Capturing essence of life on canvas

Bold strokes in vibrant shades of green, gold and blue at the entrance to the art gallery seem to demand attention from anyone walking past, luring you to take a closer look.

The striking green oil-on-canvas painting titled “Abandoned Kampung” was artist Chris Tan’s visualisation of urban immigration, with communities leaving their hometown to seek economic opportunities in urban areas.

Inspired to be an artist by a visit to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in the Netherlands, Tan pursued a Masters in Art at University of Hertfordshire in the UK and is currently a lecturer at Sunway University.

“Each painting in my show is inspired by the theme nephesh, which is a Hebrew word that translates to living soul,” he said.

He added that each painting was a personal interpretation of the harmony between body and soul.

Tan was inspired to create the pieces after he stumbled upon the word during his historical art and biblical studies.

“The main reason I chose to use oil paint was the fact that it was the preferred medium used by all the great artists back in the day,” he said, while noting that a lot of artists now use acrylic paints instead.

“Oil paint is much more challenging than acrylic, as it takes much longer to dry, challenges you to explore new techniques and is harder to predict the change in colour once the paint has dried.

“Many paintings here are some of my first explorations into oil painting, playing with the abstract idea of how our souls interact with nature and the environment around us,” he explained.

Nature is the inspiration for many of his favourite pieces, such as his five-panel painting “Weathered” --- inspired by the weather-beaten surfaces of ancient rocks --- and three vibrant paintings titled “A Cave in Sarawak”.

“Many pieces are interpretations of complex emotions I feel in different places and I hope people are able to feel a strong emotional connection with each piece,” Tan said.

The entire collection of 24 paintings took the artist over four years to complete, as each painting took months to create.

Zhan Art Space co-founders and siblings Desmond Tong and Tong Gin Chee described Tan’s pieces as soothing, raw and unique.

“Even though each piece is so vibrant and dynamic, there is something very soothing about the show,” said Desmond, who is also the gallery’s curator.

The duo added that they were aware of Tan’s direction and gave the artist complete freedom to express himself, as they believed in the storytelling aspect of his work.

“It can be very daunting for first-time solo artists like him to open themselves up for criticism and expose their emotions through their art, which is why it feels very raw,” Gin Chee said.

He highlighted that a fully oil painting-based show was very unusual in contemporary art.

“We have been very fortunate that our visitors are very open-minded as our gallery features many emerging, up-and-coming artists so I think they know to expect the unexpected.”

Titled “Nephesh”, the exhibition is ongoing at Zhan Art Space, The School, Jaya One in Petaling Jaya until July 19.

It is open daily from 10am to 5pm.

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