English version of chinese essay by Chai Chang Hwang
Temporal Grip and A sense of “uneasiness”
The Visual Order of Chin Kong Yee’s Paintings

Every painted image of something is also about the absence of the real thing. All painting is about the presence of absence
– John Berger –

“Aesthetically enlightened by” Cezanne

Chin Kong Yee’s ‘Batu Caves’ was featured in a group exhibition hosted by Wei-Ling Gallery last year. In this painting, the Wesak Day festivities crystallize into devotion of the colourful procession of believers. Strangers they may be to each other; nonetheless, they file past in ease, peace and harmony.

The passage of time is expressively depicted by swaying bodies, stretched and distorted – the appearance of the same person seconds apart coexists, challenging the single-point perspective in conventional temporal representation. The painter uses a multi-perspective approach to define his viewpoints; the visual narrative is anything but objective.

Chin’s use of temporal continuity resembles that of Chinese scroll painting. This, however, has never been the artist’s creative thrust. Over the years, he has only produced a handful of such paintings that adopt human landscape for an artistic pursuit.

“The earliest work of this genre was ‘Hari Kuningan’ which I completed four years ago. Among my recent paintings, there is one with the same concept and approach. The painting portrays a seaside town in the South of France. Young men and women are strolling towards the waterfront, bathing in the sun and flaunting themselves in a chic summer style.”Interestingly enough, as Chin’s artistic prowess matures, the rendition of temporal flow is given an even defter hand.

The feeling of time, incidentally, penetrates his works and becomes the key to appreciating them.

Chin has his own idea about the historical development of Western paintings. The so-called scientific and visually-logical framework that fascinated people during the late Renaissance is, to him, the very reason why time has fallen out of favour as a subject of artistic pursuit.

“Western painters after Raphael Sanzio were engrossed with the concept of being ‘in situ’ — that is, at the scene of depiction. Obviously, this is but just a moment frozen in time. Cezanne brought changes; ever since, painters such as Marcel Duchamp and ideologies such as futurism, have untiringly explored the temporal possibilities to uncover their full potential.”

Chin has chosen to approach Cezanne’s works in a different manner. By focusing on Cezanne’s still life paintings, he wants to highlight two characteristics: that the great master is capable of compressing stretches of time in a single space; and that his works are the results of long-time observation from different viewpoints.

People familiar with paintings will agree that the visual field is constantly changing; as such, not only will images ‘change’ along the way, their outlines ‘keep shifting’. The works of Cezanne (and Chin as such) are a visual rendition of a structural order. In simple words, a painting does not only realise an object at a particular point in time, it also involves the “exploration of existence”.

“Artistic expression is by and large the artist’s expression of his own life. My paintings are not just visual images – even with landscape, I do not just paint it the way Nature presents herself visually.”

When we begin tracing the origin of Chin’s creative concept and artistic practice along the path of visual perception, we may see Cezanne as the source of it.

Room for the Soul: an Unsettling Intuition

Cities and streets are to Chin a stage on which drama unfolds every now and then, to the curious delight of man. While historical buildings signify the heavy-hearted passage of time, these are but a befitted backdrop. The streets, the pavements, the traffic signs and people in general are far better metaphors of time – they are impregnated with the nuances of our daily lives. As the artist puts it:

“Cities are the best subject matter in expressing the contemporary feeling of existence; this is without a shadow of doubt. The decision to keep or demolish an old building lies entirely on its owner. The streetscape, however, is a collective decision and happening – something I seek to reflect in all its honesty.”

To begin with, Chin focused on Kuala Lumpur, the city where he was born and brought up. He then widened his scope to include Terengganu, Penang, Bangkok and Chiang Mai. In 2004, he travelled to Romania, after which he decided to visit the cities in Europe. In a two-person exhibition (Eye-llusions) Two years ago, he showcased the results of these trips – paintings of city scenes, highlighting the streets, squares and the happenings.

“The moment you set foot on a strange land, your senses will be heightened. The more unfamiliar you are with the place, the more insecure you will feel.”

This, perhaps, illustrates the consistency in Chin’s concept and attitude towards creativity. While people may doubt if his European trips are fuelled by nostalgia or worship for everything western, it is the feeling of insecurity he pursues.

In other words, an unsettling mind may well be the creative drive behind the artist’s works.

Paintings in the “Kuala Lumpur” series for instance, zoom in onto crossroads in the city. The multi-viewpoint composition covers the people and everything in sight in a small painting, creating a chaotic, claustrophobic and unsettling scene. In fact, there is a prevailing sense of tension of urban folks his earlier works. This may be a projection of the artist’s own situation at the time – being lonely, helpless, anxious, and uncertain about the future.

When he was in Europe, Chin was paying absolute attention to his own creative urge. He monitored his intuitive response to the world around, relying on nothing but his visual perception. The resulting collage of visual representation – distorted, compressed, overlapped and fragmented – is the artist’s response with empathy. “Basically, it is the projection of the artist’s state of existence.” The aesthetic emotion is, therefore, structured by a series of experience, impressions and superimposed memories.

I would also like to bring up Chin’s accomplishment in painting vast expanse of sky with passing cloud – scenes that are pleasing to the eyes and calming to the minds. Take “Infinite” and “Barcelona at Night” as examples, the sense of harmony which arises from the sky spreading uninterrupted across canvas, punctuated with a host of images. In “Infinite”, the sky is a great vault, while in “Barcelona at Night”, it combines both levelled and elevated viewpoints in a cross-like composition. The impact is overwhelming.

As such, our habit of viewing is ‘re-made’. The paintings have taken on a greater impact and magnitude.

To me, this is a means for the artist to render his paintings or to present images. It is almost impossible not to visit his soul or feel his restlessness through his intuitive approach. Perhaps, this could be the ‘new sensibilities’. I see an alternative visual order in Chin’s paintings.