When multidisciplinary artist Mark Tan returned to Malaysia after a short stint studying in Britain, he was shocked by how much things had changed back home in Kuala Lumpur.
Tan realised old buildings he once knew were no longer there, and construction was beginning on new structures for the future.
Rather than bask in nostalgia, however, the young artist decided to channel his thoughts into art. And the result is Arrangements, a striking display of monochromatic images and etchings that explore concepts of memory, place and identity.
Tan’s Arrangements is his first solo exhibition, which is showing at a gallery in KL. “Being away made me look at where I came from in a different way, and appreciate the things I took for granted. I was curious about this sensation I was feeling: Why did I miss the things that were gone?” says Tan, 26, speaking at the launch of his exhibition.
Tan has exhibited both locally and abroad, in countries such as Singapore, Indonesia, France and Britain. His most recent exhibitions are TP II By Cetak Kolektif (2015) in KL and Bi Lateral Bonds (2016) in KL/Singapore. Arrangements features over 80 prints and drawings produced by the artist in England and Malaysia (between 2013 and 2017).
For this show, Tan wants to showcase the beauty and versatility of printmaking, his artistic medium. He has a Bachelor Of Arts In Drawing And Applied Arts from the University Of West Of England.
“The beauty of printmaking is you can have so many possibilities, so many variations. And I hope the viewer can appreciate this fine art technique, which I feel is still limited in this country,” says Tan, who has also found a foothold in the design community in KL.
In person, the youthful looking Tan can probably pass off as a teenager. When he speaks, however, you realise that his passion for art is anything but sophomoric. He is also slowly warming up to media interviews, and is more than comfortable talking about his work process.
His exhibition starts off with two Untitled images of a reservoir in a forest (in Ampang), where the artist used to spend a lot of time during his childhood. Many of the other prints in Arrangements are literal deconstructions of these images, which are cut, cropped, and rearranged into geometric shapes. This represents how different parts of a memory can stand out when recalling the past.
“All these geometric shapes are one way of me of exploring shape and form. In memories, some things are vivid, and some things are a little blur. You sometimes wonder, did something actually happen or was it not real?” says Tan.
This idea can be seen in Lapse I-XV, which sees the complete dissection of the original image’s shape and form, and is creatively extended in works like Mirage I-XVII, where Tan changes the dimensions of the paper the works were done on.
According to him, these shapes greatly influenced how one’s artwork is viewed.
Many of his works, such as Trace I-III and Shroud I-II feature black voids, complicated whorls, inky clouds and free-form shapes, perhaps a representation of the transient, ever-shifting, never permanent boundaries of thought and recollection.
The biggest challenge of creating his works, Tan reveals, is learning to see things in a different manner.
“You always need to search for inspiration. You have to take the mundane, yet see it through it, to see you have something worth commenting on. But it’s easier said than done thing. You need a sensitivity in picking up things around you,” says Tan.
The black-and-white tones, says Tan, are not only meant to evoke an atmosphere of yearning flashbacks, but also to suggest the clarity and certainty of text.
“I’m an artist that absorbs a very investigative manner in my practice. It’s nothing different from a poet writing down thoughts in black ink, or a composer writing his notes in black,” concludes Tan with a broad smile.
Arrangements is on at OUR ArtProjects, Zhongshan Building in Kuala Lumpur until April 22. For information on opening times, call 03-2260 1388 or visit: ourartprojects.com.