When someone says that his paintings are inspired by memories and stories he grew up with, you wonder - what kind of stories?
But for Siund Tan, it isn’t what the story is that matters as much as what emotions they evoke. After all, memories merge or fade at will, taking on subtle changes as time goes by.
At Suma Orientalis in Petaling Jaya, where Tan’s newest body of work is currently on display, it is obvious that nostalgia is the flavour of the day.
Rewind, Replay is filled with colours that are nostalgia-tinted, the scenes familiar - whether it is because they are something you know from an old TV show, or something you read from a book.
“I am not so interested in painting contemporary scenes. When I think about painting a guy in jeans, for instance, it doesn’t feel so appealing to me from an aesthetic point of view. I have always found myself drawn to something with a more weathered feel so my paintings often up looking like they are trapped in a timeless world, ” says the Kedah-born Tan, 39.
In Signal Catcher, people gather around a vintage television set while fiddling with the antenna. In Phoenix 75, a fire-eater, not unlike one you would see at the circus or a street performance, pulls out all the stops with her theatrics. But perhaps things are not as they seem here... she could also be a medicine peddler.
“It reminds me of a simpler world, where we were not overwhelmed by choices. We didn’t have many options but we were curious and engaged anyway. I cannot imagine how this would fare in the modern world, where everything is at our fingertips, ” he says.
Rewind, Replay is Tan’s second solo exhibition.
Sometime, his first solo held at G13 Gallery in Kuala Lumpur in 2014, featured numerous paintings of a female figure.
Rewind, Replay moves on from this theme. It offers just eight paintings, but if you don’t count them, you will come away from this showcase feeling like you have seen many more, simply because most of them combine multiple stories and images, from different timelines.
Voynich Garden for example, was inspired by something Tan read on the Voynich manuscript, a handwritten codex filled with illustrations and diagrams that date back to the early 15th century. It has never been deciphered and has fuelled many speculations on its meaning and origin.
“I stumbled across an article on the Voynich manuscript one day and it left a strong impression on me. It kept brewing in my mind and I knew I just had to get it out ... to put it on canvas and see what happens. I am quite pleased with the result, I managed to include many different elements in this painting. But one could also say my work is but a basic palette upon which viewers should paint their own pictures, ” he says.
Do what you want with his paintings; Tan sounds like he would be quite happy if the viewer were to find different meanings embedded within the visuals.
“We are all bound by time and space. Connecting with art is something experiential, specific to a spatial context and a particular moment. I find joy in connecting with a painting and that casts a spell on me magically, hence I strive to make my audience feel the same, ” he says.
He shares how fables, folk tales, mysteries, adventures, history and stories became larger than life to those who grew up spending a lot of time in front of the television.
“Since young, I have been affected by it. The sight and sounds on the television screen and the radio was what fascinated me as I spent many hours allowing my imagination to soar, taking in all that entertainment has to offer. As the years passed, such memories has a deep influence on me. I capture specific moments of those glorious images, and today, allow them to be replayed as narrative on my canvases, ” he says.
In Riverside, perhaps the most action-packed piece in Rewind, Replay, a group of men are seen putting up a valiant fight against ferocious crocodiles. Inspired by The Battle of Slim River in 1942, between the Imperial Japanese Army and the British Indian Army, a skittish mousedeer darts around nervously while the crocodile hunt rages on.
“I have iconised the history into subtle forms and symbolism, ” says Tan.
No prizes for guessing who the Sang Kancil is supposed to represent.
Tan won the Malaysian Emerging Artist Award in 2011 and was one of the finalists at the Da Dun Fine Arts Exhibition in Taichung, Taiwan in the same year.
Rewind, Replay poses questions on the influence of mythology in our culture and how that translate into our belief system. How much time and attention do we spend on pastimes and how do they change us?
“One may argue that spending time on mass media and social media relieves stress. But has the TV made us a better person, and have social media liberalised us from worldly concerns? I hope people who view my paintings will rethink how our entertainment and pastimes have shaped us. Maybe it will prompt them to rediscover the little things in life, ” concludes Tan.
Rewind, Replay is on at Suma Orientalis, 11, Lorong 11/4f, Section 11, Petaling Jaya in Selangor till Jan 17. Opening hours: 11am to 7pm (closed on Tuesday). For more information, visit www.sumaorientalis.com.
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