There’s an inside joke in the art scene that proposals for abstract-based exhibitions usually sit at the bottom of the pile in the gallery office’s in-tray.
But that’s no reason not to push harder.
“To be honest, there are many good abstract artists out there, but most of them have not been given a proper platform to exhibit,” says Tan Sei Hon, an independent curator, who put together the group show I Love Abstract Art! at Xin Art Space in Kuala Lumpur.
However, Tan admits to the challenges of organising such a show. Figurative art is seen as the preferred – or more bankable – medium in a majority of local art exhibitions, while abstract shows, apart from relying on established names, have more of a reduced presence these days.
“If you’re going to look through the Malaysia Emerging Artist (MEA) award catalogues from the last few years, you’ll realise that almost 99% of the artists featured are aligned to the figurative art scene,” says Tan.
Despite its small gallery ethos, Xin Art Space’s I Love Abstract Art! captures the spirit of abstract through a rag-tag bunch of homegrown mavericks.
The exhibition, featuring 13 artists, has been a project close to Tan’s heart. The curator, who is an avid supporter of abstract art, enjoyed the opportunity to put together this show featuring a list of regulars, newcomers and a couple of forgotten names.
A show that takes in Anak Alam alumni like Mohd Yusoff Osman and Thangarajoo Kanniah is already a good starting point. Thangarajoo’s philosophical views on his mortality from the late 1980s are the oldest pieces in this show, with Footsteps In The Sky (acrylic on canvas, 1989) standing out.
Meanwhile, Mohd Yusoff’s three mixed media on paper works offer a consistent visual approach (from the last few years) as he continues to merge nostalgic memory and geographic familiarity on canvas.
The show is also laid out to give prolific artists like Riaz Ahmad Jamil and Chee Eng Hong (EH Chee) a chance to broaden their audience. Their strong works encompass the mind, the imagination and the whole inner world of the individual.
“You tend to hear stories about pure abstract painters giving up and trying other art forms. That’s the reality here. But then, there are those like Riaz and (Chee) Eng Hong, who just paint vigorously. If you’re talking about personal technique and condition, their works bristle with moods, movement and energy,” he adds.
“In abstract art, you can sense and feel a person’s confusion and disappointment. The art can be dark. It’s not all visual pleasure and utopian explosions of joy,” says Tan.
However, Dennis Chan’s landscape-based melancholy in his pieces do bring a sense of calm.
“Dennis doesn’t paint with a brush. He pours paint on the canvas and moves the colours around. That’s his style – and if you look hard enough, you’ll realise he’s not actually painting landscapes,” reveals Tan.
Fathullah Luqman Yusuff’s Dwi Diri (2007) is a throwback to one of the most prolific creative periods in this outsider artist’s history. The mixed media on canvas work can be traced back to his Ole Cafe residency days in Kuala Lumpur, where he created more than 200 abstracts in a three-month stint.
Goh Lee Kwang’s residency stint in Germany in 2008 has also given this show one of its most unique approaches to the abstract idiom. His Draw Sound work magnifies a Euro cent to the size of a mini CD, before attaching it to a booklet filled by nervous pencil sketches, which are essentially Goh’s “scratchings” of a coin falling on the floor.
The show is completed by artists like Bhanu Achan, Ahmad Shukri Elias, Abdullah Jones, Badruddin Syah Abdul Wahab, Syahrul Niza Ahmad Zaini, and Mohd Iszuan Ismail.
“Will abstract ever be on the uptrend here? Beyond the big names, it’s hard to say. We just have to keep going with such exhibitions.
“Abstract shows that art can have a deeper meaning than it seems on the surface,” concludes Tan.
I Love Abstract Art! is showing till Sept 30 (10am-6pm daily) at Xin Art Space, No. 2-1 (above Le Geo restaurant), Jalan Jelatek 1, Pusat Perniagaan Jelatek, Kuala Lumpur. For viewing appointments at the weekend, call 016-505 1311 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.