Wong Keen: Recent Works
18.11 // 08.12 2021
This special showcase features 21 new works completed by Wong Keen in his Singapore studio mostly between 2020-2021, providing audience a quick survey of the artist's current practice as he continues to evolve new visual strategies to convey long-standing themes such as the lotus, the nude, the burger, and the flesh.
Wong Keen's two most recent canvas works, I Search for a Garden I and II, each spans 184 x 210 cm and reflects his lifelong interest in manipulating the lotus form as a vehicle for pushing colour relations and the viscosity of paint. Colours merge, resist, and seep into surrounding forms, pulling together an image that is familiar yet ethereal. From edge to edge, the vivacious colour play ventilates the tensions between abstruseness and lucidity, will and surrender.
In Ninja Burger, a bold, luscious burger is encroached by an army of French fries while a suggested figure lies compressed between scrumptious toppings and meat patties. Playful at first glance, the image slowly gives way to a claustrophobic tension as more elements are disclosed by association and the violence of the brushstrokes that composed the bacon meat conveys a visceral intensity that dominates the picture. Wong Keen’s burger imagery evokes the idea of nude as meat to express the parallels between the two different forms of 'flesh trade’ sustained by man’s ubiquitous commodification and consumption of flesh. Just as the pigs and cows raised and butchered for products at animal farms, a similar cycle of violence, oppression and consumption marks the fate of women sold or peddled for their flesh.
Wong Keen, Ninja Burger, 2021, Oil on canvas, 184 x 210 cm
Also on showcase is a series of 12 small oil paintings, each featuring a recurring theme in his oeuvre - the lotus, the nude, the burger, and the flesh. Collectively, these works draw out the visual synthesis between his formal explorations of these subjects and the culminating poetics that define his painterly style.
Wong Keen (b. 1942, Singapore – ) grew up in a Chinese literati environment in Singapore and as a child studied drawing and painting under pioneer artists Liu Kang and Chen Wen Hsi. He was an acclaimed teenage painter in the early Singapore art scene and in 1961 held his first solo exhibition at age 19. He departs for America that same year to study at the Art Students League of New York, becoming the first Singaporean and among the earliest of Chinese artists to venture into the flourished post-war American art scene. In 1965, Wong Keen became the first Singaporean and Asian of Chinese origin to be awarded the prestigious Edward G. McDowell Travelling Scholarship in the history of the Art Students League. With the scholarship he went on a one-year postgraduate program at the then St. Martin’s School of Art in London. Upon completing his postgraduate studies in 1966, Wong Keen settled down in America and only formally returned to the Singapore art scene again in the 1990s.
Having spent over 50 years in the US, Wong Keen registered a plethora of artistic influences that melded the fast-paced American art scene. His prolific oeuvre, which encompasses oil, ink, acrylic, collage, and mixed media since the 1960s to the present, is a powerful embodiment of the delicate expressivity of Chinese ink wash aesthetics and Western inventive approach towards form and colour. In 2007, the Singapore Art Museum celebrated his masterful oeuvre with the solo exhibition, Wong Keen: A Singapore Abstract Expressionist. Wong Keen’s work is held in a number of private and public collections, including the National Art Museum of China, Minnesota State University Art Museum, Albright Knox Art Gallery, New York, Singapore Art Museum, Urban Redevelopment Authority, Singapore, Resorts World Sentosa and Fullerton Hotel.
Date: 18 November – 08 December 2021
Time: 12pm – 7pm daily
Venue: artcommune gallery