There is a little bit of Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night peeking through the artworks currently on display at Wei-Ling Gallery in Kuala Lumpur for the A Paradigm Shift - Reflection On Twenty Years Of The Malaysian Art Scene group exhibition.
Specifically, you see it in Chen Wei Meng’s Arrivals, a landscape painting that combines four iconic artworks in a scene filled with swirling clouds, majestic mountains and the mystery of the night sky.
Besides van Gogh’s well-loved work from 1889 and Flemish painter Joachim Patinir’s Paysage Au Bord Du Lac from the 16th century, Chen includes Wang Ximeng’s A Thousand Li Of Rivers And Mountains and Guo Xi’s Early Spring, both from the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127).
Chen refers to Wang’s piece as one of the greatest works of Chinese, which exudes a powerful spirit.
“A positive energy lies within it. It captures the charisma of nature and the splendour of the mountains and rivers,” says Chen.
In much the same vein, he waxes poetic about Early Spring, saying, “In spring, the steam rises up slowly in the mountains, implying that the cold has not completely faded. There is thawing and warming, the mountains are moving, life seems to be suddenly woken up. A hazy light envelopes all and little life signals are going to be revealed. This is actually the most beautiful feeling in spring.”
Chen is fully on board with the message of hope and revival, a looking forward to better, brighter days, through Arrivals.
In some way, this work also captures the spirit of this group exhibition, one of exploration, change and growth. Held in conjunction with Wei-Ling Gallery’s 20th anniversary, A Paradigm Shift features the works of 15 contemporary artists in a survey of artistic experimentation and relevance in an ever-changing landscape.
Apart from Chen, the participating artists include Anurendra Jegadeva, Cheong Kiet Cheng, Chin Kong Yee, Choy Chun Wei, Hamidi Hadi, H.H. Lim, Ivan Lam, Juhari Said, Noor Azizan Paiman, Rajinder Singh, Sabri Idrus, Sean Lean, Wong Chee Meng and Yau Bee Ling.
There are oil and acrylic paintings, mixed media and video works, wooden sculptures and found objects here, a variety that is fitting for a retrospective of sorts – one that provides a glimpse into the critical evolution of contemporary Malaysian artists – as well as show the current practices and where they are today.
For instance, Chin’s Stylo Hair Salon, which is a digital painting printed on canvas, shows a barber shop in Jalan Tun H.S. Lee which has been around since 1937.
“I took photos for this work during the movement control order (in 2020), which was the first time I have ever seen the street so quiet in the morning,” says Chin.
This work highlights his process of “accumulation” where he works with photography, painting and computers, incorporating stitching and painting programmes with video editing. It combines 15 pieces of digital paintings, layered to present the final image you see before you.
A video showing the progress of this piece is also part of the exhibit.
Chin and Wei-Ling Gallery share quite a bit of history: this was where he held his first solo exhibition in 2003 and over the years, he has been a familiar name here. His most recent solo show, #tomorrow, was held at the gallery last December.
“If I had not met Wei-Ling 20 years ago, my artist career could be totally different. The art industry in Malaysia then was so conservative. Among what was considered acceptable was art recycled from international art trends.
“The environment was not conducive for those trying to create their own art and express their own vision. Wei Ling wasn’t afraid to do this and offered me a solo exhibition at her first gallery-townhouse. Today, Malaysia’s art scene has significantly changed,” says Chin.
Many of the works in A Paradigm Shift are elaborate pieces, with a few that don’t hold back on the criticism and the issues of the day – like Juhari Said’s Kenyang Dan Lapar: Two Sides Of The Coin that reflects on greed, corruption and destruction rampant in our country and beyond.
But there are also those like Wong Chee Meng’s Love And Happiness which reflect on the state of bliss and the sacrifices made in the process.
“We all look for love because it is essential for our overall well-being. Love is the core of happiness and being happy is the biggest accomplishment of life. Happiness is multi-layered and often relates to feelings of joy, satisfaction, fulfillment and contentment,” says Wong.
“Sometimes, happiness does come with the price of struggle, dissatisfaction, frustration, loss, longing and disappointment, but it is love that keeps us going. In this painting, I am looking for something that I feel attached to. I am looking for something that could be responded to.
"It encourages viewers to under-stand the world through a diverse perspective, to read between the lines to discover deeper meaning than is implied, and embrace curiosity and perseverance in finding our own happiness,” he concludes.
A Paradigm Shift – Reflecting On Twenty Years Of The Malaysian Art Scene is on at Wei-Ling Gallery in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur till Aug 6. More info here.