Friday, April 06, 2007

At SAM: Convergences: Chen Wen Hsi Centennial Exhibition, Part II

Continuing from At SAM: Convergences: Chen Wen Hsi Centennial Exhibition (Part I)...

The next section of Convergences: Chen Wen Hsi Centennial Exhibition displays paintings classified under the broad theme of Exploration. According to the exhibition panel, "Exploration deals with Chen Wen Hsi's open approach to art-making... He moved freely between styles, techniques, and media, always with the aim of investigating the elements that made a successful work of art."

Exploration is one section of the exhibition which I have a love-hate relationship with.

I didn't exactly like some of the artworks that were displayed in the Exploration section. Somehow, I did not quite know how to relate to these artworks. However, when I understood the motivations that had led Chen Wen Hsi to experiment with various art styles, techniques, and media, I cannot help but have a great sense of respect to this artist who is brave and innovative enough to try out and investigate new ways of art-making.

I think that Chen Wen Hsi's training and exposure to both Chinese and Western art styles probably gave him the foundation to experiment with various styles and to pioneer new ways to art-making.

My accompanying friend, Mystic, pointed me to the interesting work below by Chen Wen Hsi. Upon closer look, I was impressed by the idea of writing Chinese calligraphy over thick paint.

Abstract Composition with Calligraphy, mixed media on board.

I could not help but to walk forward to take a closer look at Abstract Composition with Calligraphy. I could not quite tell how Chen Wen Hsi had written those calligraphy-looking words over the thick paint, but as I took several steps back, away from the artwork, the entire effect that this piece of artwork had on me could be summarised in one single phrase: "There's more to it than meets the eye".

Close up of one section of Abstract Composition with Calligraphy.

It seemed to me that the art movements of Cubism, Fauvism and perhaps Post-Impressionism have some kind of influences over the art of Chen Wen Hsi.

Somehow, Abstract Cranes reminded me of the paper cuttings by Henri Matisse. While I like many of Matisse's works, to tell you the truth, I did not like Chen Wen Hsi's Abstract Cranes at first sight. Neither did I like it after several viewings. Somehow, it just did not speak to me. But if I were to appreciate it based on its composition, somehow the painting does look fairly balanced in its composition.

Try imagine that all the white areas of Abstract Crane had been painted the same blue colour as the background. Would you begin to realise that the composition of this painting would somehow look out-of-balance?

I particularly found it a wise idea to hang Abstract Cranes against a red wall. It somehow makes the work stand out. If it were hung on against a mere white wall, I fear that I might not have even bothered to take a look at it.

Abstract Cranes.

The sight of Chen Wen Hsi's Grazing evoked a pleasant sense of nostalgia in me. Such feelings could have came about because when I was just a teenager learning Art History, Grazing was often presented to me as one of the examples of Chen Wen Hsi's artworks. The large buffalo right in the foreground led my eyes to look at the middle section of the artwork. I particularly like the bright-green colours used for the background of the middle section of Grazing. Somehow, those colours helped make the composition a pleasing one to me.


Chinese Character Wang stood out from the rest and it easily caught my attention. My guide for the guided tour gave the group some interesting background information on this work and I found I could better appreciate this work. By the way, in case you should think that there's only one Chinese character Wang in this work, I urge that you look closer.

Chinese Character Wang

While I was at the Exploration section, I started to think: Experimentation can be considered one important aspect of art-making. If an artist's life is solely devoted to doing what conventions dictate, possibly in a few decades time, art would have become dull and uninspiring.

In that light, I felt that while I cannot quite bring myself to love every single piece of work shown in the Exploration section, I could appreciate how each of them have contributed to the bigger picture of striving to find aesthetically pleasing ways to art-making.

There are many more interesting artworks in the Exploration section. Convergences: Chen Wen Hsi Centennial Exhibition will be ending very soon! Do check it out by 8 April 2007.

For your convenience, here is some visitors' information to take note of:

Singapore Art Museum
71 Bras Basah Road
Singapore 189555
Tel: (65) 6332 3222
Fax: (65) 6336 5361

Adult: $5.00
Student: $2.50
Senior Citizen (above 60 years): $2.50
Family Ticket (3 Adults and 2 Children): $13.00

Daily guide tours are available.

More visitors' information can be found here

Chen Wen Hsi's biography (on Czine-NAFAHUB)
Review by Choy Weng Yang

On Nanyang Style (of art):
Nanyang Art by Ting Szu Kiong

On Cubism:
ArtLex on Cubism

On Fauvism:

Also view:
Chen Wen Hsi @ SAM
Bada Shanren: Information from
At SAM: Convergences: Chen Wen Hsi Centennial Exhibition
SAM: Convergences: Chen Wen Hsi Centennial Exhibition, Part III

Acknowledgements: Special thanks to Singapore Art Museum for granting me the permission to take non-flash photography of this exhibition. Special thanks to Shaun for helping me to obtain the permission.

(Note: This post has also been concurrently posted on on 6 April 07)

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