Nothing is forever, says Malaysian artist Hug Yin Wan

  • Arts
  • Saturday, 09 Sep 2017

A close-up view of a work called Transformation, which features crows, a recurring feature in Hug's artwork. Photos: G13

Several years ago, Kuala Lumpur-based artist Hug Yin Wan experienced a few dramatic events, all happening within a short frame of time. His mother was diagnosed with cancer, while his uncle succumbed to the disease. At the same time, his brother got married.

These unusual combination of events, of love juxtaposed with death, made Hug realise just how fleeting life was. A course of a life could change dramatically in just a day or two. Inspired, he began work on Transformation, a woodcut-based exhibition themed around the impermanence of life.

“To me, impermanence is an undeniable and inescapable fact of human existence, from which nothing that belongs to earth is ever free.

“The simplest way of understanding life is to accept that everything is impermanent, life is constantly in a state of change, and nothing is eternal in this world,” says Hug, 23.

Transformation, which features seven new woodcut pieces from the young artist, is currently showing at G13’s Gallery Project Room in Petaling Jaya.

Transformation by Hug Yin Wan
'The simplest way of understanding life is to accept that everything is impermanent, life is constantly in a state of change,' says Hug. Photo: The Star/Ricky Lai

The Project Room was created by the G13 Gallery as a platform to highlight new faces to the industry, and to help artists who want to diversify their works.

“I think the Project Room is a good project for artists, and I’m glad to be a part of it. It’s important for the artist to learn the relationship between the artwork and his ideas, and also how to put on a showcase,” he adds.

Born in Ipoh, Hug is an emerging artist who has won a few accolades. In 2015, he won the Grand Prize in Nando’s Art Initiative Competition (Fine Arts Category), as well as the first prize in the Mixed Media category of the Tanjong Heritage Awards.

A year later, the young artist also won the Bronze in the UOB Painting of the Year awards.

A graduate of Dasein Academy of Art, Hug has also participated in many local group exhibitions, and has had one prior solo show: 2016’s The Crow, which was held at Nando’s Art Space in Kuala Lumpur.

“What I like about Hug’s work is that he comes to art by way of philosophy. He might be young and a relatively reserved person, but he has a certain maturity when it comes to art and creative thinking. That can only work in his favour. Of course, he isn’t making it easier on himself by choosing woodcuts. But I feel he is coming into his own with his craft,” says Kenny Teng, G13 Gallery director.

In Hug’s latest show, the artist explores themes such as mortality, change, and duality. Many of his pieces are based on concepts from Chinese culture and Buddhist philosophy.

Every new piece is titled Transformation: while some are single pieces, others are diptychs and triptychs.

Transformation by Hug Yin Wan
Transformation V ( woodcut on plywood and carving on perspex, 2017).

Those familiar with Hug’s work may be surprised to see his latest exhibition. While his previous shows such as The Crow featured figurative styles and realist techniques, Transformation skews more towards the abstract. Indeed, the tall, lanky and soft-spoken artist said that was the biggest challenge of this latest work.

“Making the jump to abstract from the figurative side was quite hard for me. In previous works such as The Crow, I was talking more about people, how they were affected by life and death. But in this one, it’s more about existence in the world. I hope the works inspire people to cherish their loved ones,” reveals Hug.

Transformation by Hug Yin Wan
One of Hug’s works in progress.

Hug makes his woodcuts by first carving a base made of plywood, and then layering selected areas with embossing paste to create a textured surface. He then applies ink to create contrasts between the subject and the background. Hug then adds a layer of Perspex sheet as an added dimension to the plane. This sheet is then worked on with an electrical tool to turn it into a translucent surface. Each piece takes him about three weeks to complete.

The colour palette in Transformation is minimal, composed mainly of black, (perhaps representing darkness) and red, which Hug says represents life.

The mournful deep blue hues on Transformation VII is probably the show’s moodiest piece. Much of the works are comprised of short and thin lines, all running together. A depiction of how small most lives are in the grand scale of eternity.

“Life is just like a line; it starts with a point and ends at another. The repetition of lines was created out of an illusion of motion and space.”

Also making prominent appearances are Hug’s trademark crows, which in Chinese beliefs, are symbols of wickedness and cruelty.

Some artwork feature crow shapes placed on their perspex sheet layer. When hit by light, this creates a crow-shaped shadow on the layer beneath, adding to the meaning of duality.

Transformation by Hug Yin Wan
Transformation IV (woodcut on plywood and carving on perspex, 2017).

In another work, the triptych Transformation IV, Hug creates large moon-like circles, which are slowly eroded by crows and layers of darkness.

“In Chinese culture, we often associate the circle with perfection. But nothing lasts forever. Everything is impermanent,” he said.

Hug already has plans to move forward after this exhibition. His next project is a four-man art show that will be held next April.

“I think it’s quite good to be an artist in Malaysia nowadays, as compared to the past. There are a lot of platforms and opportunities to show your work. It’s good for young artists to be able to share their work,” says Hug.

“It can be challenging to be a full time artist. But you need to keep going and always be passionate about your work.”

Transformation is showing at G13 Gallery, GL13, Ground Floor, Block B, Kelana Square, Jalan SS7/26, Kelana Jaya, Petaling Jaya in Selangor till Sept 15. The gallery is open from 11am to 5pm, and is closed on Sundays and public holidays. For more info, go to or call 03-7880 0991. Visit:

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