New Straits Times, 27 April 2007
Klang Valley Streets: Painting with Photos
by Su Aziz

INDIVIDUAL: Volker manipulates images to create new experiences.

INDIVIDUAL: Volker manipulates images to create new experiences.

Painting with photos. Two artists from different backgrounds blithely distort reality with the most intriguing results. SU AZIZ experiences their worlds.

FISH EYE’S VIEW: Kong Yee’s unique perception of a dome.

FISH EYE’S VIEW: Kong Yee’s unique perception of a dome.

STYLISED: Not the usual urban transport scene as captured by Kong Yee.

STYLISED: Not the usual urban transport scene as captured by Kong Yee.

WHAT started out as a “blind date” turned out to be a terrific friendship between Chin Kong Yee and Volker Hamann. “I didn’t know what Kong Yee looked like, except that he had a beard and long hair,” recalled Volker. “So, on the train platform, I saw someone who fitted the description and walked up to him and asked, ‘Are you Kong Yee?’ And he said yes!”

You see, Volker wanted to visit Penang and his friend could not accompany him, so he “set him up” with Kong Yee who was also going to Penang to buy art supplies. But instead of introducing them to each other prior to the trip, they were told to just meet at the train station platform!

Both artists developed unique techniques to reflect their way of looking at the mundane through the lenses of their cameras. “Except that Kong Yee paints the pictures of his photos,” said Volker, photographer and sculptor, who hails from Germany and has been a full-time artist for 14 years now.

“Volker had a catalogue when we first met on that trip to Penang,” said Kong Yee, known for his brightly painted pictures seen through a distinct fish-eye lens angle. “You know how one catalogue tells 1,000 words? Well, it said it all. It showed his sculptures. His works are modern and interesting.”
“I don’t remember exactly when I first saw Kong Yee’s works,” said Volker, thinking hard. “Maybe in Romania, during the international art festival in summer of 2005. Whichever, what struck me was, his artwork was in the same direction as mine!” How is that? “We take photos and we manipulate them.”

While Kong Yee, 34, paints them in his distinctive style which seems to include you in the painting, Volker, 44, uses technology to manipulate them to change something that is familiar into something unfamiliar. “You know the place but it somehow looks different,” added Volker.

This is their second exhibition together, documenting their journeys through one other’s continent: Kong Yee’s paintings of his second visit to Europe and the photographs of Volker’s first visit to Malaysia.

Their first was in Stuttgart, Germany, last year. Ricarda Geib, the curator of the exhibition in Germany, described it as “two artists, two ways of life, and two cultures are brought into dialogue with one another. Both are freed from a logical, argumentative structure but are instead juxtaposed against each other in a bid to see thorough the mundane into the essence of the experience that each encountered on their journeys”.

Their easy camaraderie is infectious. Take the issue of marriage: “Perhaps not for me,” said Kong Yee with a glint in his eyes. “It is something, I think, that does not sit quite right with humans.” Roars of laughter before Volker countered with “No, no. It is a good thing.” Of course Volker would think so. He is a husband and father of two and a doting one at that. “I read to my 10-year-old son every night.”

The works of these two men are at Wei-Ling Gallery in Brickfields until May 10. “I came across Kong Yee’s works a few years ago and I called him. He was just painting and not really selling,” recalled Lim Wei-Ling, owner of the gallery. “We really grew together, Kong Yee and this gallery.

Through the years, I’ve seen his confidence grow in his works. Notice the bold colours at the bottom of his works now, whereas before, he used to wash or mix them together. Even his colours, though always vivid, have become even more so today.”

“I know Kong Yee is familiar with Wei-Ling and her gallery,” said Volker. “There is a comfortable relationship there. That (the comfort level) was important to me since this is my first exhibition out of Europe and I can’t wait for reactions from a non-European audience.”

For Wei-Ling, “it was their approach to their works… which are similar and their ideologies. They both show scenes that are so familiar and yet not. When they approached me with the idea for this exhibition, I took a look at Volker’s works and thought them to be visually exciting.”

Is it a match made in heaven? The photography pieces and paintings are definitely bold, visually arresting and imagination provoking. Kong Yee’s bold colours and fish-eye distorted styled paintings will invite you in while Volker’s graphically mirrored images will jump out at you. Yin meets yang, perhaps? You be the judge.