Ivan Lam is not one for shortcuts. The Kuala Lumpur-born artist doesn’t believe in taking the easy way out. The 41-year-old is all about taking risks, pushing boundaries and constantly questioning the norm.
How else would the Malaysian contemporary art scene remain relevant? And it is relevance and staying contemporary that Lam is after.
His solo exhibition Cutting The Lines That Bind, which was exhibited at the Volta fair in New York in March, was a move in the right direction.
“I think it was me saying that it was time I get out of my comfort zone,” says the father of two in an interview at Wei-Ling Contemporary in Kuala Lumpur earlier this week.
Wei-Ling Gallery, which represents Lam, was the only gallery from South-East Asia represented at the annual invitational Volta fair. As an invitational fair of solo artist projects, Volta was the perfect platform for Lam to expand his creative base.
The artist, winner of the 2003 Philip Morris Malaysian Art Award, recalls the visitors at Volta being surprised at how contemporary his works were.
He says the whole New York experience was a stimulating one.
“You might be there as individual artist, but your nationality piques people’s interest. They wanted to know more about Malaysian art,” he recalls. Cutting The Lines That Bind ends its KL run at Wei-Ling Contemporary today. A cursory walk through the gallery is enough to see what Lam is talking about.
Pushing the envelope may not even be the phrase to use. His works are thought-provoking and painstakingly precise.
All seven paintings are in no way direct or conventional. Lam plays with layers, shadow, perspective and points of view. Some of the art works require you to look at them from a certain angle to see one picture and at another to see a second visual image.
“It was a conscious decision to change every single piece I was working on. So within the show you can have separate parts (to the art pieces) but they can come together. The overall arc represents the people who are close to me,” explains Lam.
The subjects for this exhibtion are his sisters, daughters and mother.
One of most meticulous paintings is 59 cuts (2015). This painting (synthetic house paint and resin on canvas on board) depicts the face of a young girl. But the longer you look at the painting, the more you will realise something is slightly strange in the girl’s appearance.
Lam reveals that this is in fact the merging of the faces of his two daughters, wherein each stripe is an image of his daughters’ faces, arranged alternately to form one unified picture.
From a certificate in graphic design from Limkokwing Institute of Technology in 1994, Lam went on to pursue a bachelor of fine arts in painting at the Maine College in the United States and completed his master’s in international contemporary art and design practice at the University of East London. His works have also been featured at international auctions, namely Christie’s and Sotheby’s.
At Art Basel in Hong Kong in 2013, he put on the exhibition COMA – Compendium Of Malaysian Art. It was a first for a Malaysian artist to be shown on such a prestigious platform.
The Wei-Ling Gallery-produced Ivan Lam: Twenty, a monograph charting the artist’s career in the past 20 years, is a recent publication that sums up Lam’s journey in art.
Through the book’s chapters, you find that Lam rarely sticks to a particular art form or uses the same material. He has moved from silkscreens in his early years, to portraits and paintings ranging from realistic to abstract, and everything in between.
In fact, Lam wishes to “do work which is more direct” in his future projects. He says no one has seen his pencil work and believes it would be interesting to work on something that is tactile and more immediate.
Speaking about the monograph, Lam says he was against the idea at the beginning. He felt a retrospective project should only be embarked upon late in a person’s career.
“A book at 80 would be good. But that was old thinking. Why do we have to wait for someone to die to do it? So, it took us almost seven to eight months just to curate and get the works back (to document them),” he reveals.
“You realise many years have passed since your first work. It all seems like the blink of an eye,” he reminisces.
Besides his artworks from the last two decades, the book also contains essays from members of the art fraternity, Dr Amanda Katherine Rath, Dr Hedly Roberts, Gina Fairley and Anurendra Jegadeva.
The Ivan Lam: Twenty monograph is available at Wei-Ling Gallery, Wei-Ling Contemporary and Kinokuniya in Kuala Lumpur. Visit: www.weiling-gallery.com.