

It is such lone figures, bent by age and beaten by the sun, that artist Gan Tee Sheng seeks.

His favourite haunt? Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown.

“Most of my subjects are from Petaling Street. Sometimes I approach them, talk to them, simply to learn more about their lives. But there are a few figures that I captured secretly from a distance,” revealed Gan, 30, in an interview ahead of his first solo exhibition Withdrawn at Taksu in Kuala Lumpur.

The 13 works, mostly cloaked in realism with a touch of grit, are a departure from his earlier works where surrealism ruled supreme.

“All the distorted forms in my paintings are metaphysical suggestions. They represent my personal philosophical thinking about the unseen within one’s most inner thoughts,” Gan was quoted in a TimeOut KL interview when asked about his early surrealist works in 2009.

Back then, this Dasein Academy of Art (in Kuala Lumpur) graduate observed people and their surroundings, added a twisted dash of imagination, and turned them into art.

Gan Tee Sheng's Old Man 2, oil on canvas, 2013. The artist
Old Man 2, oil on canvas, 2013.

As delightfully eccentric as those surrealist images were to the viewer, Gan now looks back upon this time almost as if it were a different world.

“I used to think slightly negatively about the environment I lived in. Surrealism was a form of my expression to escape,” he confessed.

“But now I’m slowly learning to care for others, the public, the part of society who needs more love and care.”

The works for Withdrawn are mostly portraits of the elderly, many with wrinkles too many to count and stories of a past generation to tell.

Gan puts them on an empty background, a reflection of their detachment from society and the indifference tossed their way.

“My interest in observing human relationships and human expression has tickled my excitement into visualising human figures. Placing them on an empty background encourages the viewer to consider and contemplate one’s inner feelings,” he explained.

Gan emerged the winner in the Established Artist category of last year’s UOB Painting of the Year competition.

Of his Withdrawn paintings, he explains that the most intriguing aspect of capturing human expression on canvas is that the image is “a split second shot” of the subject.

Artist Gan Tee Sheng says that he enjoys painting this portrait of his mother.
Gan Tee Sheng enjoyed painting this portrait of his mother. “I simply wanted to portray her beauty,” he says.

“It might be a shot that will only happen once in a lifetime,” shared the artist who hails from Johor but is now based in Kuala Lumpur.

Included in this body of work is also a portrait of his mother and a self-portrait, depicted with hands clasped and brow furrowed in concentration.

“I think I’ve found ‘solution’ in my religion,” he shared, adding that his “psychological distress” from a few years ago is a thing of the past – just like his surrealist works.

Withdrawn is showing at Taksu KL (No. 17 Jalan Pawang, Keramat Hujung, Kuala Lumpur) till May 24. Opening hours: Monday to Saturday, 10am to 6pm. Call 03-4251 4396 or go to for details.

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle, gan tee sheng, withdrawn, taksu


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