From ‘Controversial win’, 21 July 2012, article by Huang LiJie, ST Life!
Artists and arts lovers are divided over the result of this year’s United Overseas Bank (UOB) Painting Of The Year competition after a 17-year-old Hwa Chong Institution student walked off with the top honour.
…Artist Hong Zhu An, 58, who won the award in 1994, criticises the painting for its ‘ugly’ brushwork and colour. He says in Mandarin: ‘The young artist has talent but his work is immature, and for a painting of this standard to win at the national level, it negates the achievements of past winners.’
…Milenko Prvacki, 61, a senior fellow at Lasalle College of the Arts and a former judge of the contest, is disappointed with this year’s result. ‘It sends a very wrong message, that no one in this country can paint better than a 17-year-old who is painting in oil for the first time,’ he says.
…Artist Yeo Shih Yun, 36, whose work has won commendation awards in the contest previously, stopped taking part in it since 2008. She says: ‘It has become a student contest with more students taking part in it as a school project and this takes away its credibility.’
…Mr Hong, the 1994 winner, finds it ‘silly’ to pit youth painters against more seasoned artists for the top prize. ‘You don’t ask our national paddler Li Jia Wei to compete against a child in table tennis, do you?’ he says. Artist Prvacki chimes in: ‘Art is for everyone and I’d like everyone to do art but it is something else to put down the profession. UOB Painting Of The Year should be for painters and there should be a separate section for amateurs.’
Esmond Loh’s ‘Just Let Me Sleep’ is a self-portrait which ‘illustrates the artist’s desire for sub-consciousness at a time when he was plagued by exhaustion and a loss of direction in life’. According to this first year JC student in a UOB press release;
“I adopted an experimental approach which played with intuition and creative impulse. The free exploration during the painting process was a form of liberation and the technique used developed on its own. The gestured nature of the strokes used to compose the face was meant to bring out the chaos of the mind”
Self-assured arty glib for a 17 year old, though ‘Sleep’, at first glance looks to me like a portrait of a zombie or someone who just walked out of a flaming plane crash with a 3rd degree full body burn. It also gave me a strange craving for yam basket for some reason.
It’s natural for dedicated professionals in the art business to scoff at novices who walk away with $30,000 prize money, especially in HINDSIGHT. It happened a couple of years ago when Chinese JC student Bai Tianyuan won the same award with a piece simply titled ‘What’, and received similar flak for being too ‘amateur’ to be deserving of the ‘Painting of the Year’ accolade. Apparently to detractors of young talent, there’s no place for ‘playtime’ in a competition like this. It is an embarrassment to years of dedication, mastering brush skills and reading art history. Or just sour grapes.
I wonder if these critics would lash out at wannabe youth painters if they hadn’t known about Esmond’s age, or his use of terms like ‘experimental’ and ‘chaos’ when describing the ‘methodology’ behind ‘Sleep’, which sounded like a hostel student’s approach to preparing his own dinner for the very first time. Is there no tolerance in the art world for ‘raw’ talent to outdo ‘seasoned’ veterans? Unlike success in table tennis (hitting balls past your opponent), there’s no quantitative measure to art. You can’t mark Esmond’s work as 50 out of 100. And even if you COULD score art that way, there’s no guarantee that experienced artists would do any better than greenhorns. If you gave an angsty orang utan a pastel and drawing board, hung the ‘chaotic’ finger-painted outcome on the wall of some prestigious (read pretentious) art gallery, concealed the true identity of the artist behind the moniker of a fictional ‘established auteur’ and gave it a glowing synopsis to explain random splotches away as ‘bold statements’, you would have at least a few ‘experts’ lauding the work as ‘genius’ and made a ‘monkey’ of. In fact, monkeys are already selling paintings as we speak.
I’m sure Stephen Hawking would have no issues pitting his problem-solving skills against 7 year old Maths whizzes. Nor should authors and English teachers feel jealous or shamed by spelling bee winners. Why can’t artists acknowledge prodigies when they see it? Perhaps, like how the judges were blinded to the artists, the media should get the opinions of art critics and past winners BEFORE the painters of such works are revealed. What the heck, just throw in the orang utan example as a submission too.