For its inaugural art exhibition, Purplehouz Fine Arts’ third gallery features the beautiful emotive works of Lee Joo For, writes John Tiong
PURPLEHOUZ Fine Arts in Jalan Chantek, Petaling Jaya opened its third gallery recently, just a stone’s throw from the second gallery which opened last year near the residential area in Jalan Gasing.
The owners, among them Navinder Gill, have chosen to take art away from the commercial complexes so that it can be appreciated far from the hustle and bustle of the city.
The director of the third gallery, Ee Soon Wei, who is active in the theatre scene, says art is the next best thing after theatre. He has made a career switch, from printing to dealing in art.
For him it is a matter of killing two birds with one stone — what better position for an art collector to be than as a partner in a business where art is all that matters? The Australian graduate has been collecting paintings for the last four years, including those of Datuk Chuah Thean Teng and Khalil Ibrahim. He would love to collect more by local artists and of course, to introduce the best to his clients.
The gallery’s first art exhibition, 40 Years Of Lee Joo For, which ends on June 30, features 41 artworks by 83-year-old Penang-born artist Lee Joo For, who has been living in Melbourne since the early 1970s. Apart from paintings, there are also the monoprint and linocut.
What makes Lee’s paintings intriguing is his use of animals and celestial objects such as horses, bulls, sun, moon and tigers to convey his thoughts. In some, he expresses the anguish he experienced when three of his five children were stricken with muscular dystrophy.
Lee’s art is a blend of western techniques, calligraphy and sketches. He uses acrylics, oils, and Chinese ink on canvas and paper, but is equally adept at presenting his works in mixed media on paper.
The exhibition offers a broad selection of Lee’s works over the last four decades. Described as “underrated” by those in the art world, Lee is one of the few major artists born in the 1920s who are still around. What makes his paintings worth collecting is that they are the works of an artist who not only achieved distinction in the theatre world, but is also an accomplished poet.
Lee was thrice winner of Malaysian Drama Festival’s Best Playwright Of The Year (from 1969 to 1971), and was Best Radio Playwright Singapore in 1969.
His works tell of his involvement in theatre. Many paintings are so dramatic that they look like scenes from a play. This is reflected in Our Pride And Sorrow (1998) where Lee painted him and his wife praying for their children.
His sun or moon represents the Creator and he uses them in many of his paintings to show that man cannot part with the one above.
Horses especially help to translate his idea of humanity effectively. The animal embodies the grace of a woman, steadfastness of men and the supreme intelligence of the Creator, he says. The bold and breezy strokes Lee uses for his horses evoke a feel of the powerful energy of the animal. The horses carry the subtle message of man’s struggles for what he desires — how he harnesses his will, sometimes, in an almost chaotic manner, like horses. Lee says: “My horses are humanity. They stare or glare at us or throw sidelong glances, or look back at us, accusing us of inhumanity towards man.”
In Lee’s strokes, one can also experience the exploding energy one sees in humanity. This is especially so in the piece titled Horse Looking Back (1966). The well-built physique, especially the legs and muscles, are so well drawn that one almost sees the animal racing across the paper.
Another visual of horses is in Sarong Women On Horses (1944), where four women are portrayed as proud handlers of horses which represent the men they wish to control.
The swirl of their hair and the fluid strokes for the horses, against a background of a fiery orange sky, yellow earth and sun succeed in evoking the dilemmas that these women face as they try to control men. Another allure of the painting are the bare shoulders of the sarong-clad women. The dramatic world of men, women and animals is held together by God, represented by the sun.
The other horse paintings not to be missed are Bold Woman On Horse (1977), Dead Heat Race (1969) Horse Energy (1973) and Racing Horse Profiles (1985).
One other painting that clearly elucidates the inexorable forces and energy in animals is the Restless Tigers (1993), which draws out the fearsome nature of tigers with a maddening swirl of bold black strokes — claws, canines and raised tails all ready for for a deadly assault. The ferocity of the animals in their striped fortresses screams out to us on a a red background used to great effect.
In two paintings, Lee reveals his soft spot for women, especially their subjugated position, which shines through in Interior People (1979) and Eating Desperation (1998). In the former, a woman is featured in a foetal position, suggesting the woman being trapped by the traditional bonds and cultural prejudices. In the latter, subservient women are seen serving men at a meal.