New Straits Times, 22 August 2007
Klang Valley Streets: Multi-layered tales
by Francis Dass

GET Tuned in: Visual excitement awaits the discerning art lover.

GET Tuned in: Visual excitement awaits the discerning art lover.

FRANCIS DASS checks out Ivan Lam’s dialogues with his paintings.

LAM: 'I was a very ordinary kid.'

LAM: ‘I was a very ordinary kid.’

WEI-LING Gallery, probably the edgiest gallery in town, is now showcasing the works of Ivan Lam — an equally edgy young artist.

This marriage-made-in-heaven combo of gallery and artist is sure to rock the Kuala Lumpur art scene.

(A peep at the accompanying images of Lam’s work will convince even the most hardened cynic of the high level of artistic excitement that this exhibition promises.)

KL-born-and-bred Lam is a 32-year-old painter-dynamo who teaches art history at the Limkokwing University of Creative Technology (LICT) by day and paints after hours.
At the moment, in terms of originality and intensity of vision, Lam stands head and shoulders above other artists in the country, with the possible exception of painter Chin Kong Yee, who is also another one of gallery owner Lim Wei Ling’s artist-proteges.

Lam’s dedication to his artistic craft is an obviously intense one, as even the quickest look at his paintings indicate.

“I am inspired by everything that I see, I am a visual person,” Lam says, adding, “whatever captures my eyes, I turn it to art.”

As an artist, Lam is unhesitant in diving headlong into the creation of each painting, investing long periods of time in them.

For his exhibition at Wei-Ling gallery, titled “Ivan Lam: after all these years”, he spent an average of two to three months on each piece.

“It took such a long time because of the layering of colours. It is a repetitive process that’s backbreaking and time-consuming,” he explains.

Each painting has between 60 and 100 colours in it and Lam, who says that he loved every step of it, found it a rewarding challenge as he played and tweaked with the layers of colours.

“The Russian March is a black-and-white piece and so I played with the grey tones,” he explains.

Part low-key persona and part introspective artist, Lam makes quite a number of astute and poetic observations about his personal interaction with art.

“For an artist, it is always about you and your canvas and you are constantly having ‘dialogues’ with the painting. Sometimes, it is not about you ‘telling’ the painting what you want. It can be about giving the painting what it wants,” he puts it.

Although painting is an activity that generates a great sense of joy in him, being an artist is also a lot about perseverance, Lam points out.

His current series of 10 paintings took this young father (he has a one-year-old daughter) three years to put together.

There was a period of uncertainty about how the paintings would all come together, he admits.

“While I was painting the pieces, I wasn’t sure whether there was going to be a show at all. But Wei-Ling had great confidence in me and kept encouraging me,” he confesses.

After the sixth or seventh painting, Lam says, Wei-Ling finally convinced him to firm up the date for a show.

Lim Wei-Ling, the gallerist and high profile socialite in the KL glitterati scene, is celebrated for her keen eye and for having introduced or re-introduced startlingly talented artists in the Malaysian arts scene.

Having spent three years working on the 10 pieces on exhibit, it is understandable that Lam gets philosophical about the time he spent on the paintings.

“You can’t help but think that you have given a big part of yourself to the paintings. Three years is a long time,” he confides.

The paintings in “after all these years” tell a sublime story of star-crossed lovers (partly fiction, with some parts reflecting Lam’s life). Adding an air of mystery to them is the fact that the faces of the protagonists are not revealed.

Currently, Lam stands tall as an artist with each large-format piece priced between RM25,000 and RM30,000.

The prices, notes Wei-Ling, have doubled since his last solo exhibition, in 2003.

Autobiographically, Lam’s portrait of an artist as a young man is an interesting one indeed. In appearance, he looks ordinary and well-grounded.

“The whole notion that artists have long hair and are flamboyant needs to change. Art is about putting your heart and soul into your work. It is all about integrity,” Lam says.

What was he like as a child?

“I was a very ordinary kid. But from my childhood, I knew that I wanted to do something related to visuals when I grew up,” he says.

Lam double-majored in printmaking and painting at the College of Art in Portland, United States. He’d also just completed his Masters in contemporary art and design practice from the University of East London in Britain.

As for his art heroes, his younger days featured names like Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg. He is past them now. Names like Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Renaissance superstars like Michelangelo figure largely as his current favourites.

As for colours, his current flavour of the month is royal purple of the velvety variety; it’s at the top of his list of colours that engage him deeply.

So, if you want a right royal jolt in terms of visual excitement in your life, Ivan Lam’s exhibition at Wei-Ling Gallery is not to be missed. It is a showstopper.