New Straits Times
Portraits of Paradox
by Intan Maizura Ahmad Kamal

Yau says her canvas is like a diary

Yau says her canvas is like a diary

Pride from Yau

Pride from Yau

Artist Yau Bee Ling turns to her canvas to resolve her innermost angst, writes INTAN MAIZURA AHMAD KAMAL

IN the dimly lit art space of Wei Ling Gallery, faces in all manners of expressions stare out from vibrant canvases that adorn the white washed brickwalls.

There are smiles and there are frowns. There are expressions of anguish and of nonchalance. Upon closer inspection, you notice that the paintings are multi-layered in more ways than one. The portraits emulate that of a photograph, where everyone appears at ease with one another, yet beneath that calm façade lies a deeper story – a web of unresolved issues, deceit and jealousy.

Portraits O Paradox, a solo exhibition by artist Yau Bee Ling, a petite 36-year-old, revolves around her struggles with the superficiality of human relationships and communication.

Her latest works, which took her two years to complete, seek to express her real feelings and thoughts, for in her struggle to communicate effectively to those around her, the only way for her ‘voice’ to be heard is through these paintings.

“The work evolved following different encounters in my life and they reflect my state of mind,” explains Yau whose works have enjoyed international exposure, namely at the 2nd Fukuoka Triennale in 2002, the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Japan and the Hokkaido Museum Of Contemporary Art in 2004 when her pieces were selected to be a part of the Soul of Asia: Fukuoka Asian Art Museum Collection exhibition.

“My canvas is like my diary sometimes,” she continues. “I look through them after everything’s done and I’m able to understand what I was feeling at the time. All the anxiety within me I release onto my canvas.”

For the artist who has enjoyed an illustrious career spanning 13 years, her paintings are like a mirror where she’s able to review herself and her core beliefs in relation to others around her. “From the canvas I learn to understand people better and what’s happening so whatever angst I have can be resolved there instead of war and conflict with them.”

I ask her about the faces on the canvas which appear to be dissected. “It’s all intentional,” she replies. “I dissect the portrait and that’s how I try to understand people from different angles. Like why people behave the way they do under different circumstances.”

Yau, whose previous works centred largely on family issues, confides that she learned a lot after she married her artist husband. “With two families, my own and his, came two different sets of protocols, two forms of hierarchy. There were difficult times and indirectly, that inspired much of my thoughts and art.”

Motherhood too (her son is one year plus) had an impact on her work. “There are similarities to the two processes involved – in my art, and in how I mother my child,” she says.

“The things I need to take into account when I make food for my baby, for example, are also similar to the considerations I need to make when I’m thinking about the sort of texture I want to achieve on my paintings, the colours, the layering, the features.”

Continuing enthusiastically, Yau, who chills out by singing and gardening, adds: “As the child gets older, you need to move with him. His needs change, his preferences are different. Same like my art. As I go on, I have to evolve. Now the nuances, texture and colours have become more pronounced.”

Talking about pronounced, I point out another feature I noticed about her pieces – pronounced lips! “I just love to talk!” says Yau, whose favourite artists are Renoir and Matisse. “I talk a lot to my son. When I was teaching him to talk, I loved to observe his little mouth. I also taught at Kolej Bandar Utama and Cenfad for 10 years, so of course I was always talking to the students.” She teaches autistic children and those with dyslexia “…and because they don’t talk, I have to do all the talking.”

Yau grew up in a small fishing village in Pandamaran, Port Klang. Her father was a contractor, her mother a tailor. She dreamt of becoming a doctor but the family was too poor to help her realise that ambition.

“I enjoyed the simple kampung life with my seven siblings, climbing trees and going fishing. My interest in art began when I was in Standard 5. Whenever I had nothing to do, I’d sit by myself and doodle.”

Her parents sent her to a private school when she was 12. “I was too poor to go overseas like my friends but I managed eventually to get full scholarship to study painting at the Malaysian Institute of Art (MIA), graduating in 1995.”

It was when she left home for KL at the age of 18, started work and met her husband that she began questioning a lot of things. “I became more observant of the prevalent differences from my simple origins and that of the new world which I had entered.” And thus her art was born.

Portraits Of Paradox is on at Wei-Ling Gallery, 8 Jalan Scott, Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, till Aug 5.