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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

Urban sprawl

Posted: 01 Feb 2014 08:00 AM PST

Three roving photographers shed new light on life in the city in a group exhibition.

WE think we know them. Every nook and cranny. Nothing had passed our sight unnoticed. After all, we did grow up in these cities. We could, if we wanted to, name every street and corner with no margin of error.

But, can one truly know the city one grew up and resides in that well? Our cities are still a mystery to us and that itself makes life in the city exciting, a journey of surprising discoveries.

For instance, who knew there is a tudung seller in the back alleys of Chow Kit in Kuala Lumpur?

Well, Kuala Lumpur-born Azwan Mahzan knew about it. It came to him as a pleasant surprise, like a cool breeze on a hot summer's day. Walking with his camera in the back streets of Kuala Lumpur, Azwan happened to stumble upon this scene and knew at once he had to capture the moment.

"I thought that it was interesting that this man decided to open up his shop here and was not bothered that there was a huge dumpster next to his store. He even used it to display the mannequin heads with the headscarves on. What was important for him was to earn a living, and I think that is how people in KL function," recounted Azwan, who works in publishing and has been involved seriously in photography for the last 12 years.

Taking a break: Azwan Mahzan's 'Jalan Petaling-Ice Man At Rest', featured at the photography exhibition Context at 69 Fine Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur.

Cool as a cucumber: Azwan Mahzan's Jalan Petaling: Ice Man At Rest, which the photographer explained was a spur-of-the-moment shot that fell perfectly into place in terms of mood, composition and colour.

And, this is the prevalent theme in 69 Fine Art Gallery's photography exhibition called Context in Kuala Lumpur.

Gallery founder Frenchman Patrice Vallete confessed that a photography exhibition is not the easiest art to promote in fine art, adding that Malaysian photographers are not given the recognition and representation due them. But the Context exhibition is a good start to expose this increasingly growing community.

Azwan joins Kuantan, Pahang-born documentary filmmaker Mahen Bala and Singaporean visual artist/photographer Alecia Neo in this most illuminating exhibition that endeavours to portray different perspectives of urban living and the context and relationship of ordinary people in their natural habitats.

This is nowhere more evident than in Neo's works. Known for her explorations about people and their living space, Neo's two-part series – Home Visits and Hiatus – features ordinary Singaporeans and Chicagoans in their respective homes.

Artistically intriguing and aesthetically astounding, there is a homely aura that emanates from the photos. Tenants Dandan And Longzhi, under the Home Visits series, for instance, depicts two women, possibly in their early 20s, standing in their shoebox-sized kitchen.

The refrigerator is less than five steps from the sink and right next to the sink is the washing machine and immediately above it, clothes drying from the clothing line. For many Singaporeans, this is home– a small apartment.

Home from Market by Azwan Mahzan

Home From Market (Azwan Mahzan)

"My work is often premeditated, and my subjects are hyper aware of being photographed. In Home Visits, I chose the most simple and neutral stance, portraying a very direct relationship between my subjects and I.

"I wanted to enter their homes because I'm also interested in their contexts. Their home environments and possessions are important clues to how these individuals deal with loneliness. And when the viewer confronts these images, they also become aware of the tangibility of objects, ownership and what it means to them," explained Neo.

Azwan's This Is KL series, on the other hand, is one that is replete with vibrant colours, picturesque scenes of KL's back streets and most importantly, people captured spontaneously in these places. Nothing staged or premeditated here.

The photographer, who is also a rap artiste, quipped that many have enquired about his streetwise Jalan Petaling: Ice Man At Rest piece. He said people have wondered if he had painted the back wall green for the sake of the photograph.

At first glance, the photograph would look staged. An elderly ice vendor sits atop a reddish-orange ice container and behind him is a lime green wall. Interestingly, one would find a green and red motif on his T-shirt, something echoing the colours of the wall and the ice container.

But like many things in life, it was merely a coincidence.

Black and white is the theme of Mahen Bala's photos of Tokyo. The people are not very much the focus in this series and neither are the buildings. Everything was taken in motion, in the activity of it all.

Mahen Bala said viewers can fill in the gap with their own stories for his Tokyo Story #16 as it has more than one element in it

Mahen Bala said viewers can fill in the gap with their own stories for his atmospheric Tokyo Story #16 photo.

