When night falls

Young Sin­ga­porean artist Yeo Tze Yang cap­tures the dif­fer­ent fa­cades of night in his first solo in Malaysia.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Art - By ROUWEN LIN star2@thes­tar.com.my Smoke Break (oil on can­vas, 2016). Por­ridge Sup­per (oil on can­vas, 2017).

YEO Tze Yang’s snap­shots of dusk – and the hours that stretch be­yond – look like they are quite at home with the list­less monotony of ur­ban living. The peo­ple in these works don’t com­plain, they don’t be­moan their hum­drum ex­is­tence. They are sim­ply present, and, above all, ac­cept­ing.

Yeo’s Evening, a se­ries of oil paint­ings cap­tur­ing the dif­fer­ent fa­cades of night in his home coun­try of Sin­ga­pore, marks his first solo ex­hi­bi­tion in Malaysia. This show­case of 15 works, cur­rently show­ing at Our ArtPro­jects in Kuala Lumpur, comes two years af­ter his first solo A Place Be­hind My Eyes, held in Sin­ga­pore.

Al­most para­dox­i­cally, there is a sense of still­ness about the works in Evening, even as a flurry of tired com­muters pile into trains and buses, hun­gry work­ers pick fish­bones clean at the nearby hawker cen­tre, and flu­o­res­cent lights bathe the dark­en­ing space with a harsh glare.

“With Evening, there is def­i­nitely the sense of the end of some­thing draw­ing near, or the mo­ment right be­fore the end, be it the end of a meal, the end of op­er­at­ing hours, the end of a work­ing day,” shares Yeo, 23, dur­ing an in­ter­view when he was in town for the show’s open­ing last week.

“All my paint­ings de­pict things I see with my own eyes, things I have felt, smelled and heard, and the sen­sa­tions I as­so­ciate with them,” he adds.

In one paint­ing, the sil­hou­ettes of two bus driv­ers on a smok­ing break at the bus de­pot sug­gests just an­other late night wrapped in a blan­ket of wist­ful­ness. In the next, dishes are left to drip dry at the clos­ing of an­other day at the hawk­ers. In an­other, the pack­ag­ing from a fast food meal de­voured is crum­pled, yet still recog­nis­able – all things fa­mil­iar to most peo­ple, not just in Sin­ga­pore, but also here.

Last year, Yeo won the Sil­ver Award of UOB Paint­ing of the Year (in Sin­ga­pore). His love af­fair with art, at least in the con­text of for­mal art ed­u­ca­tion, started in his teens, when he was part of the Art Elec­tive Pro­gramme for six years in sec­ondary school and ju­nior col­lege. He is cur­rently com­plet­ing a Bach­e­lor of Arts and So­cial Sci­ences de­gree in South-East Asian Stud­ies at the Na­tional University of Sin­ga­pore.

Yeo ac­knowl­edges that there are “many re­cur­ring tourist im­ages” of Sin­ga­pore, like Ma­rina Bay Sands, the iconic mer­lion spew­ing water from its mouth, or the im­pres­sive Sin­ga­pore sky­line.

“It all feels very lux­u­ri­ous and pretty, but that’s the fur­thest thing from ev­ery­day real­ity for most Sin­ga­pore­ans. For us, the end of the day means choos­ing from mixed rice dishes that have been stand­ing around for hours and get­ting cold, be­fore head­ing off home on the train or bus,” he says.

So what does this time of the day mean to him? And why does it war­rant a whole se­ries ded­i­cated to it?

The devil, as it turns out, lies in the de­tails.

Yeo rem­i­nisces that when he was a child, it was in the early hours of the evening where he would wait for his fa­ther to pick him up from af­ter­noon class. Then as a teenager, dusk her­alded the start of a long bus ride home.

It is such rou­tines, cou­pled with the changing of day to night, that have left an in­deli­ble mark on mind and mem­ory.

Over time, he came to be in­ter­ested in the col­lec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence of night, the ev­ery­day ver­sion that he shares with other peo­ple around him.

To­day, as an adult, night sig­ni­fies the time when peo­ple get off from work or school and squeeze on buses and trains to get home, when street lamps light up and ev­ery­one is on the move.

“At this time of the day I wit­ness the cool grey light be­side the metal bars of a flu­o­res­cent yel­low bus, and the dull, harsh street lamps cast­ing an orange glow, soak­ing the world and ev­ery­thing around them in shades of yel­low and brown. These colours paint the mem­o­ries of the ev­ery­day in my life. This is how I re­mem­ber and process things,” he says.

Still, Yeo muses that he used to have many pre­con­ceived ideas about what the evening meant to him, draw­ing gen­er­ously on the im­agery and colour pal­ette of the quin­tes­sen­tial Hong Kong gang­ster film, with mystery and in­trigue set against neon city lights.

“Be­ing a youth of­ten means you have all these fan­tasies about night be­ing all cool and wild, like the im­ages from films like Wong KarWai’s

Chungk­ing Ex­press. But then you re­alise your ac­tual life re­ally isn’t all that ex­cit­ing most of the time,” he says with a laugh.

Evening is firmly rooted in fact and feel­ings. Yeo re­ally isn’t in­ter­ested in paint­ing an imag­i­nary world. For this project that took over a year to see to com­ple­tion, the first half was sim­ply ded­i­cated to street pho­tog­ra­phy, be­fore em­bark­ing on the paint­ing.

And if there is one emo­tion to be taken away from Evening, it is per­haps the re­al­i­sa­tion that what binds us are the things we see, but of­ten leave un­said.

Evening is on at Our ArtPro­jects, Zhong­shan Build­ing, 80, Jalan Rotan, off Jalan Kam­pung At­tap in Kuala Lumpur till Aug 5. Open Tues­day to Satur­day (11am-7pm). Sun­day by ap­point­ment, closed Mon­day. Visit ourart­pro­jects.com for more in­for­ma­tion.

Yeo’s Pas­sen­gers (oil on can­vas, 2016), which is part of his Evening ex­hi­bi­tion fea­tur­ing 15 works.

— M. AZHAR ARIF/The Star

‘With Evening, there is def­i­nitely the sense of the end of some­thing draw­ing near, or the mo­ment right be­fore the end, be it the end of a meal, the end of op­er­at­ing hours, the end of a work­ing day,’ says Yeo.

— Photos: Our ArtPro­jects

24 Hours (oil on can­vas, 2017).

Be­hind The Bus Stop (oil on can­vas, 2016).

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