The ongoing thoughts of an art teacher in China - and home in Sydney

A continuing diary about my travels in China, and thoughts about China and Chinese art from home and abroad

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

We Have Crossed the Lake

Ian Woo, 'We Have Crossed the Lake', image used with permission of the artist
Ian Woo, 'The Great Interior',  image used with permission of the artist

I loved the work by Abstract painter Ian Woo in his review show at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Lasalle College of Fine Arts, SIngapore. I included a review of the show in a piece about contemporary art in Singapore I recently had posted on 'The Art Life'
Here are my thoughts about the exhibition:
 Lyrical and beautiful, without ever descending into empty gesture, or becoming formulaic, Woo’s body of work reveals a practice of unremitting commitment and a single-minded examination of the possibilities of colour, mark and surface. Owing a debt to Philip Guston and Susan Rothenberg, as well as to canonical abstract painters of the mid-20th century such as Kline or Motherwell, the works represent nevertheless a powerful and idiosyncratic visual language all his own. In works such as ‘We Have Crossed the Lake’, 2009, the figure-ground relationships demonstrate a confident knowledge that what is left out is just as important as what is shown. An energetic calligraphy of white and black lines scrawls with apparent abandon across the surface of the work, yet underlying the gestural mark-making is a sure, spare restraint which derives from his evident knowledge of Chinese ink-painting traditions.
Playing with hard edge shapes versus lyrical, smoky drifts of grey and ochre, an earlier work such as Before I give an answer I see a flower indicates more obviously the artist’s influence from New York painters such as Guston. The ethereal drawn lines of The Clearest Symbol, dating from 1997, tantalise with hints of mysterious half-seen objects or landscapes. The subtlety of the grey washes and stains and the spare restraint of the floating forms evoke a dream-like state. Large ink drawings in this show reinforced this sense of meditation – a surprising calm as many of the individual works are so filled with energy and crammed with disparate shapes, colours and forms. Woo has said he is interested in complication, confusion and connection, and this sense that the artist is working out difficult problems on the surface of each painting is a thread running through this show.

Ian Woo, Before I Give an Answer I See a Flower, image used with permission of the artist
These works were showing in the wonderful new buildings of the Lasalle College of Fine Arts,  making me fantasise about being an art student once more. Why did I not fully appreciate the wonderful luxury of those 4 years spent at art college, all those many years ago? Why on earth did I not spend every precious moment learning as much as I possibly could? Too much time dancing to rockabilly bands (it WAS the '70s!) and drinking cheap beer, and not enough time painting! Especially way too much time spent on nonsensical student politics. What can I say? "That was in another country, and besides, the wench is dead"....(to quote either Christopher Marlowe's 'The Jew of Malta', or the crime novelist PD James, depending on which Wikipedia entry you want to go with.) I was seized by the same sense of nostalgia and a degree of longing when I spent a day in the painting studios of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing in March this year. Such intent young people, so serious of purpose, so very unlike my memories of the early 70s! No good wishing for the past to return, I tell myself briskly as I vow to make the most of every minute and seize every opportunity that presents itself.

'We have crossed the lake', indeed. 

Lasalle College of Fine Arts Buildings, Singapore