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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

Benedict Cumberbatch to play Hamlet on stage

Posted: 21 Mar 2014 08:00 PM PDT

Benedict Cumberbatch will put his own spin on William Shakespeare's iconic "to be or not to be" soliloquy in a new revival of Hamlet.

The Sherlock star will tread the boards as the melancholy and indecision prone prince of Denmark at London's Barbican Theatre, a spokeswoman for the actor confirmed. The show will debut in August 2015, and Lyndsey Turner (Machinal) will direct the production.

Cumberbatch last appeared on stage in 2011 in a Danny Boyle-directed adaptation of Frankenstein, alternating the roles of monster and maker with Jonny Lee Miller, and picking up an Olivier Award for his troubles. In a delicious coincidence, Miller went on to star as Sherlock Holmes in CBS' update of the Baker Street sleuth, Elementary.

On screen, Cumberbatch recently lent his dulcet tones to the role of the dragon in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and appeared in 12 Years a Slave. He will be playing Enigma code breaker Alan Turing in The Imitation Game.

Cumberbatch's involvement in Hamlet was first reported by the Daily Mail. – Reuters

The art of Yang Xu: Turbulence under serenity

Posted: 22 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Picture perfect? Only on the surface, as Beijing-born artist Yang Xu declares.

IT'S like someone is very well-mannered, but wild inside," says Beijing-born artist Yang Xu, effectively summing up the multi-faceted nature of his works.

He is referring to his art, but it feels like he could just as well be talking about himself.

During a chat at his solo exhibition launch at Richard Koh Fine Art in Kuala Lumpur on March 20, the 33-year-old artist comes across as down-to-earth and polite – relatively soft-spoken, but with strong opinions that he isn't afraid to share.

Apologising profusely for donning sunglasses in an indoor setting at night (he relates that he is rendered practically blind after his everyday pair of glasses was unceremoniously whipped off his face by the wild wind while out at sea, fishing before the launch), Yang chooses his words carefully in English and is focused and intense when sharing his thoughts on art and life.

He stresses that life, like his art, is not always how it looks like superficially.

Coin 5, tempera on canvas, is part of Yang Xu's fascination with coinage and currency.

Coin 5, tempera on canvas, is part of Yang Xu's fascination with coinage and currency.

"People think China has lots of rules and restrictions. And that's true. But if you know the right people, the right locals, you can do anything at all, really … anything at all … except killing people," he says.

Like real life, under the serene surface of each work, despite the rules, regulations and conventions it follows, lies some sort of "turbulence." Although heavily influenced by the classical style, most of Yang's works could hardly be considered to fit the poised image of what "classical" usually suggests.

But that's just as well, as the artist embraces both suggestions of "classical" and "contemporary" with ease, saying that he likes them both and that he draws inspiration from contemporary life, news, films and "some atmospheres" from classic paintings.

On the 11 works presented at his solo exhibition, Soul Aesthetic, Yang settles for the description: "contemporary (that) is hidden from the classic surface."

Indeed there is more than meets the eye here.

"My works look like they are following the rules and standards, but with many of them, the perspectives are 'wrong'. It is like a lie," the artist shares, pointing out that it is often not immediately apparent.

Aiming to express arrogance, eccentricity and absurdity with his works, he offers a "ridiculous" real-life example that plays a role in his crafting of "ironic images" – the daily evening news, aired at prime time, in China.

Soul Aesthetic by Yang Xu: Ballet 4, Oil on canvas

Yang Xu's illuminating I Am Not You book series, which is a tribute to his mentor Chen Danqing's art.

"On Chinese television, there is a news programme every night at 7pm," he relates, explaining that in the first 20 minutes, viewers are treated to stories and images of a prosperous China in full glory. This is followed by 10 minutes of screen-time depicting "problems" around the world, including conflicts, disasters, hunger and war.

"Ninety percent of the channels show this news programme. Almost every night's news is the same, I feel it is very ridiculous and funny, and that's why I paint these ironic images," Yang declares.

He states that when the surface appears to be "perfect", not only do people forget about fundamental problems, but they become numbed and oblivious to issues around them, no matter how obvious they are.

"Everyone defines 'perfection' differently. I believe it's a sense of contentment. If all my desires are met continuously, I think it is perfection," he says.

"If a country's governors consistently force their values onto its people for years, this is called 'brainwashing' or hypnotisation. People slowly lose their capability to judge. They just live, and be controlled by the government. This kind of society won't be creative and it won't last long," he adds.

Interestingly, Soul Aesthetic features excerpts from a conversation Yang had with Chinese contemporary artist and political activist Ai Wei Wei, one that was set up in Ai's studio specifically for this exhibition.

"He and I are familiar with each other. We are friends. We usually meet up for dinner or drinks … but 'official' conversation like this is rare," says Yang. "We both feel that art critics write about art too 'professionally', no one wants to read it. So in the interview, we talked about something else." (Which includes what kind of artists he abhors, corruption, and his relationship with his mentor Chen Danqing, among other things.)

