Contemporary Asian Landscapes

Solo Exhibition By Chankerk

15 July - 26 November 2015 | EY Asean Art Outreach

EY Asean Art Outreach is delighted to present Contemporary Asian Landscapes, a solo exhibition by Malaysian-born, Singapore-based artist, Chankerk. Held at the EY Art Gallery, the exhibition marks the 19th edition of its art programme. A portion of the proceeds from artwork sales will go towards benefitting charitable causes.

Chankerk's urban scenes of our cosmpolitan city depict sites of cultural and historic interest. The city is presented in a state of flux, shown from inclined planes and with quick, disjointed brushstrokes. The paintings evoke a sense of dislocation and uncertainty, reflecting the tension that exists between the past and the present in Singapore and its evolving geographic landscape and social climate. 

Chankerk travels beyond the local landscape and expands this series with works presenting far-flung Asian locales: Bali (Indonesia), Osaka (Japan), and Siem Reap (Cambodia). With energetic and spontaneous brushstrokes, Chankerk unravels the unique character of each environment. Through their distorted perspectives, exaggerated scales, montaged arrangements and disarrangements, Chankerk’s works are Expressionist depictions of worlds as they are felt rather than seen.

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BETWEEN THE LINES

By Yvonne Xu

‘As an artist, you don’t capture a thing as it is, you capture it as you want to express it.’ 
– Chankerk

With their distorted perspectives, exaggerated scales, montaged arrangements and disarrangements, Chankerk’s works are Expressionist depictions of worlds as they are felt rather than seen. To the artist, for whom self-expression drives a primary creative impulse, the canvas is a place that bears and carries personal preoccupations. 

‘These are my comments on social issues, mostly,’ Chankerk says. ‘But they are not conclusive statements. I like a bit of ambiguity.’ Chankerk paints spontaneously and viscerally; and more urgently, he asks us to read between the lines. Facets, disjoints, and fractures in his compositional schemes are the in-between, tension-streaked loci where we might seek out the artist’s messages. What is being said?

In his paintings of street scenes in Singapore, old, low-rise buildings often occupy the pictorial foreground ominously and heavily, and are juxtaposed with gleaming glass-and-steel skyscrapers brushed in lighter, brighter colours in the background. These montaged images, depicted on inclined planes and with quick, disjointed brushstrokes, evoke the sense of dislocation, uncertainty, change, and movement. Chankerk’s street paintings are often read as commentary on the disorientating speed of the Singapore’s urban redevelopment. It is a valid interpretation, the artist says, but he clarifies that it is the feelings evoked, rather than the forms depicted, that deliver his message. ‘When I say urgency, speed, it's not physical…It is the rollercoaster inside.’ 

Understood this way, the tilted horizons, the ascents, the tight turns and steep falls on Chankerk’s canvas gain meaning. The rollercoaster also calls to mind ideas of speed and velocity, suggestive of distance and displacement—sentiments that the Malaysia-born, Singapore-based artist still negotiates with. 

Chankerk adds that his paintings are not merely images to him; they are montaged sequences. He explains this with an analogy: ‘It is like still photography versus MTV [music videos]. Have you noticed that in animation, in videos, there is always a fast forward effect?’ Chankerk is making references to time lapse and hyper-lapse, of impressions made in the wake of traffic, of movement, of progress. The image takes on a time-space dimension.

‘It is the way we absorb visual data,’ Chankerk adds. ‘We’re in a data explosion era. The way I receive data is in glances. It is part of the ambiguity I talked about. You can sense the environment but you can't see it.’

‘Sensing’ a painting is an interesting way to approach his paintings of Bali. Of the boat-lined coast of Amed, for instance, there are no details that belabour verisimilitude; we instinctively make out the repeated white lines to be boats that stand out against blue-green seas and earth-toned hills. In these paintings, we may observe the time-space dimension and the ‘fast forward’ sequence that Chankerk speaks of. The boats may be moored, but their energetic, white lines suggest they are on shore only ready to launch again. The hills are riots of colours: there are rich greens evocative of lush vegetation as there are blots of barren yellows and browns; this is not hills ‘as they are’, but hills with their entire cyclic nature represented on a hyper-lapsed canvas. 

For most artists, the creation of an individual style is crucial to their artistic careers. Chankerk has worked towards creating a signature aesthetics that is even more interesting when we come to consider his latest Pond Series. In terms of subject, we might trace a loose movement from the dense urban streetscapes to small towns and inhabited coastal scenes, and now, to more natural settings. How would a lotus pond, free of human agency, figure as Chankerk’s subject? 

Chankerk reveals the pond in question is located in Istana Park, where his studio and the art café-gallery-workshop space he runs is situated too. He has observed that the pond is a favourite subject for many of his students. ‘It is popular because Monet painted lilies. This gave me a new idea … the idea of wallflower, of the vanity of art.’

When he painted his ponds, Monet famously worked on several canvases at once, furiously following the change of light. Chankerk’s unfinished series is a range that registers different atmospheric conditions; presumably, they were created at different times of the day. Yet, these are not merely an Impressionist’s ponds. The beauty of nature is not what Chankerk is after. 

The subject, the pond, remains unchanged. Like Monet’s, these ponds are worlds unto themselves. In these works, Chankerk doesn’t employ the montage, what he calls the ‘melting pot of symbols’. And instead of a gathering of speed, there is a gathering of energy. The series is a keen study of the symbolic: of the water lily in the history of painting, of the floral in the tradition of the decorative arts, and, not least of all, of the lotus in the Asian context. These works are dialogues between both a painter and his subject, and an artist and his tradition.

The pond itself is interesting ‘time-space’ for Chankerk. Set in a small park in a bustling city center, the city thoroughfare is a stone’s throw away. As only a thin perimeter of planted leafage acts as buffer between the park and the city, the rush and energy of traffic is palpable—close enough, perhaps, to remind us of the rollercoaster speed of Chankerk’s earlier paintings. Compared to them, the Ponds are slower, more deliberate, more tentative. They feel tucked away too, secret, not yet manifest, but they are fresh and green, and signal something newly emerging, not unlike a budding or a re-flowering, an expression of nature that is as irrepressible as an artistic impulse.

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