Utin Rini, who graduated from the printmaking department at ISI Yogyakarta, utilizes almost every single hue that can be produced by acrylic paint pigments in her Sensual Musical paintings. She uses a wide palette, featuring many combinations and intersections of colour, and all her paintings are dominated by fields of colour that come together to form the image of a human face.
In Utin’s Sensual Musical paintings, women are the main focus, and the images of her subjects have been appropriated from various portraits. Utin obtains these images from video stills from the Internet, and selects other digital imagery from the virtual world which she feels contain a certain element of sensuality, even taking some images from scenes in pornographic films. This can be linked to her previous series of paintings called Great Asian and Sensuality, which featured images of Japanese film stars orgasming, although Utin doesn’t pretend to reveal or remark on pornography itself in her works. Instead, her paintings are an attempt to reveal a woman’s sensuality while displaying an impression for various atmospheres of passion, which in turn become a vehicle for the collection of colours that define her works.
Utin’s colourful images of women’s faces were made possible with computer software, a tool that has now become a strong part of society. Computers can manipulate images in accordance with the interests of each single creator, and – like in Utin’s case - it can be used to transform a realistic image into rudimentary areas of flat colour. This change turns plastic images into a set of colour planes, which are then defined by their contras, colour tones, and saturation levels.
Utin’s paintings work in this manner, as they reveal themselves to be a collection of colour planes that overlap. Her works are the result of portrait engineering, and they also feature irregular splashes of colour. In some areas, Utin uses the same regular pattern of colour planes, such as the large collection of dots that are placed in a transparent manner over colour fields, and what then appears is an overlapping layer that shows the complexity and excitement that colour can afford. And, as if not colourful or complex enough, Utin pushes the boundaries of colour even further in her paintings by featuring lines of colour patterns, which ultimately remind us that these are paintings rather than mere pornographic images or pictures of female faces. Utin also paints her canvases in all their entirety – right, left, top, and bottom – driving the theatricality in her works even further, as if to engulf spectactors in the gallery space and art lovers everywhere.
Treatments like this have become the norm for Utin, who isn’t too concerned with her work being a painting in a pictorial sense. During her studies, Utin tended to create images utilizing just lines and she often focused on people as her subject. She admitted that in her present works, the cost of painting a narrative was somewhat neglected, but focus was instead on the painting as an object, a space, and a physical field that allowed her to play with colour. Colour, says the artist, is how she communicates with her audience; colours allow her to pique their interest or to unsettle them, and colour can also be used to remind viewers of particular situations or atmospheres.
In her production process, Utin treats her paintings similarly to how she produces her graphic works with printmaking; Utin’s task of painting has been a collective job involving two assistants - Wawan, another young painter, and Penceng, an all-rounder – and before she applies paint to any of her canvases, Utin tests a variety of options on her computer. Even so, this process does not necessarily eliminate the technical complexity of her works. Whilst computers do produce precise designs, the application of paint on the canvas is still a difficult task, and all of Utin’s canvases are perfect likenesses of her computer-aided designs; each dab of paint is applied paintstakingly, and even the smallest detail is seen to.
And finally, Utin has gathered all her works under the main theme Sensual Musical. This titles does illustrate how rhythm in music can be visually described by structured patterns, but Sensual Musical also refers to the artist’s favorite music; the songs of the legendary British band, Led Zeppelin, almost always accompanied Utin during the process of designing the works of these series, and her designs are visual interpretations of the sensuality of Led Zeppelin’s songs (for Utin, the band’s songs are always sensual). Utin doesn’t attempt to display literal evocations of Led Zeppelin’s songs – like guitar images, portraits of the band members, or musical patterns through polka dots or a hubbub of colours – but links the band’s music to the sensuality of women. Thus, her paintings in this series are a colourful blend of the songs that have inspired her and the artist’s unique interpretation of the sensuality of women, a sensual musical so to speak.
