REIMAGINING a classical painting with contemporary pandemic themes was the stroke of genius that won Choong Guey Syuen the Spotlight 2021 art competition by Penang Art District.
The 22-year-old fine art student’s ‘Dreaming Encircled by Isolation’ work was based on the 1856 oil on canvas painting ‘The Death of Chatterton’ by English artist Henry Wallis.
Her version depicts herself falling asleep in her room with a mobile phone still dangling from her hand. A face mask lies at the edge of her bed.
Outside her window, trees abound with colour. From an open pane, a butterfly and some flowers creep in. The scene is a play on human emotions and the snuffing of excitement from one’s life.
“This was how I felt during the movement control order. Being stuck at home and unable to socialise made my world so dull.
However, there was hope just outside. The lockdown was coming to an end so life reached out to touch me,” she said of her piece which was painted with oils on a disused circular table top.
The original oil on canvas work by Wallis is at Tate Britain in London. The subject was the young English poet Thomas Chatterton, shown dead after poisoning himself with arsenic in 1770.
“I was drawn to Wallis’ colourful style,” Guey Syuen added during the prizegiving ceremony at Ming Fine Art Gallery in Gurney Paragon Mall, Penang.
She took home RM5,000 cash and will get a solo exhibition in the future.
For now, her work is displayed among 19 others at the Finalist Exhibition at the same venue.
Five others received Jury’s Choice awards which offered RM1,000 for each artist.
They were Joshua Chong How Jin for ‘The Wound is Where The Flower Grows’, Yeow Lin Shan for ‘Lost’, Cheong See Min for ‘We Will Meet Again’, Amirul Md Noor for ‘Perplexity’ and Izhar Yusrin for ‘State of Transience’.
Penang State Art Gallery chairman Lee Khai, who was on the judging panel, said they received 80 submissions for the fourth edition of the contest this year. It was open to locals aged 18 to 30.
This time, applicants were encouraged to ponder their growth during the challenging pandemic times and express their hopes for the recovery ahead.
“Spotlight has emerged as one of the most anticipated programmes on the local art calendar.
“Only by encouraging the next generation to pursue art can Penang grow its art scene,” Lee said in his speech.
State tourism and creative economy committee chairman Yeoh Soon Hin expressed delight that the pandemic did not deter creatives from producing art.
The exhibition continues until Sunday.
In line with the SOP, those who wish to view the show must make an appointment via the Penang Art District’s website (www.penangartdistrict.com) or Facebook (penangartdistrict).