He comments that although the conversation does not directly affect this exhibition, it influences his opinions and inspirations, which will, in turn, have an effect on future creations. Clearly, Yang has no qualms about expressing criticism for artists he feels fall short - whether in the department of technical expertise, or something else entirely.

Meat 3, oil on canvas, reflects the artist's raw relections ... literally.

Meat 3, oil on canvas, reflects the artist's raw reflections ... literally.

"Look at Chinese artist Yue Minjun's works – he always paints this big head with a happy face. Do you think there is any difference looking at one or a hundred of his paintings?" he poses a rhetoric question.

In the conversation he had with Ai (which is presented in the Soul Aesthetic catalogue), Yang expressed very strongly that he doesn't like "star artists" who "have no technique" and only get by on so-called "concept." Yang calls painting an art form, the best quality of which is to communicate with people directly through canvas and evoke emotions in the viewer.

"The foundation of painting is its techniques," he says, "which brings aesthetic appreciation to people. I feel my works are in between these two things."

At first glance, it seems like not only is he purposefully "deceptive" with his works, but is fickle with his choice of subject matter – a chunk of meat, a pair of ballet shoes, water droplets, a handful of coins, pictures in a book, and so on.

His apparent disinterest in sticking to the same subject matter or working in series has piqued the curiosity of many, fuelling comments that this calls into question his "maturity" as an artist.

But Yang maintains that while he is "still experimenting and accumulating", it doesn't necessarily mean that his works are immature.

This artist is adamant that developing one's painting skills should be a priority – merely talking about the "concept" is not sufficient.

"There are people who think only concept matters. But I think that as long as you are presenting it through a painting, your skills must be good. That is non-negotiable," Yang concludes.

At least he walks the talk, with beautiful paintings to his name.

Yang Xu's second solo exhibition in Malaysia called Soul Aesthetic is showing at Richard Koh Fine Art (Lot No. 2F-3, Level 2, Bangsar Village II, Jalan Telawi 1, Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur) till April 3. The gallery is open daily from 10am to 10pm. Call 03-2283 3677 or visit for details.

Treasure trove at Art Trio exhibition

Posted: 22 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

The Art Trio exhibition brings to light gems from three prominent collectors.

A NEW art space. Three major pioneering art collectors. Two floors of art. With the collectors coming from the country's finance circles, the recent Art Trio exhibition launch at Curate@SENI art space in Mont Kiara in Kuala Lumpur brought to light an array of gems from these distinguished private collections.

For the first time, art patrons Tun Daim Zainuddin, 76, Tan Sri Azman Hashim, 75, and Tan Sri Kamarul Ariffin, 79, have come together to exhibit an anthology of Malaysian and South-East Asian artworks under one roof. Thirty three works (11 from each collector) made the Art Trio exhibition list, which marked a high profile start for Henry Butcher Auctioneers' Curate@SENI art space. There was a high degree of public interest at the launch, taking into account the large number of historical pieces on parade.

For art enthusiasts, this was exciting since it's unlikely most people will get invited to view the vaults or private homes of these banking high-rollers. Significantly, these were collections amassed through the decades and some of the museum-quality works were lip-smacking gems by the great Modernist masters from South-East Asian art.

Midnight mystique: Basoeki Abdullah's The Emerald Pendant, oil on canvas, is a highlight at the Art Trio Exhibition in Kuala Lumpur.

Midnight mystique: Basoeki Abdullah's The Emerald Pendant, oil on canvas, is a highlight at the Art Trio Exhibition in Kuala Lumpur.

Daim, a former Finance Minister, and Kamarul had helmed Rakyat First Merchant Bank and Bank Bumiputra respectively, while Azman heads the AmBank Group conglomerate. Kamarul and Azman also headed the National Art Gallery's (NAG) Board of Trustees in 1976-85 and 1985-1991 respectively.

Based on factors such as rarity, provenance, time and significance of the works, and sheer personal bias, I managed to pick a personal Top 10.

The pieces I narrowed down come from the early 1950s right up to 1980. Unwittingly obvious is the strong narrative of the Asian woman mystique or ideal. Whether docile, demure, submissive, sensual, vulnerable or strong, the feminine form and spirit made an impression at the Art Trio exhibition.

1 Belgian-born, Bali-based artist Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur de Merpres's sun-dappled tapestry of joyful and quiet rhythms of lithe-bodied Balinese damsels still holds great interest. Often in the cast is his muse and later wife, Ni Polok, as seen by the small-format 44cm x 54cm Women By The Beach.

2 For an erotic splash by the river or waterfall, Basoeki Abdullah is an artiste to set the pulse racing. But at the Art Trio exhibition, stands a mysterious porcelain beauty, demure and elegant in a blue cheongsam and with a sexy mole just above her upper-lip, with a diamond-studded emerald pendant to boot. Basoeki's The Emerald Pendant piece reflects a mood of unease, as seen by the woman's awkward clasp of her hands.

Datuk Ibrahim Hussein's Pulse 1 (1978), acrylic on canvas, which is a prized piece from Tan Sri Azman Hashim's collection.

Datuk Ibrahim Hussein's Pulse 1 (1978), acrylic on canvas, which is a prized piece from Tan Sri Azman
Hashim's collection.

