Chin Kong Yee: The Master of Beguiling Distortions
by Francis Dass

It is good to see Chin Kong Yee’s star rising again on everyone’s radar with his latest and very compelling exhibition, titled “Reality in Wonderland”, at Wei-Ling Gallery. Eleven wondrous new oil paintings are being showcased this time.

Looking at his new works, I do indeed get a sense of reality in wonderland, which has to be the most apt title for this exhibition. The structures in his paintings are real — but there’s Kong Yee’s signature warping of the visuals and clustering of them to breathtaking effect. Yet, somehow, for all the exaggeration and heightening that the forms are put through, we all know that these places do exist. You can’t help when you look at Kong Yee’s oil paintings but smile in your mind and think to yourself, “Wow! If only the rest of us could see things that way!”

These new paintings are the fruits of Kong Yee’s sojourns to Europe and Bali and were completed between 2008 and now. Places like Paris and Nice in France; Venice and Florence (Italy); Prague (Czech Republic); Portugal and Bali are rendered on canvas with twisted panache by Kong Yee. All the works are visually kneaded and stretched in Kong Yee’s trademark style and what viewers get to see are indeed truly original and majestic portrayal of dignified buildings and places.

Like with all artists, colours, of course, play a major role in the success of Kong Yee’s artistic endeavours. Colours do more than their assigned role of conveying emotions.

On the surface, the reds, blues, greens and a smattering of other colours indicate whether it is day or night or natural or artificial lights at play.

“Cathedral in Red” for example, has a nighttime setting but there is an interesting story behind the choice of colour. There was a fashion show being held at the cathedral when Kong Yee was visiting and the whole place was bathed in red light for effect by the fashion show organisers.

With other paintings, the tinges of green and blues on building and on the landscape in pieces like “Portugal”, “Duomo Florence” and “Venice at Night” hint at dusk or nighttime. Yellow, naturally, depicts sunlight. These are simple and straightforward readings.

Now, all that was on-the-surface talk. Beneath the surface, however ( — and despite Kong Yee’s calm demeanour!), the artist intensely wrestles with the colours in each painting as he tries to subdue them and make them serve his purpose and vision.

“Red is actually a violent colour, although the Chinese see it as a lucky colour. I find red an exciting colour but a difficult one to express. You have to control it or it is going to go over-the-top.”

So, how do you deal with it?

“The artist has to find a way and this could take a lot out of him until he gets it to do what he want it to do,” he explains, rather philosophically.

Kong Yee, needless to say, always gets his colours to do his bidding.

An outstanding part of the exhibition is a trifecta of paintings depicting people. “Walking”; “Bali” and “Nice 2” show Kong Yee’s mastery of the human form. In his early days as an artist, he delved extensively into portrait painting and he has obviously mastered the dynamics of the human form. These three paintings are delightful because they draw our attention to the movement of people. There are no warping or distortions in these three particular pieces.

“These three pieces are like my “Life Museum” pieces. When a group of people are doing the same thing (in this case, walking), I find it very attractive. These are studies in movements,” he reveals.

At this point, it bears saying that it has been one of my greatest privileges indeed to have met Chin Kong Yee and cultivated a friendship with this talented artist for about half a decade now. Born-bred-and-raised in the bustling city of Kuala Lumpur, Kong Yee’s casual and easygoing manner run counter to the almost-staggering visions of reality that he presents both in his oil paintings and photography.

(Yes, he is also a very talented photographer. Earlier this year, I had the great privilege of seeing his digital photography works and I must say that they are beautiful glossy counterparts to the paintings that Kong Yee is most famous for. If you are interested in photography, his photography are must-see works.)

His mastery of paintings and photography are so complete that I dare say that he is a multi-medium genius indeed. Both in photographic print and on the canvas, his works are always visually vibrant.

In keeping with artistic traditions, on canvas, Kong Yee’s works have indeed been informed by famous artists, like his favourite French painter, Paul Cezanne.

Even artists who made an impression on him in his student days, have had an effect on the works he produces today, however mildly it might be. Take Dutch artist M.C. Escher, for example.

“I saw works of M.C. Escher when I was a student and I was very inspired. Escher is more like a scientist than an artist. I like his logical take on things,” says Kong Yee.

When prodded as to why he likes Cezanne, Kong Yee says, “Cezanne has always been very inspiring and has always been my favourite artist. I decided to become a professional artist because of Paul Cezanne. During my student days, he was always talked about as the father of modern art. I especially love the landscape works he has done. You can feel the landscape! Until today, I have not seen another artist who can paint landscape the way Cezanne did.”

Of his own style, actually Kong Yee himself says it best: “I was thinking about the kind of art works that I have done and I asked myself why my paintings have a lot of things surrounding me. That’s because Klang Valley really is a valley and we are always surrounded by things. We don’t have a distinct horizontal line.”

Indeed, our lives inform the kind of works of art that we produce!

With a capacity for self-reflection like that, is it any wonder at all that Chin Kong Yee’s star is on the ascendancy?