Visual artist Yau Bee Ling’s conversations about art these days seem to be more optimistic. She is definitely in a different headspace since her last solo exhibit three years ago, which was an emotionally heavy series.
Her latest series of works – bunched in a new collection called Interwoven Terrains – is spirited and transcendent. Much can be said about Yau’s assured mood in this solo exhibition at Wei-Ling Contemporary in KL – her fourth show there, which sees the coming together of art, place, and soul.
The 47-year-old artist is more than familiar with this gallery space, having first exhibited her debut Portraits Of Paradox in 2008, and how later she found an outlet to deal with grief during the By Hands (2016) show, which took place after the death of her younger sister.
“This new body of work has helped (Yau) Bee Ling emerge from what she’s gone through. It is almost cathartic and she seems to have reconciled with what she went through and found a new place. She’s rejuvenated,” says Lim Wei Ling, gallery founder and director.
This contemporary art gallery has had a good year with exhibits from woman artists, including Cambodian American Anida Yoeu Ali’s The Buddhist Bug installation series and Cheong Kiet Cheng’s ink-based Dust And The Silence In The Sun show. Yau’s welcome return adds to a strong list of exhibitions.
In Interwoven Terrains, Yau’s love for colours is undeniable. The hues are light, the strokes gentle and the subject matters do stir the soul. Every painting – using oils and sand – in the gallery comes “textured”, with moods inspired by nature walks and landscape adventures.
However, this new collection, according to Yau, is not abstract art.
“I’m not an abstract painter ... because abstract art is an expression of something known in an unknown manner. My paintings are talking about the unknown, an unknown feeling if you like,” she explains.
This current exhibit, featuring 10 works, took two years to complete. She did contribute a work Upraise – an interpretation of the Malaysian flag – to a group show called Teh Tarik With The Flag (2018) at the National Art Gallery. The Shah Alam, Selangor-based artist says between teaching art and taking care of her late father (who died early this year), art had to take a backseat. But Yau, who has been an artist for nearly 25 years, could not put her brush down entirely.
Her husband Choy Chun Wei, an artist known for his mixed media collages, has been a constant source of support. The creative couple have a son and a daughter, whom Yau homeschools. For Yau, her time in the studio is where she finds – and loses – herself in art.
“Making art is always a tremendous experience. It also gives me a good sense of self-worth,” says Yau, a careerist painter, who graduated from the Malaysian Institute of Art in 1995. She has been actively exhibiting since the mid-1990s, with her works recognised in the region and particularly well-received in Japan, notably the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum.
Through her art, Yau has often painted the idiosyncrasies of family life in all its ritual complexity. Yau, whose interest in art began when she was in secondary school in Port Klang, says this current solo is a “meeting point”, a chance to converse with her inner-self.
“Taken as a whole, this show is like an altar for prayer,” she mentions.
Yau offers an introspective side of her personality and material craft, which surprisingly, isn’t as overwhelming as it sounds once you wander about the gallery, investigating her works, given titles like Glorious Contemplation, Alive, And Moving and Harness Of Joy.
“This series is a suggestion ... that all of us have terrains inside of us. We have a landscape of sorts inside, a spiritual space with vast possibilities. This terrain gives us a sense of who we really are,” says Yau.
“The path we often take to navigate this terrain and to make engagements with ourselves, spiritually, is interwoven. It’s not a straight path. The essence of what I’m trying to do is to reflect my journey of facing such challenges in life.”
In contrast, Yau’s previous solo exhibit By Hands, was a much moodier collection.
“That (previous) series was affected by something within my mind and soul that I couldn’t comprehend. I needed to work through it. With all that was happening with my sister and my dad, I felt trapped by the tension and disappointments.
“But after their deaths, I found a new engagement with ‘space’. This change gave me a new perspective of faith and life. I began to paint without any absolute shapes and forms.
"It’s my way of dealing with unknown emotions within me and what I’ve come to learn is that it’s possible to accept our unknown and live with it,” says Yau, adding that she consciously chose not to touch any dark colours, even if she was feeling down.
Her Glorious Contemplation piece sums up her personal and spiritual uplift. The painting is an explosion of red, purple, pink, yellow and orange. The short brushstrokes create foliage-like motifs on the canvas, bringing to mind a tropical rain forest.
And in the middle of it all, a splash of turquoise, which resembles a lake.
“I wanted the strong focal point to project a sense of stillness, a source of strength in overcoming life’s challenges.” Yau, tapping into the sheer energy of life, proves that you can be philosophical without forgetting a smile for good measure.
“I came across a quote that goes something like this: ‘I’m still in the water but I’m breathing fine’. My series is like that,” she concludes.
Interwoven Terrains is on at Wei-Ling Contemporary, The Gardens Mall in Kuala Lumpur till Nov 3. Open from Tuesday to Sunday, 11am-7pm. Call 03-2282 8323/03-2260 1106. More info: weiling-gallery.com.