Lining Up The Draw

The endless troves of Singaporeans and permanent residents that streamed to Paragon Shopping Center to watch specially flown in autistic British artist, Stephen Wiltshire, draw “The Singapore Skyline” over 4 days from mid July is indeed a heartening sight for local proponents of this medium of art for the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) tends to uphold contemporary art that use unconventional mediums.

When SAM does exhibit a drawing, the artwork has to have some extra merit of being novel. Take the 3 displayed in SAM’s current “Medium at Large” exhibition: Singaporean Ian Woo’s “Lot Sees Salt” series are ‘drawings’ that play between pencil and paintbrush. While precise pencil lines detail the fine structures suggesting an organism, landscape or otherworldly terrain, the central portion sees that the graphite has been treated like paint – Woo had used a brush to pull marks across the paper’s surface to create vigorous brushstrokes that erase and distort the more delicate marks of the original penciled line.

And even though Filipino Renato Orara and Malaysian Nadiah Bamadhaj had drawn realistic representations with a ballpoint pen and charcoal respectively, the former’s “Bookwork: NIV Compact Thinline Bible (page 403)” drawing was done on 1 page in the Christians’ Holy Book while the latter’s “Quiet Rooms” is crafted as a collage that takes as it’s ‘ground’ an entire wall measuring 6 metres.

In total contrast, Wiltshire’s landscape is just a realistic representation, albeit an artistic 1, of Singapore’s cityscape, whose only moment of novelty is his ability to pen down purely from memory the country’s Marina Bay and financial district after just an hour’s helicopter ride over this terrain.

And it will go on display from September at the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Singapore City Gallery at The URA Centre along Maxwell Road after the Singapore Press Holdings and the artist have presented the completed drawing to the island’s president, Mr Tony Tan Keng Yam, as an advance present for the nation’s 50th birthday in 2015.

If all this recent fanfare with Wiltshire has piqued your interest in what else Singapore has to offer in this artistically oldest of medium over this summer, pay Mulan Gallery Pte Ltd a visit. It’s current exhibition on local artist, Koh Hong Teng’s “Between Lines” showcases his original comic art pages from his books “Gone Case”, “Last Train from Tanjong Pagar” and “Ten Sticks and One Rice”.

The 1st adapts Koh’s award-winning novel of the same name into a comic book format. Told over 2 volumes, the story follows budding teenager Yong through the stresses he faces in the Singapore education system as his friendship with his best friend gets tested; all rolling into persistent reality after his grandmother has just passed away.

The 2nd gets set during 2011, when the Keretapi Tanah Melayu train that had run between Singapore and Malaysia for almost 80 years became rerouted to Woodlands Train Checkpoint after the closure of its Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and its preservation as a national monument. The story follows a group of heritage enthusiasts taking the final ride out of the Tanjong Pagar station, and blends fiction with facts based on real tours led by architecture historian Lai Chee Kien.

The last, but not least, won the bronze category of the 7th International Manga Award this year and follows protagonist Neo Hock Seng’s struggles to eke out a living as illegal bookie, triad member and street hawker, even as his old ways and values get increasingly challenged as Singapore transforms from a kampong to a cosmopolitan city.

Concurrently on show are the large-scale, figurative charcoal works on paper by a very well established Singaporean artist, Jimmy Ong. Now based in Vermont, USA, his solo exhibition at Fost Private Limited presents a selection of works from his more recent “Nassim Hill Revisited” suite, along with those from his previous series “Ancestors On The Beach” and “Beyond LKY”.

While Ong uses his suite of works, depicting flora and still life with vegetables and fruits, to reminisce on the time he had spent living and working in the Nassim Hill district during the 1990s, his signature figurative creations defining the latter of his 2 series are a result of being part of a Valentine Willie Fine Art Singapore’s display of its “Singapore Survey 2010: Beyond LKY” project, where Singaporeans were invited to imagine a future as their country moves forward without its Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.

“Ancestors On The Beach” distills these separate takes on the personal and controversial into 1 as Ong aims to come to terms with his past in Singapore. It presents his wish that the country can see a day where differences in religion, race, gender and sexual orientation can be truly celebrated and respected.

Also narrating and commenting on the realities of his surroundings are the works of art by Indonesian artist Muhamad ‘Ucup’ Yusuf. The 3 pen on paper representational drawings that devotedly adhere to his culture’s aesthetics, in his “Behind New World Order” exhibition at Tomio Koyama Gallery Singapore, are created through avid observation coupled with vivid imagination.

