One year after his last exhibition, Hymen, visual artist Ivan Lam is still navigating what could be described as some sort of midlife artistic crisis. In his latest concept series, he completely “dequalified” himself in the creative process by simply running paint through superimposed streaks. This time – with his latest exhibition titled False – he returns to the fundamentals of western oil painting.
Focusing solely on the use of his hands, Lam produced nine works depicting still lifes of altar flower offerings created by his mother. “She does them for church every Sunday. And then my sister takes a photo with her cell phone and sends it to the family group chat. I saved them all thinking that someday I would do something with them, and that day came five years ago, ”Lam says.
Works are always about getting out of the equation, but the difference is that instead of creating art without using his skills, Lam has placed himself in the position of a creative ‘workaholic’, focusing on the hands of the artist as a worker while abandoning the injection of intention and interpretation.
The idea, and this season of introspection, was sparked by the book Death of the artist by Nicola McCartney. This sparked questions in Lam’s mind about letting go of the ego, about the artist’s influence on his work and what he owns, on the creator and the created.
“As artists, we always want to have full control of our works, to say something, to manipulate. I tried to avoid this, which is why I painted the flower arrangements exactly as they are, in still life. It was so difficult at first, ”he laughs,“ so unlike Ivan Lam, but it was a way for me to be just another cog in the machine… that’s the one of the reasons I painted these images, as a way to collaborate. with my mother and my sister.
Lam took his mother to the studio when he finished painting the pictures for 18 months and showed them to her. “I asked her if she could do me the honor of naming them, because I didn’t know how or why she had arranged them that way. She took it very seriously and all the names come from her heart, honest, no jargon or trying to be smart and I enjoyed it.
The names of the works include Still waiting, Be grateful, I am looking at you, Just for you, It depends on you, To your good A service, Tempus Fugit (Time flies), Inspirations and Devotion.
Even without knowing the names, those familiar with the work of contemporary artist Ivan Lam would find the works intriguing and unfamiliar when they viewed False. But again, it is the artist who says he told his gallery owner, Lim Wei-Ling, to get rid of him and his works if he ever became repetitive.
“This is my biggest fear,” admits Lam. He’s always been afraid of becoming stale and having nothing new to say as an artist, he says. His solution – perhaps as a coping mechanism, he concedes – was to start exploring the idea of getting out of the equation. “Then you can take on anything and be anyone else and just play another person’s role in the process of creation. It’s hard to remember the “I”, but it’s also refreshing and different. “
This idea of an alter ego of himself resonates with the concept of False. Indeed, for the opening of the exhibition, he sent an actor in his place, who became Ivan Lam for the evening and explained the works to the media and to the guests.
In a world where we see what we want to see, or show what we want to show, Lam’s painted flowers juxtaposed with marble images on the same canvas resonate more strongly on second glance. Although they look realistic, marble slabs are not real. They are created using an immersion technique known as hydro paint. He doesn’t hide this fact, revealing the truth on the sides of the unframed canvas. Still, it cannot be denied that the image of marble is visually very real, and placed side by side with the altar flower paintings, creates a conversation about different realities.
Both are fake in their own way – the ephemeral flowers are immortalized forever and the strong and durable marble is in fact a mere illusion – yet the image staring at the viewer evokes a version of truth, depth, feelings. like heat and cold with perceptions of harshness and softness.
As for meaning, Lam insists that the works were created precisely to allow each person’s perspective and meaning to be attributed to them. Personally, he says he still has so many questions, adding that there are still a lot of issues to explore.
One is, perhaps, spirituality and faith, albeit subconsciously. In the exhibition notes he alludes to Plato and Aristotle, who had said that art is a reflection of nature, and therefore a “mimesis – an attempt to imitate or reproduce reality”.
In the reproduced images of an act of worship and the models of natural creation, the question of the creator in a created world remains paramount to Lam, and this is something we can certainly look forward to in future work, for there is the promise that Lam the conversation is only just beginning.
Wei-Ling Contemporary, 6th Floor, The Gardens Mall, KL. Until April 2. Tue-Sat, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. See more here.
This article first appeared on March 11, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.