Eyes, Perception and Memory
 – Lim Kok Boon

“For the 20th Century artist, the medium carries its own message.”
- Philip Ball, author of Bright Earth: The Invention of Colour, Penguin Books, 2002


PKW Gallery’s closing exhibition is best described as abstract and playful, or a purposeful expression of colour. To steal yet another quote from Philip Ball, “colour in art – as in life – is both inspiring and uplifting”. The works by Ian Woo somehow does that, amid the saddening news of the closing of the artists-run space. The Thing It Saw thus becomes significant in the artist’s development of smaller, more intimate and less intimidating scaled works, as well as a foreboding message, about seeing/perception, and in the past-tense of the title, about memory.

The Straits Times (February 23, 2008 featured an abstract article on quantum physics, that is apt to compare to Ian’s abstract paintings. What struck me was the duality of the effect of light on glass – as reflections and a beam that passes through it. There is something plausible when we consider Ian Woo’s style and manner of painting and the above effect: Like light striking glass, the painting both exist as pure, dried pastel-like paint dribbles and “paint arranged and worked until it ceased to be visible beneath the image itself”, another existence, another realm.

Can paintings remember? Perhaps they can remember, the intimacy of the brush and paint. Or the friendship between the artist and his tools of the trade. Or in some instances of art history, potentially serving as officious documents, as in “The Marriage of Arnolfini” (c.1434) by Jan Van Eyck.

Visually, between the hell-shaking challenges of reality by Hieronymus Bosch and material self-reflexivity akin to Michael Raedecker, the series by Ian Woo is a microcosm of activity and responses to an untamed universe of exploding colours, more so than ever. The artist has managed to capture the nuances of the materials of a good piece of art – paint and imagination. In the eyes and mind of painterly viewers, these ruptures of colours on the canvas, in the form of recognizable squiggles, dabs and washes form an eruption of pure brush marks. Held together by the foundation of warm shades of grey, there is visual stability and harmony in most of the pieces.

Staring at these paintings long enough, these marks become construed as objects, physical, like volcanoes or imaginative landscapes of the mind yet intangible. What we see is more than meets the eye.


Exhibition review of “The  Thing It Saw”. Published with permission from Lim Kok Boon, artist and art writer of boonscafe.wordpress.com, a subsidiary of Artsingapore.org.