1 keen study births the universally applicable “Wild Impact”, which discusses how art affects the way we live, drawing as analogy the immense effect the iconic series of 4 American “Rambo” films, produced in the 1980s and 2008, has significantly and lastingly made on the psychology manifested by child soldiers.

Equally astute scrutiny of Yusuf’s own Javanese origins yields “Little Cosmos” and “Time and Space”: 1 pictorially depicts his culture’s philosophical story on who the Javanese are and their ‘spiritual brothers’, along with the dimension they exist in in their universe. The other conjures up the difference their respect for time and space sometimes has with those from outside of Java and Indonesia.

If by now you are questioning whether a distinct dichotomy exists within what gets exhibited as drawings in SAM and the island’s commercial galleries, Yeo Workshop’s upcoming group exhibition “A Drawing Show” will put your unease at bay. It attempts to provide a concise take on what is presently displayed on this medium here and in Southeast Asia.

This view of the realities and possibilities of drawing ranges from pencil-on-paper works to structural interventions to conceptual approaches to mark-making, in addition to a progressive shift away from the object to the body, with a firm emphasis on the visually complex to the gestural force that animates it.

Hence, it brings together established Singaporean abstractionist, Ian Woo (yes, it is he at SAM), with 3 emerging artists, being locals Wong Lip Chin and Boedi Widjaja, and Bangkok-based Jaitip Jaidee. And the gathering engages with the medium of drawing in visual, cerebral, considered and apropos ways.

Here Woo extends his investigation of shape, line and form into the graphic realm, producing tableaus that obliquely evoke scenes of cosmic cataclysm, all smoke and dissolution and chaos, while the pop-and-otaku-culturally-geared aesthetic sensibilities of Wong’s induce him to produce site-specific installations in the gallery by drawing on its columns motifs from 2 anime-style characters he has created – Lilou and Oomoo – his alter-egos of sorts.

On the other hand, Widjaja and Jaidee’s art are premised on an interest in the facts of materiality: while the Indonesian-born Singaporean’s installation comes in the form of rubbings that explore texture and history, the Thai’s drawings on wood represent a physical and conceptual engagement with her choice of material.

The former’s work results in 3-dimensional textures, with bits of the wall adhering to the inked paper, forming tactile patterns. The latter’s represents an experiment alive to the possibilities of materiality, of physical properties as well as broader social implications.

These are not the only art they have in store though: on the opening night of “A Drawing Show”, there will be a show for the public – a 2-man performance by Wong and Widjaja where they will engage in 2 different forms of drawing, 1 emphasizing ephemerality, the other permanence and so the difference between pencil and ink as well as paper and skin.

As such, their combined approaches, being conceptual, abstract, material, multi-medial, are as varied and wide ranging as they are fascinating.

And if by then you are hooked on the graphic art of drawing, and are wondering where it stands in the midst of a vast myriad of artworks that now dabble in photography, video, installation and participation, you will be heartened to know that Woo, Wong and Widjaja will be giving a talk in August on the status of this medium in contemporary Singapore.

Be drawn into a summer immersion in this traditional medium within its wide present-day contexts:

Artist: Koh Hong Teng

Exhibition: “Between Lines”

When: Till 19 August 2014

Where: Mulan Gallery Pte Ltd, 36 Armenian Street, #01-07, Singapore 179934


Artist: Jimmy Ong

Exhibition: Jimmy Ong

When: Till 31 August 2014

Where: Fost Private Limited, 1 Lock Road, #01-02 Gillman Barracks, Singapore 108932


Artist: Muhamad ‘Ucup’ Yusuf

Exhibition: “Behind New World Order”

When: Till 14 September 2014

Where: Tomio Koyama Gallery Singapore, 47 Malan Road, #01-26 Gillman Barracks, Singapore 109444


Artists: Ian Woo, Wong Lip Chin, Boedi Widjaja & Jaitip Jaidee

Exhibition: “A Drawing Show”

When: 1 August – 14 September 2014

Where: Yeo Workshop, 1 Lock Road, #01-01 Gillman Barracks, Singapore 108932


Event: Wong Lip Chin & Boedi Widjaja’s performance

Title: “My drawing is better than your drawing”

When: 7pm, 1 August 2014

Where: Yeo Workshop


Event: Artist Talk by Ian Woo, Wong Lip Chin & Boedi Widjaja

Subject: Drawing in contemporary Singapore

When: 4pm – 5.30pm, 23 August 2014

Where: Yeo Workshop


Feature photo: Boedi Widjaja’s “Wall Paper”. Photo credit: Yeo Workshop

Right photo: Muhamad ‘Ucup’ Yusuf’s “Wild Impact”. Photo credit: Tomio Koyama Gallery Singapore

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