Sunday, September 22, 2019

Portrait of hell

Jan 07. 2019
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By The Nation

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Contemporary art gallery Richard Koh Fine Art in Kuala Lumpur is showing the latest collection of works by Malaysian artist Yeoh Choo Kuan in the exhibition “Streaming Mountain” from January 10 to 30.

 Although the 31-year-old artist was trained within the traditions of western art, his art practice has always been strongly rooted in eastern aesthetics. The influence of Chinese ink aesthetics and ideology can be traced to his close proximity to a Chinese temple that he had frequented as a child. Yeoh understood this as a visual language employed to narrate stories of Buddhism. One of his strongest memories is of a book called the “Diyu” (the realm of the dead of “hell” in Chinese mythology) and left a strong impression on Yeoh.

“Diyu” is typically depicted as a subterranean maze with various courts to which souls are taken after death to atone for their sins committed on earth. The illustration of these atonements is often gruesome and graphic in nature. To many, depictions like these are a one-time look but interestingly, Yeoh found solace in them and for many years immersed himself in these books, oscillating between positive and negative emotions.

Abstract notions of violence and the flesh are prevalent in Yeoh’s practice and he has methodically investigated these abstractions in his previous two solo shows, “In the Flesh” in 2014 and “Live Leak” in 2017. “Streaming Mountain” is a culmination of these two previous exhibitions as both had emotionally primed the artist to rekindle and re-understand his admiration for “Diyu” illustrations. Upon this, Yeoh realised the uncanny resemblance of traditional Chinese landscape paintings – depicting “Shan Shui” (Mountain and Stream) – and the hellish landscapes of “Diyu”. It inspired Yeoh to paint his “Shan Shui” as a judgement court, rendered in monochrome and sequestered panels tucked between “Yin” and “Yang”, black and white, ascent and decay, literati and vulgar, pushing and tugging.

“Streaming” means “Liu” in Chinese, as in the painting process of slow dripping technique that acquires a “sense of time” in the state of flux. “Mountains” is “Shan” in Chinese, an allusion to the unyielding and construction of value. At its core, “Streaming Mountain” is a body of work measuring from the struggles within man’s value system, reconfiguring for new compatibility and extends the artist’s imagination towards the future.


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