Galeri Chandan in Kuala Lumpur has been temporarily transformed into a cat lover’s paradise, thanks to the whimsical works of Ong Xing Ru currently featured in the Dream World exhibition.
This show, which is the artist’s first solo, is a colourful collection of 12 acrylic on canvas works, with rotund cats gamboling in the weightless space between reality and imagination.
Fuelled by a hearty dose of story books and fairy tales from a young age, Ong, who turns 30 this year, harbours a fondness for talking animals that behave like humans.
“Most of my inspiration comes from the books I read. I also get ideas from my daily routine, like from my students,” says the artist, who teaches art from home and at a kindergarten.
But the delightful anthropomorphism in her works are no doubt largely inspired by her own pet cat, Katy, who has been her staunch sidekick for five years now.
“The cat character, which symbolises humans, is inspired by my cat,” says Ong, relating the story of how they first met when Katy was just a little stray kitten that her cousin picked up from school.
“She is a little bit bad-tempered and a bit clumsy. But she is very clever and is able to sense one’s temperament. She shows a different side of her personality to different people: I think this aspect is what makes cats most similar to humans,” explains Ong, sounding very much like the quintessential animal lover.
She was one of the five winners at the Malaysian Emerging Artist Award, organised by Galeri Chandan and HOM Art Trans, in 2013.
With the ocassional elephant, rabbit, ship, rocket and marine creature making an appearance amongst the happy cats in this series of work, it is interesting to note that it is the human being dressed in what looks like an approximation of a wetsuit who seems the most out of place in this world Ong has created.
In Exit, he (although it could very well be a she) gazes pensively upon what looks like seven and a half cats in blue studded collars frolicking within black-and-white checkered walls and polka dot eggs.
He trades his blue outfit for a red one in The Beautiful World, and joins the cats in their world, which in this take is apparently one that defies the laws of gravity. A chipmunk floats by, and then another two chipmunks, then an alarm clock, then a fish. They are suspended in the air only as much as the viewer can suspend his disbelief, which is as easy as can be in the world Ong has painted.
In Beyond The Sea III, a boat filled with bunnies, cats, an elephant and a bear help a puppy clamber into their safe haven on the seven seas. But the human, who is now garbed in black, bobs alone in the ocean with a ring buoy and a lone yellow rubber duck for company.
In this fantasy world where cats wear animal-themed onesies (in Shadow) and watch a clock with hands juggling easter eggs, Ong shares that the human character is indeed the outsider. It symbolises the “spectator” role, one that observes, from the outside, what is happening all around.
Unsurprisingly, she is a fan of Surrealist art, with Sleep directly inspired by artist Dali Salvador’s work with the same name.
The late Spanish artist Joan Miro (1893-1983), whose works were influenced by Dada and Surrealism (even though he rejected membership with any particular movement), is her favourite artist.
“The way he simplifies objects, his use of bright colours, and the child-like innocence in his paintings really influenced the way I create my art,” she says.
Behind the colourful world Ong has created, however, is a deeper reference to our perceived reality and its alternation between the “real” world and a dream world, limited only by imagination.
“They sound like they are opposites, but in fact they co-exist and occupy the space of each day equally,” says Ong, drawing parallels to the passing of day and night in turn.
“We sleep in the dark and we dream every night, even if we do not remember our dreams, or that we even dreamt. But dreamland is still a place that harmonises our existence in life,” she says.
If we can feel what we do not see, surely then it is possible that imagination is not incongruous with reality. Ask Katy and her furry four-legged companions. They should know.
Dream World is on at Galeri Chandan, Publika Shopping Gallery, Kuala Lumpur till Feb 3.