In remembrance of Tan Kian Por 陈建坡
Tan Kian Por was born in ChaoZhou, China, in 1949. He moved to Singapore in 1962 and studied at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) from 1968 to 1970. He studied Western painting and Chinese ink painting in NAFA. He founded the Siaw-Tao Chinese Seal Carving, Calligraphy and Painting Society in 1971. He taught at NAFA for most 30 years. In 2001 he was awarded the Cultural Medallion award. He passed away at age 70 in 2019.
This exhibtion showcases Tan Kian Por’s work in Chinese seal carving, calligraphy and Chinese ink painting. I have limited experience and knowledge in Chinese seal carving and calligraphy, totally unaware of the intricacies of the art, hence I was more focused on his Chinese ink paintings.
It is not that I have much more expertise in Chinese ink painting either, but I could relate to Chinese ink painting a little more, and that is all that is needed to appreciate art. I digress here, but the most important thing in art appreciation, is a connection with the art that you are looking at. That connection can be a feeling or a thought, and it definitely need not be accompanied with any knowledge or experience with that art form.
I was particularly drawn to his two series of Chinese ink paintings, the Indian portraits and the “forgetting each other, the moon and water 水月忘相” works.
The Indian portraits were painted mainly in the 1990s. At first glance, the portraits look like western charcoal painting but look again and you begin to marvel at the beautiful Chinese ink brush strokes that draw out the man’s face, especially the curls in the hair and the wrinkles at the eyes.
In fact, the faint shadows of white and grey that make up the hair reminds you of the atmospheric feel of a misty mountain top in another Chinese ink painting. The lines that make up the clothes are clean and deft. The painting is sparsely coloured but the colours are bright and stand out strongly against the black Chinese ink lines.
Accompanied by some calligraphy on the right of the painting, the Indian portrait series are mesmerizing. They feel realistic and yet idyllic. They feel harsh and yet comforting. I guess that is the beauty of Chinese ink painting, which Tan Kian Por had skillfully brought out.
The “forgetting each other, the moon and water 水月忘相“ series were painted mainly in the 2010s. I must admit, I do not know what “forgetting each other, the moon and water 水月忘相 ” means, but I love this series.
The narrator in the video that was playing in one corner of the exhibition hall (do spend time to sit and watch the video in its entirety; you will not just learn more about the artist Tan Kian Por but you can also pick up a few basic concepts in Chinese ink paintings) mentioned that in this third period of Tan Kian Por’s art journey, the concept of semi-abstraction emerged in his paintings.
The semi-abstraction in the “forgetting each other, the moon and water 水月忘相“ series is to me, modern and contemporary. The blue and red strokes are so bright they do not seem to belong in a Chinese ink painting. But because they are in a Chinese ink painting, where background is untouched, where brushstrokes take center stage, where blankness (liu bai) is paramount, the blue and red strokes stand out even more.
The end result is a painting that evokes feeling of happiness - the radiance from the colours, and calm - the restfulness from the composition.
It is a pity that I did not manage to see more of Tan Kian Por’s works in the past. It is a sad reminder to me, that life is fragile. Do not wait. Catch the exhibtion this weekend.
“Crashing Waves, Billowing Clouds – A Tribute to Tan Kian Por 涛啸云涌 - 陈建坡遗作展” art exhibtion runs from 14 April to 5 May 2021 at the Lim Hak Tai Gallery, NAFA Campus, Singapore.