“Presence of Whiteness” features the work of Chinese artist Zhu Jinshi across Pearl Lam Galleries’ two spaces in Singapore.
Running until 30 April 2017, the dual-space exhibition includes a series of over 20 coloured paintings created between 2012 and 2016 at Dempsey Hill, as well as painting, installation and text works spanning 50 years of Zhu Jinshi’s career at the Gillman Barracks.
When considering the work of Zhu Jinshi, it is instructive to imagine, for a moment, that point in the artist’s life, after having known only the flatness of ink painting and reproduced images, encountering the technique of impasto, and the possibility of physicality in paint that it embodies. “Presence of Whiteness” features a hint of this transformative period, in the form of a selection of a number of very early paintings by Zhu: in Presence of Whiteness 5—1985 Sunshine (1985), for instance, the beginnings of his use of non-representational impasto can be seen.
With this origin thus anchored, the exhibition branches out in very different directions – with Pearl Lam Galleries’ two spaces in Singapore, each venue explores very different aspects of his practice, not unlike having two simultaneous solo exhibitions by the artist. As the title of the show might suggest, the two spaces are linked not just by the artist exhibited, but by the staging of the exhibition – cool, soft lighting with white-painted floors lends a sense of etherealness, somewhat suggestive of being in one of James Turrell’s Ganzfeld works.
Across these two spaces, the centrepiece of the exhibition as a whole is Presence of Whiteness 2 (2016 – 2017), in Gillman Barracks – a staggering amount of black oil paint, of equivalent volume to the reinforced canvas stretchers on which the paint rests, in large slabs. One of the central propositions of Zhu’s practice, of paint’s physicality, is borne out by these masses of paint, irreducible to any image or abstraction. There is something of a bonus for eagle-eyed repeat visitors to the exhibition, as the surface of the freshly-set paint warps subtly in accordance with the long, slow oxidation of oil paint.
Accompanying the work is a wall-length textual installation, Presence of Whiteness 1—A Dialogue Between Zhu Jinshi and Yu Haiyuan (2016 – 17), presented in Chinese with printed handouts of an English translation available. In these brief excerpts of a conversation, a range of subjects are addressed, including the philosophical underpinnings of the artist’s practice.
Produced on-site per the artist’s specifications, Presence of Whiteness 2 demonstrates the conceptual notion of dissociation from the artist’s hand, in common with several other pieces in the Gillman Barracks’ space, which thus far appears set to play host to more experimental, conceptually-focused artwork than Pearl Lam’s Dempsey location. Among the less-painterly artworks to be found here, for instance, are Presence of Whiteness 4—Old Building No. 2 (1994), comprising an arrangement of wooden stretchers stacked in a corner of the gallery, their serial similitude standing in stark contrast with the uniqueness oft-associated with painting in general.
Zhu’s Presence of Whiteness 3 (2006 – 2009) takes a similar tack of displaying what would otherwise be materials incidental to the paintings proper. Namely, the work consists of a selection of the artist’s paintbrushes, neatly arranged on the wall and still heavily loaded with multi-coloured swirls of paint – swirls which those familiar with Zhu’s oeuvre might be able to tie to specific paintings.
With most of the paintings at Pearl Lam Galleries’ Dempsey space being produced past 2009, it seems rather unlikely for there to be a direct correspondence between Presence of Whiteness 3 and the paintings here. There is, of course, some resonance to be found between the traces of colour left on paintbrushes and the array of paintings on display, which range from restrained applications of heavy black impasto on a bare canvas, as if expressions of a three-dimensional evolution of calligraphy, to far more ebulliently polychromatic compositions. Somewhere in the middle of these two extremes are works like Such a Master (2015), in which the treatment of the masses of paint comes to suggest geological strata, or some strange, terraced terrain.
Despite the sheer masses of paint employed, such as in the expansive triptych Mistaken Dream of the Lotus Pond (2014), the paintings do not seem excessive, but rather driven by an assiduous focus on the material, physical qualities of paint, particularly in its extension far beyond the plane of the canvas’ surface. As with Presence of Whiteness 2, detailed inspection of the surfaces of these artworks – despite their comparatively imposing scale – reveals all manner of physio-chemical interactions of varying degrees of incidentality.
When applied at the thicknesses Zhu employs, masses of paint may shear and crack; solvents might sweat to the surface, and, more commonly, undulating wrinkles emerge on paint surfaces, either complementing or contrasting the directions established in his brushstrokes. Particularly apparent in monochrome works like the Wall of Nine Dragons (2011) series is a subtle staining of the canvas near the paint proper – emergent shadows which yield an even greater sense of depth to his works.
- “Liquid Truth”: Chinese artist Xue Mu at Yeo Workshop, Singapore – in pictures – February 2017 – Art Radar has a look at the second solo exhibition of the Chinese artist in Singapore, which takes among its points of departure the classical sculptures of Michelangelo and Rodin
- “Recovering the Past”: Myanmar artist Htein Lin at Yavuz Gallery, Singapore – February 2017 – in his first solo show in Singapore, Htein Lin explores family history, life in Myanmar and past challenges
- “Tales of Our Time”: Chinese contemporary art at the Guggenheim New York – January 2017 – “Tales of our time” presents Generation X’s perspectives on place and history at the Guggenheim New York until 10 March 2017
- “Becoming Oneself”: exploring the notion of Self at 1 x 3 Gallery, Beijing – January 2017 – a group show at 1 x 3 Gallery in Beijing, running until 18 February 2017, explores the notion of Self
- “Genesis”: Japanese artist Naoko Tosa at Ikkan Art International, Singapore – January 2017 – Naoko Tosa transforms the gallery space into a screening environment at Ikkan Art International, Singapore
Subscribe to Art Radar for more on exhibitions in Singapore and beyond