Granny Resting by Cheong Tuck Wai [2015], mixed media [Image transfer, burnt effect, oil and acrylic on non woven fabric, latex & rabbit glue, gloss gel finishing].

ART as it is, seems inexhaustible. It constantly tugs at you, demands and repays more and more attention. It deepens at every contact. It glows at a different angle according to when and where it’s experienced. And you look at the world differently afterwards.

The painting before me causes me to hold my breath for at least a couple of seconds. The arresting oil painting of a woman crouched in a foetal position atop a bouquet of roses set in soft pastel colours holds court at the end of the gallery. It would have been a lovely portraiture of a woman if it wasn’t for her face. Because there’s none. Just slabs of raw meat where her face should be.

The bold surrealism depicted in They Are by Trixie Tan Lu Man stops me in my tracks and compels me to delve deep into her piece for just a while longer. It’s like stepping into a beautiful mind, but dark thoughts intrude in the form of well... meat. The suggestion of vulnerability set against the antic vibrancy of her painting has me piqued.

I’m also wondering why the poor woman is a complete meathead. Literally.

The young artist smiles uncertainly when I ask her that. My pun fizzles out like a leaky balloon and I’m a little ashamed at coming off too strongly. It’s clear that she has never encountered a plebeian before and doesn’t know what to make of my boisterous (and un-punny) introductions.

Decidedly nervous and with a tremor in her voice, Tan apologises profusely for not being able to be conversant enough in English. She seems almost as fragile as the images she paints — ethereal bare-chested women with blooms or meat stand uncovered covering their faces. They Are forms part of the collective that Tan painted. Story Begins, Disease and Now similarly depict beauty, vulnerability and reticence, with faces hidden beneath euphemisms of sorts.

“I wanted to show the different facets of a woman,” she haltingly explains of They Are. “She’s a creature filled with beauty and elegance. Yet at the same time, the hardships she’s endures, the pain and struggle she goes through, are also an integral part of her psyche. There are contradicting sides to her — both beauty, represented by the roses and ugliness that makes her who she is.” The raw meat, Tan points out, is “ugly and disgusting” and represents the throes of heartache, hardship and pain every woman journeys through.

The Dasein Academy of Art graduate in Fine Arts who tells me that she’s been “painting all her life”, is one of the 24 award-winning young and contemporary artists forming the ‘Young Contempo Showcase II’ curated by Henry Butcher Art Auctioneers (HBAA), showcasing artistic trends from our country’s new generation of creative talents.

They Are by Trixie Tan Lu Man [2016], oil on canvas.

A collective of talents

The 62 art pieces are spread throughout the gallery — each with its own surprises and quirks and all worthy of prolonged viewing — briskly laid out by Sim Polenn, curator of HBAA in collaboration with Galeri Prima. “The works by these artists can be viewed as a mirror of constantly evolving times, and the stories told encourages the audience to see things in new contexts and possibilities,” he says with a smile. And I’m inclined to agree.

In addition to Tan’s vivid surrealism, there’s an interesting range of artistic approach to the rest of the pieces on display, with styles ranging from abstract to realism, each infused with the artists’ personality, experience and backgrounds among other influences.

The exhibition also showcases significant works by other young and emerging talents comprising Ajim Juxta, Anisa Abdullah, Azizi Latif, Azrul Azrai, Cheong Tuck Wai, Chok Yue Zan, Faizal Suhif, Gan Tee Sheng, Haslin Ismail, Hug Yin Wan, Ismail Awi, Ivnn Tang, Khairul Izham, Leow Xu Jia, Louise Low, Ruzzeki Harris, Sabihis Pandi, Safuan Nasiar, Shafiq Nordin, Shaliza Juanna, Tiong Chai Heing, Trixie Tan Lu Man, Wan Amy Nazira and Yim Yen Sum.

“These artists have won either the UOB Painting of the Year Award, Malaysia Emerging Artist Award, Young Guns Award, Bakat Muda Sezaman, Balai Seni Open Show, Galeri Shah Alam Open Show, Nando’s Art Initiative and many others,” says Polenn.

The Paths by Wan Amy Nazira (2017), oil and charcoal on canvas.

He shares that the Young Contempo Showcase first started in 2016 and featured 12 Malay artists. “In this second edition, I’ve doubled the number of artists to 24 artists. It’s important to let the young artists have a chance to showcase, to let their talents be discovered,” he explains animatedly, waving his hand around the gallery.

“What do you gather from this painting?” Polenn asks as he leads me to a whimsical piece painted in an almost naive folk-art style of a woman in a scarf clutching an art book and a feather duster. “She looks like she’s caught between two worlds,” I suggest, examining the oil and charcoal painting closer. “You’re right!” he replies, triumphantly.

“It’s a story of the artist herself. The dilemma a woman faces when she gets married and finds herself torn between two worlds — one being her art career and the other, her home. She proves that she’s equally adept at both, and that she’s able to wield the feather duster and take care of her household while pursuing her love for art at the same time,” he tells me of The Paths by Wan Amy Nazira. “It’s one of my favourite pieces,” he adds fondly, before adding: “Her art is so distinctive that you’ll soon be able to recognise her pieces anywhere because of her unique style.”

Red Ceremony by Safuan Nasiar [2017], oil on canvas.

Artistic sentiments

As we wander through the gallery with Polenn retelling the artists’ stories behind the pieces, it’s easy to imagine you’re wandering through their heads. That’s the idea here: 24 artists: 24 mental spaces to explore. And they’re all traversed through evocative pieces that beg for a second and sometimes even a third look.

A telling example: 24-year-old Safuan Nasiar’s pieces look strikingly abstract from a distance, but there’s a hidden facet to his artwork that’s only confirmed when you close in to scrutinise. “There are faces beneath!” I exclaim. Underneath the burst of foliage, peers a visage in all three pieces.

The earnest young artist is at hand to explain his work. “These are people whom I know back in my kampung,” he says. Pointing to Senja, he adds with a grin: “This Indian man is my barber. He has been cutting my hair since I was a boy!”

Trixie Tan Lu Man.

Safuan proceeds to explain that his pieces, Red Ceremony, Red Ceremony II and Senja represent man’s relationship with nature. “Everything you see here is from my observations at my own kampung. Senja speaks of getting old with its moody colours that signify ageing and the passing of time, while my Red Ceremony series depict how simple folks celebrate and live in harmony with nature,” he explains.

There’s something very interesting being suggested here about art, feeling, and reality. A painting removes us from the messiness of real life in order to show us a more selective slice of it. And as you delve into the gamut of realities presented here in this eclectic showcase of talents, you’re bound to be affected by some of them — in more ways than one.

This, in a nutshell, is why I love art. It imposes no obligations on our time, but offers a chance to escape into its time. Slight or profound, it can evolve into just about anything — because everything depends on our engagement. Never mind the fact that you may not understand some of them. After all, in the world of art, what is heard and seen is as valid as what is intended to be said, and what is created. That’s art’s unique freedom. And ours.

Safuan Nasiar.

The Young Contempo Showcase II

WHERE Galeri Prima, 31, Jalan Riong, Balai Berita Bangsar, KL.

WHEN Until Jan 24. 10am to 6pm daily. Weekends by appointment.

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