"My series is about observations, little moments in my own process of understanding the city. When I visit a new city, there is always that adventure and the process of trying to figure out what exactly defines the city, what is the language of the city. My photographs capture these moments," Mahen explained.

His Tokyo Series #16 photograph shows a crowd of people, holding umbrellas, moving in different directions. The blurred photo points to the water droplets on the camera lens. Mahen said he chose this particular photograph, captured during a typhoon warning, as there was more than one element (fear, anxiety, crowd rushing, rain, etc) in it.

"That allowed for storytelling. You can look at one thing and then move on to the next thing and you sort of fill in the gaps with your own story. I refrained from bombarding people with information," added Mahen.

And that ultimately makes Context a very social affair, on top of an artistic one. One views a photograph with their own stories and ideas, which then forms their understanding of it.

"The most fun you can have with photography is to allow others looking at the pictures to inject their own stories," asserted Azwan.

Context is on till Feb 15 at 69 Fine Art Gallery (22, Jalan Bruas, Damansara Heights, Kuala Lumpur). Visits are by appointment only. Contact Patrice Vallete (019 3012 569) or visit www.fineart69.com.

The launch platform

Posted: 01 Feb 2014 08:00 AM PST

PROMISING homegrown artists Sabihis Mohd Pandi, 25, Ong Xiang Ru, 27, Shafiq Nordin, 26, Cheong Tuck Wai, 34, and Hilal Mazlan, 26, now look to have their careers accelerated.

They have each picked up honours in the Malaysian Emerging Artist Award 2013 (MEA award), which recently concluded its third edition with a prizegiving ceremony at the White Box, MAP, Publika in Kuala Lumpur.

The biennial competition, organised by local art galleries Galeri Chandan and HOM Art Trans, ran from last November to early January. This independent initiative aims to recognise talents who are relatively unknown (artists below the age of 35). Also, their artworks must have been produced between 2012 and 2013, and never exhibited locally before.

"There are many competitions promoting the arts in Malaysia. But what makes the MEA award different is the artworks are judged by the opinion of the industry," said Mohammad Nazli Abdul Aziz, managing director of Galeri Chandan.

"What better way when the stakeholders of the industry (art professionals, curators, collectors, academicians) are given the opportunity to honour the talents and evaluate the maturity of new entrants into the industry?" he added.

An independent group of (anonymous) judges were tasked to look through the entries, make a shortlist and pick the top five artists for MEA 2013. For the competition, 41 finalists were shortlisted out of a total of 178 artworks submitted. Back in 2009, 36 finalists were chosen, while in 2011, 75 entries were received and 39 finalists shortlisted.

The MEA 2013 winners each received a cash prize, vouchers for art materials, a 10-day travel grant to a city in South-East Asia and a showcase for all five winners (this August) and a solo exhibition in 2015, which will give them crucial exposure in the Malaysian contemporary art scene.

"These five winners now have a platform to work creatively, to gain knowledge and experience by travelling, to exhibit a collective showcase and this time around, a solo show. It's a series of programmes that lay the foundation for professional career development in the visual arts," said Nazli.

The Kuantan-born Cheong, who submitted a triptych for the competition, centres his emotive work on the melancholy of memory and distant longing.

"My creativity is all about memory, in which people, scenes and objects are described and defined. I create images and effects of deserted, abandoned or discarded things through various mixed materials," said Cheong.

Hilal, from Kuala Kangsar, revealed that he took two years to create his mechanical Flying Fleet series.

"I don't have an engineering background. This series came purely from my own artistic impressions with a fair amount of improvisation," said Hilal.

Expectations to deliver will be high for each MEA 2013 winner, especially since they are now part of an alumni that includes 2009 winners like Gan Chin Lee, Mohd Al-Khuzairie Ali, Mohd Bakit Baharom, Samsudin Wahab and Poodien (Shaifuddin Mamat). For MEA 2011, Chong Ai Lei, Siund Tan, Sun Kang Jye, Ng Swee Keat and Syahbandi picked up the top prizes.

At full gallop

Posted: 01 Feb 2014 08:00 AM PST

One of the most talented artists on horse paintings infuses his work with his soul.

