Invisible Lives: Tempting Frailty

Solo Exhibition By Marvin Chan

18 August - 11 September 2016

When politics impact communities, there are often attempts to relive dreams and desires to transform reality. Through Invisible Lives: Tempting Frailty, Chan has produced a serious body of work in an effort to piece together and point to the darker underbelly of our times. 

Chan uses his art not only to describe but also to help edit his observations of the world around him as potent events continue to shape Malaysia’s socio–economic landscape. In a world where the personal is often struggling to find pertinence in a materialistic world, he opens up idiosyncratic references to personal visions- dreams and aspirations that may transform reality. Through the details and pigments lie layered meanings that speak purposefully, expressing society’s struggle – personal and intimate, evoking issues of our times. While the content is universal, the treatment is personal, as the surfaces of his canvasses are reminders that bear traces of our own emotional strength or ambivalence. 

When viewing Chan’s paintings, one views a struggle: personal, intimate and caring as the layered surfaces bear traces either of emotional strength or ambivalence. While the detailed surfaces of his paintings provide a particular luxury, his figures and symbols in reality are externalizing deeper themes of desire, containment of emotions and melancholy as they speak between the lines and purposefully so; for in Chan’s world melancholy and exuberance exist in equal measures.

INVISIBLE LIVES: TEMPTING FRAILTY

by Shireen Naziree

As potent events continue to shape Malaysia’s socio – economic landscape, Marvin Chan uses his art – not only to describe but also to help edit his observations of the world around him. In a world where the personal is often struggling to find pertinence in a materialistic world, he opens up idiosyncratic references to personal visions- dreams and aspirations that may transform reality. Through the details and pigments lie layered meanings that speak purposefully, expressing society’s struggle – personal and intimate, evoking issues of our times. While the content is universal, the treatment is personal, as the surfaces of his canvasses are reminders that bear traces of our own emotional strength or ambivalence.

When politics impact communities, there are often attempts to relive dreams and desires to transform reality. Through Invisible Lives: Tempting Frailty Chan has produced a serious body of work in an effort to piece together and point to the darker underbelly of our times. When viewing Chan’s paintings, one views a struggle: personal, intimate and caring as the layered surfaces bear traces either of emotional strength or ambivalence. While the detailed surfaces of his paintings provide a particular luxury, his figures and symbols in reality are externalising deeper themes of desire, containment of emotions and melancholy as they speak between the lines and purposefully so; for in Chan’s world melancholy and exuberance exist in equal measures.

The artist’s artfully constructed dialogue is consistent with his penchant for deconstructing and repositioning everything from politics to the pornographic. Although these wall works are two dimensional in spirit, they are anything but flat:  their layered surfaces add depth to the rendering of painting practice while revealing the path of their creation, forcing the viewer’s eye to keep moving along the surface. 

His work does not suggest that human intervention in the essence of life is morally wrong but rather forces us to confront the fact that this intervention is well and truly with us and that the implications are often not clear cut but ambiguous. Stupid Fool despite its apparent otherness evokes human compassion while it comments on the authorial measures of removing any intelligent presence and instead maintaining measures of less threatening preoccupations. Metaphors for absence and angst are everywhere, though they may be hidden beneath the flowers  -spectacular in its beauty, but how long before it withers? The dense floral patterning overtones not only reveal subtleties in the artist’s palette and brushwork but are marks of his mature sensibility. By sketching – rather than painting, in layers of light in these works Chan cogently determines doublings in colonial history- and he has explored and deconstructed its many forms. He pictures these with English roses – a first world commodification as a must have accessory.

In his appropriation of Behind the Fragrant Veil (iteration 1,2 and 3), are allegories of a divided people, compacted into cramped inhospitable boxes in order to create an ordered community. Marvin has explored the legacies of the politics of origin and deconstructed its many forms – these three paintings take issue with the mechanisms of power. While his subjects may sit uneasily with the quiescent as he does not want to evade or inhabit any form of representation - but move beyond it. Here deconstruction erodes the presence of origin by shifting it from the outside to inside the containment as he boxes his subjects in, exposing a fraught sense of belonging as people have been herded into collective spaces and manipulated into serving a larger entity – known as society. 

His subjects are cut off from organic social life and incubate sensations of solitude. Living through the postmodern period has meant an irreversible loss of community. What makes Behind the Fragrant Veil (iteration 1,2 and 3) an intriguing undertaking is the way we are steadily replacing what we once valued with a new kind of artificial nature. The paintings all relate to the way reality is constructed whether by choice or governance. Society’s vulnerability highlighting the different ways we choose to construct our reality. It also confronts pressing issues around what we classify as “life” – the process of that classification and the privileges that flow from being deemed as integral of society. 

The politics of time is intimately connected to the politics of gender as he regards the feminine as playing an important role in the construction of society and identity. In broad terms the female form has been a distinguishing feature that characterises Chan’s painting style. Though tightly composed figures take precedence  - the dynamics of colour – its oppositions, contraries, tonal densities and brilliance allow him to express different viewpoints in one composition. 

In 2 Dim Nation- for Love and Honour, Chan puts forth a particular viewpoint on the politics of place. And the politics of space has a tendency to destroy memory. Suppression as a zone of interface and reductivist policies assign people as parts of a larger political machine by virtue of the fact that they are rapidly processed by virtue of control by bureaucrats and political leaders who as principal gatekeepers of national communities. Thus through such denial, exclusion and the creation of distant perceptions have taken precedence as a cover of love, loyalty and honour. 

Similarly in Dim Follower, Marvin extends the theme of political machinery as he continues to trade on the idea of ethics. Though it invokes understandings of beauty, the awkward and primal stance of the model alerts our attention to the idiosyncrasies of identity, as the body becomes a vehicle of expression as well as a source of community for the exponents of power.

In many ways, Chan’s work seeks to engender the female form, which underlines the central place that humanity occupies in his oeuvre as when he confronts us with the closeness of the familiar, yet alien in At the Edge of Twilight he shows his ability to paint the spirit and consciousness of the responsibility for human intervention in life and nature. As a painter with a profound vision of his country that moves through the rainbow of his imagination, Chan sees it in more fragile terms, which he articulates as an image-maker with a rare sense of space and a concern for the whole composition, rather than a mark maker of abstract sensibility.

Though he is equally articulate in working in a variety of media, Chan enjoys working with paint, mixing, layering and experimenting with colours and different visual effects as he builds up his narratives. Chan’s career reads as a clear reflection of his statement “ I look forward, not backwards” as he refuses to paint on demand or produce replicas of previous work, as that would be a denial of the active process of painting as creation or discovery. For Marvin art issues directly from what he observes in the world around him and his own personal history.

Artist:

  • Marvin Chan