Light within Ink: Chua Soo Bin's Portraitures of Wu Guanzhong
Singapore, 27 July 2017 – For the first time in Southeast Asia, Cultural Medallion recipient Chua Soo Bin showcases over 50 photographic portraits of late Chinese painter Wu Guanzhong, offering an intimate glimpse into the man widely credited as the founder of modern Chinese painting.
Presented by The Arts House from 18 August to 18 September 2017, Light within Ink is an exhibition of black and white images captured by Chua of Wu between the mid-1980s to late-2000s. It documents the creative journey and inspirations that gave birth to some of the artist’s most memorable artworks such as Floating Market in Thailand泰国水乡(1990) and Fishing Boats 舟群(1994).
Through the lighthearted and spontaneous moments of Wu’s daily life and interactions, the images in the exhibition not only shed light on the legendary artist’s lively personality but also draw focus to the extraordinary friendship between Wu and Chua, one that spanned three decades.
The duo struck up a quick friendship in the mid-1980s when Chua was in China working on his Legends project photographing the legacy of 14 Chinese ink masters. They eventually forged a tight partnership from the 1990s after Chua established Soo Bin Art Gallery to introduce Chinese contemporary art to Singapore and the region, staging numerous shows and creating art publications together that documented important milestones in Wu’s career.
“The theme of friendship constitutes the heart of this show. Defying the common perception of artists as creative geniuses who labour in solitude, these photographs celebrate the affinity and camaraderie between two artists of contrasting origins and backgrounds that has been instrumental in sustaining and furthering their artistic journeys,” exhibition curator Kong Yen Lin shared. “The rarity of existing documentations of artists by artists not only within Singapore but internationally further underscores the significance of this showcase.”
Light within Ink is presented in three main chapters: Wu’s trips to Singapore in the 1980s where he created memorable Parrot Haven鹦鹉天堂 (1998) paintings at the Singapore Bird Park, his solo show at the British Museum in London – one of the most prestigious platforms in Europe a Chinese artist could be given access to in the early 1990s, and finally his visits to Indonesia and Thailand in mid-1990s where enchanted by the idyllic tropics, the artist, then in his 70s, painted even more tirelessly.
“The Arts House is proud to present these rare images of Wu Guanzhong. While many are familiar with their works and individual practices, few have had the privilege to glimpse into their creative processes or understand how the friendship they forged spurred them in their art-making.” Sarah Martin, CEO of Arts House Limited said.
Light within Ink depicts an unconventional trajectory in Chua’s practice. Unlike his photographic approach in Legends that is guided by conscious effort and careful deliberation, these depictions of Wu were relaxed, spontaneous and most often candid. The exhibition is the photographer’s first solo show in Singapore in 11 years.
More about the Exhibition
Many of the photographs in the Light within Ink exhibition caught Wu in spontaneous moments of sketching and painting, wherever and whenever inspiration struck him, whether it was in his studio, on a Bali beach, or smack in the middle of Trafalgar Square while curious onlookers watch.
In another series of images, Wu was photographed destroying several of his paintings, a practice he was known for with works he felt were not up to standard. Several in the exhibition also showed Wu in interactions with his wife and family.
One, shot in a studio, depicted Wu amidst multi-coloured light trails as an allusion to the energetic, rhythmic lines and dots that dominate his later works.
“It is under such circumstances that Chua’s versatility as a photographer shines through. He made his mark as one of Singapore’s top commercial photographer, pulled together a magnum opus of visual records on Chinese ink masters and now in this exhibition, shows he also grasped the sensibilities of more intimate and personal subject matters,” curator Kong Yen Lin remarked.
Wu had always felt an irrevocable connection to Singapore on both professional and personal fronts. He previously made international headlines when he donated his largest collection of 113 ink and oil paintings to the national collection of Singapore in 2008. Valued at S$73.7 million then, the works painted over five decades represented the highest valued donation of artworks to any museum in Singapore.
Singapore was also where Wu first presented his artworks beyond China in a 1988 exhibition at Singapore National Museum Art Gallery, and also where the popularity of his art amongst Southeast Asian collectors soared, under the auspices of Chua’s Soo Bin Art Gallery.
“Many of his famous paintings were transacted through me, and I helped introduced several important art collectors to him,” Chua recounted. “He was a breath of fresh air in how he pursued art purely for art’s sake, not out of fear or favour for any larger cause or entity.”
“Beyond a revolutionary painter, I know him as a fiery orator, a consummate writer, a loving husband and a strict father,” he added. “I hope that these images would in some way serve as a precious documentation of Wu’s creative life as an artist and an individual.”
These private moments of Wu, lost if not for Chua’s documentation, now serve a visual archive of not just artistic and cultural heritage, but also a deep friendship, admiration and respect between two prominent artists of the contemporary age, one painting with ink and oil and the other with light, that traversed time and geography.
Two dialogue sessions, each preceded by a curator’s tour, will complement the exhibition. The first session is between Chua and Teo Han Wue, art writer and former director of Art Retreat incorporating Wu Guanzhong Gallery. They will share their recollections of Wu Guanzhong. The other dialogue session is between Teo and Choy Weng Yang, a prominent artist and former National Museum curator. They will delve into the phenomenon of photographers who document the creative life and works of artists.
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