IN the wild, the spirited horse unleases its boundless energy. The wind caresses its mane and its hooves kick up dust. It's born free.

On the racetrack, the horse charges forward on a single mission – to win!

Through the years, Chinese horse painting artist James Phua, 43, has captured horses in various settings and using different media like paper and canvas. Despite a 25-year art career, the Muar, Johor-born Chinese brush painter took the last 10 years to specialise only in horse paintings.

At 19, the self-taught artist had his first solo Chinese horse painting exhibition at Chin Woo Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, and sold more than 40 paintings.

In 1992, he graduated from the Malaysian Institute of Art with a major in Chinese ink painting. He learnt traditional Chinese ink painting from several renowned artists including local Chinese painting master Chung Chen Sun. Having mastered Oriental and Western art, he also taught both streams of art.

Chinese horse painting artist James Phua has been painting horses for the last 10 years. His first horse painting was when he was five years old.

Chinese horse painting artist James Phua has been painting horses for the last 10 years. He did his first horse painting when he was five years old.

"It takes me 10 minutes to an hour or more to perfect the painting of a horse depending on the (painting) style," said the founder of James Phua Art Centre (in Petaling Jaya, Selangor).

"The horse is (like) a bridge. Adopting it as the subject of my artworks has connected me to my art viewers. Painting horses is my profession and source of creativity."

As a child, Phua was impressed by the beauty of horses. Sketching and painting horses on recycled paper became his pastime as his family could not afford a television set. He credited his mother, Toh Liang Kwee, as playing an important role in encouraging him to develop his hobby.

As an adult, he sees the horse with "different" eyes. There is also no boundaries in the media employed for his horse paintings. He has dabbled with charcoal, acrylic, watercolour and mixed media.

"The majority of my horse paintings are in ink and colours. Chinese brush painting is one of the best mediums to capture the spirit of the horse," he explained.

Further along, Phua elaborates that he employs qi dao (literally, the way of energy flow) in his horse paintings.

James Phua's The Horse Power (97cm x 180cm) pits the horse with a racecar.copyright for mcjames

The Horse Power (97cm x 180cm) juxtaposes the horse and a race car.

"Qi dao is an innovative painting style in which I embody the flow of qi (energy) in my artwork by completing the image of horses without a break."

In traditional Chinese horse painting, Phua said, flat brushes are rarely used as they make painting the horse extremely difficult.

Phua integrates his skills of traditional Chinese painting with a sense of modernity. Through his bold and vigorous brushwork, the horses on the rice paper come alive with powerful energy.

But his mastery with horse painting comes from his observation of horses with his "brain and heart."

Phua also uses a unique technique in rendering the horse's galloping motion. The four limbs of the horse are rendered in a simplistic way using vigorous calligraphic brush strokes. His traditional Chinese painting brushwork is said to be "forceful, energetic, unrestrained as well as bold."

"The tremendous energy in my horse paintings is like a surging symphony rousing up the beholders," he said.

Polo (97cm x 181cm), a painting depicting a game of polo, which James Phua has taken keen interest in when it comes to his art.

Polo (97cm x 181cm) is a painting depicting a game of polo, which Phua has taken keen interest in when it comes to his art.

Earlier this month, Phua took his art to the masses. He painted the "longest single horse painting (12m by 6m) with paint on canvas" at Suria KLCC. Entitled One Big Horse to represents 1Malaysia, it was completed in about 40 minutes, he said.

Phua used the largest Chinese brush (bigger than a mop) made with horse hair in Malaysia.

He considered the event to be an art demonstration and an exercise to challenge his ability as an artist.

"As 2014 is the Year of the Horse, this attempt was even more meaningful," said Phua.

Datuk Danny Ooi, the founder of the Malaysia Book of Records, witnessed the record-making attempt on Jan 16 together with two Tan Sri Richard Cham (chairman of Selangor Turf Club) and Andrew Brien, CEO of Suria KLCC. Phua reckoned his horse painting will also be unofficially the world's largest Chinese horse painting.

"My aim is to share my experience, artworks, opinions and knowledge of art with art enthusiasts around the world," he concluded.

More info at www.jamesphuadehorse.com.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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