The view from his crystal ball


BY LI-EN CHONG

Window

CHIN Kong Yee has coined a term for his style of art: Actuality Accorded Painting. He explains that, “AAP is the act of ‘seeing’ where the past, the present and the future come together as one when you look at an object”. 

The artist, however, does not work with a single object but uses a complex layering of many subjects. Principally, landscape is employed as a means of evincing man’s transience and the passing of time. 

Chin’s exhibition, Cerulean Skies, is currently on at the Townhouse Gallery in Kuala Lumpur. 

Working in oils, the artist’s palette comprises deep, bold colours and yet, because of his ability to graduate his tones and create detailed realism, the work does not jar the senses. 

Dungun is a particular favourite of mine because of the textured feel of the artwork. Despite the pairing of a bright azure sky with ochre sand separated by a thin band of emerald sea, the possibility of Technicolor kitsch is negated by the grainy realism of the vast expanse of beach. 

The footsteps of the many who have come and gone, the deserted shelters on the beach, all bear testimony to the “temporary and yet permanent” imprints of man on Nature. In the foreground, the shadows of two figures hover darkly and silently. Echoing the viewers of this artwork, they are voyeurs at the scene.  

Following Chin’s explanation, if AAP is a record of sorts of the past, present and future, then Cerulean SkiesKuala Lumpur, exemplifies perfectly his intentions in the choice of subject and technical address. 

Depicting the old financial quarter of Kuala Lumpur, quaint shophouses nestle alongside high-rise office blocks. Each type of building reveals the advent of time and the changes made in the name of development. Yet this may not be entirely positive progress, for the convex perspective – or, to put it simply, the crystal ball view – as well as the fragmented figures walking along the streets fading into obscurity convey notions of displacement and temporality.  

The artist plays on contradictions to bring out the aesthetic and conceptual qualities of this work: The word “cerulean” has its origins in 17th century Latin, and Chin’s body of work comprises scenes from Romania, Thailand, Penang, Terengganu and Kuala Lumpur. It is these contradictory relationships that enliven his works, forming tensions that deepen the context and communicate to the viewer’s experiences and preconceptions.  

Window is painted in a long vertical format, showing a Romanian courtyard. Chin exhibits excellent control of the palette and textures and approaches in his signature manner the time-tested composition formula that has been worked on by others such as Gustave Caillebotte in A Young Man at his Window (1875) and Henri Matisse’s The Open Window (1905). 

Rainbow

The tiled roofs, plastered walls, wooden window frame and concrete ledge form interesting contrasts with each other. The artist’s observance of light and shadow, and variance of brushstroke techniques, enhances what would otherwise have been a nondescript scene. Intimacy is produced by the cool dark indoors; the viewer is the unobserved voyeur once again.  

Chin’s style of employing a convex or concave perspective and fragmenting his figures was also evident in a successful solo exhibition called Undulating Spaces held last year at the Townhouse Gallery. While his style is, perhaps, inspired by Surrealism and Abstract Cubism respectively, it is Chin’s native approach that makes his work appealing. For example, Rainbow does not seem to me to be as strong as the other works in the exhibition because his style does not emerge as strongly as it does in other works. 

C.B.G. in Penang Kopi Tiam is a perfect example of Chin’s eye for aesthetic and compositional details. The tiled floor, Formica table and panelled ceiling are so much a part of daily Malaysian life, yet the disconcerting perspective makes the viewer pause to reflect carefully on this scene.  

There has been a revival of painting as a medium of choice in the art world, as evidenced in The Saatchi Gallery’s exhibition, The Triumph of Painting, and in the fact that it is the current chosen mode of expression by Young British Artist superstar Damien Hirst. Cerulean Skies demonstrates the positive potential of two-dimensional work, not just because of its accessibility for storage and display, but also because of our familiarity with it. To quote Courtauld Institute of Art lecturer and art critic, Julian Stallabrass, “painting is still the most readily saleable form of art ? and is most assuredly, recognisable and eternally Art”. 

The artist

BORN in Kuala Lumpur in 1973, Chin Kong Yee (pic) received his formal art training locally at the Central Academy of Art. While Cerulean Skies is only his second solo exhibition, Chin has participated in a number of group exhibitions locally and abroad, most notably in Identities: Who We Are (2002) at the National Art Gallery, the East-West Contemporaries (2004) at the Cluj-Napoca Museum in Romania and the Seoul International Stars Exhibition (2004). One of the recipients of the prestigious Philip Morris Awards four years ago, the artist has also been granted residencies in the Pangkor Laut and Tanjung Jara resorts in Malaysia. Popular among private collectors, Chin’s work may also be found in the corporate collections of the United Overseas Bank, Anika Insurance Brokers, Gleneagles Intan Medical Centre and Shearn Delamore & Co. 

  • ‘Cerulean Skies’, a solo exhibition by Chin Kong Yee, is on display at the Townhouse Gallery until Wednesday. The gallery is located at No. 19A, Jalan Medang Tanduk, Bukit Bandaraya, Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. Viewing is by appointment only. For information, call 03-2094 3381 or visit townhouse-gallery.com.  

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