3 More towards the Mother Earth goddess model is Fernando Cueto Amorsolo's Bathing By The Stream (1957), with two round-faced, brown-skinned nubile women without the costumes identifiable of Pinoy heritage, in a symbolic cleansing ritual. For this artist, women loom large over the wide expanses of pastoral landscapes, often with a brilliant sunlight beating down.

4 Hendra Gunawan (1918-1983), founding activist artist of Persagi (Association of Indonesian Painters) and Lembaga Kebudayaan Rakyat (Lekra), is known for his dominant stylised Javanese women (often a mother). They come voluptuous and big-bosomed and with a lansing (curvaceous) figure, graceful puppet-like arms, brightly coloured clothes and web feet with widely-spaced toes. Here, Woman And Child At The Beach (1980) has all the hallmarks of his figurative stock.

Georgette Chen's Malay Woman (1950/53), oil on canvas.

Georgette Chen's Malay Woman (1950/53), oil on canvas.

5 Georgette Chen Liying (Zhejiang, China, 1906 – Singapore, 1993) is the most cosmopolitan of the Singapore pioneers, having studied art in Shanghai, Paris and New York. Her Malay Woman is clad in a floral blouse with plaited gathers in the centre and a scarf showing the front part of her well-coiffured hair, exuding kampung simplicity. This work was done between 1950-53 when she taught at a high school in Penang, before her second marriage to Dr Ho Yung Chi ended, and she joined the Nanyang Academy of Fine Art in Singapore until her retirement in 1981. She made regular painting excursions back to Malaysia with fellow artists and her students.

6 Khalil Ibrahim's Two Nude Figures of nudes from his London days in the 1960s (St Martin's School of Art, 1960-64) glimpses the tight anatomy of musculatures in his fishermen figures and later batiks, besides the foray into abstracts with interlocking figures. Here, the woman, who may be Caucasian, is lying in waiting on the floor.

7 Zulkifli Dahalan (1952-1977) made a huge impact in a short career with his red bare-forked figures as in his masterpiece, Separate Realities. This 1974 work from his major Di Dalam Ruang Rumah Series is the only other known existing piece – the other, in not-so-good condition, is in the collection of the late Rahime Harun, a former NAG director.

Affandi's Portrait Of Tan Sri Kamarul Ariffin (1971), oil on canvas.

Affandi's Portrait Of Tan Sri Kamarul Ariffin (1971), oil on canvas.

8 Tan Sri Kamarul Ariffin got to know the great Affandi (1907-1990) when a friend asked him to pick the artist up at the Subang airport. It was on his third visit that he decided on the spur of the moment to paint Kamarul's portrait because Kamarul's then beard and personality jelled with his trademark wispy strokes. That was in 1971.

Datuk Ibrahim Hussein's Guitar Player (1960), oil on canvas.

Datuk Ibrahim Hussein's Guitar Player (1960), oil on canvas.

9 Datuk Ibrahim Hussein's (aka Ib) The Guitar Player (1960, oil on canvas), with the unusual Cubism idioms, was done when studying at the Byam Shaw School of Drawing and Painting in London. Back then, he was at a creative overdrive with 22 oil paintings inspired by a disused prototype printing press and Sit Down Demonstration at Trafalgar on the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Kamarul was Ib's neighbour in London, where he was reading Law at Lincoln's Inn (1955-1961).

10 The last slot is a toss up between Datuk Ibrahim Hussein's Pulse I (1978) and Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal's Timang (1964), probably influenced by Hans Hofmann in his further studies in Chicago. But Ib has the edge with his signature fingerprint-mosaic parallel lines, which he developed in 1975 when Sim, whom he married a year later, gave him a set of graphic pens. Ib holds the Malaysian painting record when his Red, Orange and Core (1984) sold for RM797,500 at the Henry Butcher auction (May 2012).

Bayu Utomo Radjikin's The Portrait IX holds an art enthusiast's attention at the Art Trio exhibition.

Bayu Utomo Radjikin's The Portrait IX holds an art enthusiast's attention at the Art Trio exhibition.

For years, wealthy patrons and prominent collectors have largely been propping up the art scene here. They have amassed collections with significant historical worth and mention.

As a non-selling show, the Art Trio exhibition is a timely initiative by the Curate@Seni art space. These public shows will be held twice a year. It's important for these major collectors to expose and (re)introduce the important works that they own, to aid research and scholarship as well as for greater public appreciation.

Such a spirit in recent years has resulted in eye-openers from the private collections of Zain Azahari, Sin Min/Too Hing Yeap, 30 ArtFriends, Yang Terutama (former ambassadors), Aliya & Farouk Khan, Rahime Harun and Datuk Dr Tan Chee Khuan.

To view the complete collection, go to the Art Trio exhibition. Curated by Henry Butcher Art Auctioneers director Sim Po-Lenn, the exhibition ends on March 31. Curate@SENI is at LG1-1, SENI Mont Kiara, 2a Changkat Duta Kiara, Mont Kiara, Kuala Lumpur. For enquiries, 016-298 0852 or 016-273 3628. More info:

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