Rain Rosidi is lecturer of Institut Seni Yogyakarta, Indonesia
PAINTING LOLITA: CHONG AI LEI'S STUDY OF THE FEMALE FORM
In 2010 – five years after her graduation from Dasein Academy of Art and after a trickle of part-time jobs - Chong Ai Lei became a full-time artist, and just one year earlier, the young Johor-born artist started Indolence, a series of figurative paintings centred on the female form.
In that nascent body of work, Chong portrayed a sole female figure. Her head and the lower half of her body were cropped by the edges of the canvas, and dressed in a simple white slip, the subject’s reclining body made shapely curves across Chong’s compositions. The bodily aspect of these works was only heightened by the use of flesh and nude tones that permeated the entire series, and Chong’s works were - in short – sensual and they made our roles as viewers exceedingly voyeuristic; it was as if we had caught the subject during the turns and delicate movements of her sleep and invaded the privacy of her own bed.
The title of the series, Indolence, was an indication of the languidness or inactivity of Chong’s female subject, but it was quite the otherwise for the artist herself, who maintained an active presence on the local art exhibition circuit and who has been working on her latest works for a good part of this year.
In Chong’s present body of work, the concept remains the same. A single female subject is caught in private moments and her identity is kept hidden from viewers. What is apparent, however, are a number of discernable changes. Now, the artist’s female figure is life-sized and what also marks new territory for Chong is the introduction of more elements in her compositions, background details (like furniture) that set the stage for the subject and allow room for narrative.
With these additional elements, Chong’s aptitude for realism arguably comes to the fore. Her slinky figure is portrayed in awkward poses and the subject’s muted flesh tones are contrasted with the ornate designs of a Persian rug and the stripes and folds of her dress. The female figure is not doing anything in particular. Her body contorts as it slides off the bed in one painting, she lies languorously on the floor in another, and these spontaneous and unnoticeable yet perfectly natural acts allow us a glimpse of the young female subject’s intimate moments.
All the while, her identity is concealed whether her face is hidden by her arms or turned away from our voyeuristic gaze, and so – as in Chong’s previous figurative works – it is as if we have caught the female subject unaware. Her face is averted from our curious looks while she appears to be daydreaming, her thoughts a million miles away from the actual scene, and she is highly unconscious of our presence and our prying eyes.
The element of unconsciousness also extends to the artist’s part, says Chong. She admits her works are unpremeditated, and quite fittingly, the artist’s own identity isn’t too far removed from her works. In relation to her latest paintings, the artist refers to a string of topics like solitude, detachment, and how people sometimes lose balance in their lives or in society, and this forms some similarity with how the artist’s own days pan out as she works in her compact home-studio apartment in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur - in isolation and far removed from the goings-on of the outside world.
Whilst the figure in her paintings have been fashioned after a live model, she isn’t too different from the artist herself; like her subject appears, Chong is in her mid-twenties, and she too may be a little skittish of her audience’s gaze and the glaring attention she may receive as she matures into her role as a contemporary artist.
With her latest body of work, Chong attempts to present a study of colour, composition, and context, but the suggestive body language of the female figure also casts an inadvertently erotic and sensual tone to her paintings. Her body language is suggestive as her dress slides off to reveal glimpses of her undergarments, and above all, there is the draw of her nubile youth - a Lolitaesque allure. Like the leading character in Vladimir Nabokov’s seminal novel, Lolita, Chong’s female figure is nubile, youthful, and carefree. And like the protagonist in Nabokov’s story, we can’t help but be drawn to Chong’s paintings; they are fresh, new, and something we haven’t seen before. They draw viewers in like Lolita herself, whether one is teased by the subtle peek of the female figure’s thighs or the superbly depicted patterns of the Persian carpet, lured by the muted colours in these five oil paintings (Chong blended gray tones into her palette), or simply engrossed by the skill of this new artist in our presence.
The female form in Chong’s latest works for this two-artist show is at once an inquisitive study of the female figure, a celebration of feminine sensuality, and a perfectly natural embodiment of youth all at the same time.
Rachel Jenagaratnam is an independent art writer based in Kuala Lumpur.