Sunday, April 26, 2009

In Full Flight

Loo Foh Sang’s observation towards the dance of Odissi can be defined as images attempting to capture monumental moments of the joyous celebration of dance. It is an interpretation that transcends creative energies. Loo has depicted the dance through his personal representation of the Nanyang style of figuration, first popularised by Cheong Soo Pieng. Many Nanyang-trained artists had adopted this style to depict figurative compositions. This type of mannerism – of depicting figurative subjects by employing simplification of the human body, stretching and altering it, had become a conventional norm in the image making world of the Nanyang painters. The wilful gesture of the lyrical description of dance movement by Loo Foh Sang has enriched the varieties of the manifestation, while vanguarding the visual idiom reminiscent of the Nanyang art movement. Kuantan native Loo Foh Sang was born in 1944. After studying at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Art in Singapore (1963-1965), Loo furthered his education to the Ecole National Superieure des Beaux in Parix in 1967. After graduation, Loo remained in Paris and was accepted to understudy printmaking under the tutelage of Stanley William Hayter, the English printmaker and painter who founded Atelier 17, widely known as the most influential print workshop of the 20th century (1967-1971). From the time he completed the programme at Atelier 17, Loo has devoted himself conscientiously to the art of printmaking. He had lived in Paris until 1988, and returned home the following year to teach printmaking at the Malaysian Institute of Art until 1993. Subsequently, he was appointed Head of the Printmaking Department at the Central Academy of Art in Kuala Lumpur, where he remained till 2002. At present, Loo is a full-time artist and a prolific printmaker.

A total of 36 works – 8 drawings and 28 intaglio prints in limited editions were mounted in the exhibition In Full Flight.

What make Loo’s original prints unique? Much of it comes from his rich experiences during the formative years, and his excellent training background. It is essential to study the artist’s autobiographical development from the beginning of his artistic career so as to understand his artistic growth. The symbiosis of Eastern and Western inclinations that had synthesized into Loo’s original style were attributable to the influences of Cheong Soo Pieng and S.W. Hayter. This is evident in his current works, especially in the intaglio prints. No artist starts his career in a vacuum. They are almost always subjected to the influences of their mentors or master in the beginning, and they would continue to evolve through the formative years, before developing their own personal style. Engaging his experiences as understudy with the two masters, Loo has in the last 40 years managed to emerge in the forefront of printmaking, each year making great strides and exploring new techniques.

The solo exhibition is focused on two disciplines. The drawings were executed in strokes of spontaneous, quick sketches. These constructed drawings of human figures were created in an intimate and intuitive manner. The utilisation of cross-hatching pencil drawings was expressed in an exaggerated scale, resulting in a distorted, elongated and elastic depiction of the human body. Early this year, Loo also began to work on a series of drawings he had created in 2004, converting them into intaglio prints. Employing the soft ground technique, the artist used pre-composed drawings as a base to achieve the pencil effect. He then applied acquatint to the plates to further enhance the compositions. By this process, Loo had created tonal value in his middle-ground and background, introducing an element of contrast. Pigments were used freely as the background of his coloured etchings. This is done with a roller covered with a combination of colours to achieve a certain mood. The viscosity of the ink which provided a transparent effect could be traced in may of his coloured prints. In some of the works, Loo also used a technique called “a la poupee” printing, where all colours were applied to the plate and printed simultaneously, creating varying impressions.

Yet some more coloured etchings were made from the prints Loo has done in 2002. Interestingly, this series was inspired by the traditional shadow puppet characters. The images transcended symbolic gestures, suggesting an intrinsic meaning associated with the mythological narrative of the characters. The entire composition evoked a surrealistic treatment of a dream-like quality of the shadow puppet play. These haunting images were intentional so as to project a theatrical scenario. Ultimately, the artist has created a series that is an adventurous interplay of form and meaning. He has given us an interesting semiotic interpretation of shadow puppet characters, portrayed in a surrealistic ambiance to conjure up a feeling of eeriness.

Rahime Harun
Director General
National Art Gallery Kuala Lumpur