RHAPSODIES BEYOND THE SILK ROAD
Solo Exhibition by Calvin Chua
9 Nov - 30 Nov 2013
“RHAPSODIES BEYOND THE SILK ROAD” SOLO SHOW
Journeys, either the leisurely type, those undertaken out of necessity or for spiritual reasons by artists from time immemorial always leave a profound effect on their lives as well as their art. To these romantic and sensitive souls, the sceneries, situations and the peoples encountered from sojourns to far away lands or even the nearest county never fails to inspire them to produce works, be it poems, paintings, writings or even great symphonies, which are timeless audio visual documents that celebrates histories, cultures and offers glimpses of the hustle and bustle of everyday from those different eras. These masterpieces give us endless pleasures by the power of their creative imaginings, amazing fidelity to details or their dramatized version of events and circumstances. Such works move us by their ability to stir fond recollections or induce a sense of melancholy as we feel an affinity with the artists’ own readings and impressions to these new yet strangely familiar surroundings, people in their daily activities rendered in an inimitable style which captures particular scenes or situations aptly and accentuates certain moods, making that special place enchanting. It also reveals how artworks are not created in vacuum but the products of its time that are shaped by its surroundings recorded in the artist’s mind’s eye and the limitations of their tools.
Veteran painter Calvin Chua Cheng Koon, who recently made the trip to the Silk Road and Central Asia is like any true artist, who upon returning to Malaysia, were enthusiastic to share as well as to express his personal artistic dedications to that special place through his latest series of paintings and sketches. Entitled ‘Rhapsodies beyond the Silk Road’, this showcase of new works however are not a facsimile of what was witnessed but rather a testament to the inspiration that resulted in a totally different trajectory in terms of style and sensibility. Calvin, an award winning artist with more than three decades of experience as a fulltime painter is known for his keen eye in capturing the ordinary and mundane which we take for granted and turning them into metaphors for philosophical contemplations and spiritual musings, has for the first time, moved by his visit there to render his observations in a non representational approach. Calvin, who is also appreciated for his celebration of the serene life in the kampongs in his many works was quick to point that this approach does not signify a deliberate attempt at abstraction; rather, according to the artist, the gestures and strokes were always present in the background of his figurative works from the last few series especially those of children and young adults engaged in activities or swimming by the rivers and waterfalls. The multicoloured strokes and daubs represent the primal nature energies that were generated by the figures as they participate effortlessly in the ‘flow’ that is life through the pleasures of play and joie de verve. This time, they have effortlessly taken centre stage, with the figurative disintegrating to harmoniously merge and ‘dance’ with the energetically bold and dynamic strokes of colours in the foreground. “The styles I employ to my paintings are not planned or forced, it emerges when the right time, and mood or circumstances presents itself. My feeling for the subject matter essentially points me to a suitable way of presenting it” explained the senior artist who is also an active member in numerous art societies in Malaysia, abroad and currently serving the Malaysian Watercolour Society as one of its Vice Chairman.
An avid traveller, Calvin had wanted to visit the Silk Road and parts of China as well as Central Asia since the 1970’s when he chance upon some photographs of the peoples and the legendary places there in magazines. When he finally undertook the trip earlier this year, it was what he had expected and more “Driving though the Gobi desert, I managed to visit most of the famous places namely, the caves in Dunhuang, a major stop for ancient travellers and traders, the Yumen or Jade Gate, the Crescent Lake and the majestic Tien Shan or Celestial Mountains.” These are all ancient sites and landscapes that are known for its breathtaking beauty that are still regularly visited by peoples from around the world and had been immortalized by men of letters and artists in the past. He was especially keen to visit the Dunhuang caves famed for its ancient Buddhist art. The many religious murals, sculptures (literally tens of thousands) were the works of succeeding generations of artisans, monks or devotees who came from different dynasties and even countries. This is obvious from the various stylistic approaches prevalent in different eras located in the same vicinity in one of the caves. The paints of the murals that has peeled off also reveals the different hands that has devotedly restored or recreated those holy images. But a discovery that most delighted Calvin was that, contrary to the stereotypical solemn images found in most Buddhist art today, with the compositions of Buddha(s) and Bodhisattvas in various poses or states of meditation as well as other forms of symbolism, there are murals where deities, musicians and maidens flew, riding with the wind as if it was the most natural thing to do, They hovered over sceneries in those ancient times, engaging in daily activities and facing life situations, which are surprisingly similar to ours today. It is as though the spirit, en’lighten’ed , is freed from the prison that is the flesh, with its animal appetites and its worldly attachments. Perhaps that is what the artist felt, pure joy. The joys to be free to sing and dance and fly like birds, the wind or to float like clouds at a snail’s pace on a sunny day. “All I can do as an artist is to be inspired to produce my personal reactions and feelings to these masterpieces from the past. My approach to my work is guided by a natural response to these visual experiences, which I tried to capture the impressions and energies I felt in the most personal manner that I am capable of.”
Besides the Dunhuang caves, the breathtaking sceneries mentioned too must be among the other contributing factors to the sudden shift in Calvin’s approach adopted for this new series of work. The spirit, when no longer embodied in the human form, is pure energy that is connected to the universe. To be connected to the universe is to be awed and humbled by it beauty. All attempts to capture or encapsulate its beauty through forms are futile, “One can only ‘absorb’ the beauty through one’s senses and being.” An artist who is unconcerned with trends or demands of the art market, Calvin’s trust in the creative process and his intuition is unconditional. He makes no apologies nor unnecessarily intellectualized his works. He does what he does best, to make art that is true to his calling, a calling that has served him and lovers of his art for more than 30 years of his rich and fruitful life. “I work with the understanding that each person will appreciate my works with a viewpoint and the conclusion drawn which is entirely their own. I can only hope that they too will experience in their own special way what I was fortunate to experience in my trip to China and Central Asia, and that they are inspired to travel down their own personal Silk Road to discover the masterpieces and enchanting places that lay waiting for them”.
By TS HON