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Still Going at 76, with 'Flesh Matters' Proving to be Wong Keen's Most Accomplished Series Yet

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Still Going at 76, with 'Flesh Matters' Proving to be Wong Keen's Most Accomplished Series Yet
The Aftermath, details. Photo courtesy of the author.

Inspired by wet markets, Wong Keen finds himself returning to meat and figures as subject matters. Described as the most accomplished series in Wong’s painted oeuvre in 50 years, the genesis of ‘Flesh Matters’ dates back to the summer of 2012. This series has been construed by the artist as a particularly trying one as he did not initially have the confidence to pursue this subject due to its controversial nature. Fast-forward to current day and we note how his confidence pertaining to this series and its subjects has come leaps and bounds. He accredits this confidence to the involvement of The Culture Story and artcommune gallery. Ning Chong, curator and co-founder of The Culture Story notes Wong’s artistic traits to that of de Kooning, Bacon, and Matisse. Akin to that of a proud family member, she further states how this series is “brave” and “deserves to be exhibited as much as possible.” 49 works are included in this exhibit, ranging from acrylic on canvas, to rice paper, to wood; there even stands a replica of a meat stand, with acrylic on paper mimicking the meat, individually hung on pallets.

Photo courtesy of the author 

What becomes immediately indisputable upon any first encounter with Wong Keen is the dedication to his artistic cause. Strong sentiments of eagerness surround the manner in which he talks about his craft, and at 76, he shows no signs of stopping. Huai Seng Chong, co-founder of The Culture Story states how “At 76, most artists would be ready to hang up their boots, but Wong Keen is still building and exploring new frontiers. This is a sign of him as a strong artist.”

A couple of days prior to the media preview, Wong felt his installation entitled “A Butcher’s Place” missed a certain sense of figurativeness that would account for fluidity and fill the gaps between works within the show. He hunted for a mannequin, painted it in his classic abstractive meaty hues, and placed it in his ‘butcher shop’ (there were serious considerations of exhibiting this as a real-life model in the nude, painted in the same colour palette, but time constraints and legal regulations got in the way). 24 hours before opening day, something still felt missing in Wong’s eyes despite the 49 works that hung gallantly around him – so he created a 50th. Constructed out of styrofoam, acrylic, and some form of rope-like contraption, Wong constructed a life-sized roasted pig. Walking into the exhibition, this pig seemed to greet with traditional sentiments of Chinese auspiciousness, falling perfectly in line with themes of body, figure, and texture with bright reds hinting at the slight of gore.

Wong Keen making adjustments to 'A Butchers Place'.
Photo courtesy of the author

Wong Keen's 'Pig'
Photo Courtesy of Ning Chong @ The Culture Story 

The figurative nature of Wong’s works translates over mediums, subject matters and contexts. In his ‘burger’ series, figures are evident in signifying “classes sandwiched together”. Derived from Wong Keen’s road trips around the US during his time there, he aims to express a certain commodification of flesh, the “squished up” marginalized. Whilst there exists a sociopolitical take, his ‘burgers’ predominantly serve as an exploration of form, colour, and texture. Walking through this exhibition, these themes slowly become apparent over all works despite different subject matters.

When asked about which was his favourite work, Wong humbly says, “there is not a particular work I can point out. Imagine my journey as a giant pot; these works are all just ingredients towards it. The outcome of my works pleases me, but I cannot tell you which one I think is the masterpiece. I would say I put a lot of effort, a lot of energy and emotion into my work. But even for me, it takes a bit of time to digest their final outcomes.”

Photo courtesy of the author

Wong’s works are beautiful to say the least, figuratively witty, and contextually sound. Its exciting attributes go hand in hand with his robust individuality, transposed undoubtedly across his works. However, establishing curatorial fluidity in delineating an effective means of visual comprehension between works to works, from series to series, was by no means an easy feat. Speaking to Ning Chong about why ‘Flesh Matters’ was a curatorial challenge, she lists the nude forms, the burgers, and the butcher shop paintings as pillars in the over-arching “Flesh” series. “Within these bodies of work, you have paintings, paper collages, and installation. There are so many parts involved that it took us a good half a year to make sense of it all. It was a personal endeavor to make sure that I was as familiar with Wong’s works as much as possible.”

Image courtesy of the author 

“The abstract expression, the landscaping, all these traits have always been evident in his work. But this time, he’s really going on a limb here to bring it all together. In a way, he’s letting go and rounding up his last 25 years.”, says Ning. With irrefutably positive responses from the opening day both locally and internationally, The Culture Story and artcommune gallery hope that ‘Flesh Matters’ will bring awareness to local talent and make people look at Singaporean art again.

Image courtesy of the author 

 

Flesh matters in on show at Artspace @ Helutrans until the 22nd of July 2018
For more information, click here


Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.



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