Posts Tagged ‘drawings’
The cab ride there, which included two spins down the length of Jalan Cempaka and a couple of mini-tours of the surrounding housing estates, cost me 30 RM. Matching up addresses and topographical reality can be a hazardous business in Kuala Lumpur.
Well worth it though, all things considered.
The House of Matahati, which evolved out of the Matahati collective founded by a group of young Malaysian artists in the late ’80s, is definitely one of the highlights on the KL art circuit (the latter, unfortunately, a rather nondescript one). Its current offering, Drawing a Distance: Drawings from 3 cities, boasts quite a few gems: works from Filipino Victor Balanon’s Dream of the Nameless Hundred series; Indonesian Maryanto’s etchings on photographic paper; Nurrachmat Widyasena’s Each One Was a Hero; Malaysian Lim Keh Soon’s whimsical, macabre little figures, in the spirit of Edward Gorey’s Gashlycrumb Tinies perhaps.
Pictures below; enjoy.
Works by Poodien. [left] Brave Old World: Raya Untuk Ravana (2012), charcoal, acrylic & ink on canvas. [right] Brave Old World: Langkapuri Yang Lain, Melarut ufuk, Berpasak Alih (2012), shadow puppet & charcoal on paper.
A lilting breeze, soft bright light, the sounds of sparse traffic down on TW Lane, and black birds calling out on the roof of the adjacent block – slow, lovely, tropical mornings are the best, boasting nothing but the promise of unhurried hours ahead ..
Looking through the bookshelves, I’ve realized that my copy of Poe’s Mother: Selected Drawings of Djuna Barnes is rapidly yellowing. Barnes’ artwork is amusing at best, derivative at worst (she clearly had Aubrey Beardsley in mind in the early days). I’ve reproduced* several of her sketches of famous folk she knew, accompanied by anecdotes culled from Philip Herrings’ biography.
* I don’t have access to a scanner, so these pictures were taken by hand with a camera.
“With the keen eye of a portrait painter (a sketch accompanied her interview article), Barnes saw Joyce emerge form the fog sporting [a] goatee, bluish-gray coat, and heirloom waistcoat …… She struggled to do her subject justice by penning observations that do not easily yield their meaning. Joyce evoked “the sadness of a man who has procured some medieval permission to sorrow out of time and in no place; it is the weariness of one self-subjected to the creation of overabundance in the limited.” His head seemed to be “turned further away than disgust and not so far as death.” Despite the dubious brilliance of these aphoristic pearls, Barnes’ interview of Joyce remains one of the best.”
“Years later, Barnes told James Scott that Stein
couldn’t write for beans! But she did write “A rose is a rose is a rose” – that was good. The only thing she ever wrote that was. D’you know what she said of me? Said I had beautiful legs! Now, what does that have to do with anything? She said I had beautiful legs! Now, I mean, what – what did she say that for? I mean if youre going to say anything about a person … I couldn’t stand her. She had to be the center of everything – a monstrous ego. Her brother, what was his name? Leo Stein. Poor thing. He was a nice boy. She simply ate him up!”
“Barnes apparently had the respect of Eugene O’Neill, who was to send her an occasional friendly note and humored her by saying that she was the better playwright. Chester Page asked her “what sort of man Eugene O’Neill was.” “‘A nice drunk,’ she said. ‘I saw him every night at dinner, at Polly’s or whatever the name was. Edna Millay was there. Polly was drunk and served rather drunk dinners which we all ate.’”
“Hartley told a story of coaxing Barnes into bed, which may have been wishful thinking, for William Carlos William says dubiously: “[Hartley] told me how once he had made rather direct love to DB – offering his excellent physical equipment for her favors … I can see old Marsden now, with his practical approach, explaining to Djuna what he could offer her. Djuna and her evasive ways. Marsden was very fond of her.” That Hartley, like nearly all the men who surrounded her, was gay would have made little difference to Barnes, but it is far from certain that she would have agreed to his proposition.”
“Late in 1916, with William Carlos Williams, Mina Loy played a lead part in Alfred Kreymborg’s Lima Beans at the Provincetown Playhouse, where she would often have been in the company of Djuna Barnes. In 1918, in Mexico City, when the divorce from Haweis was final, she married Arthur Cravan (1887 – 1918?), a nephew of Oscar Wilde, and a boxer hero of the Dadaists and Surrealists, who apparently disappeared in Mexico while she was pregnant with Fabienne.
Some say that his body was found in the Mexican desert, but of Cravan’s disappearance, William Carlos Williams wrote:
he bought and rebuilt a seagoing craft of some sort. One evening, having triumphantly finished his job, he got into it to try it out in the bay before supper. He never returned. Pregnant on the shore, [Loy] watched the small ship move steadily away into the distance. For years she thought to see him again – that was, how long ago? What? Thirty-five years.”
For a whole generation , the name itself just smacks of yesteryear: Lat.
For the uninitiated, Lat is a Malaysian cartoonist best remembered for his comics, Kampung Boy and Town Boy, which were wildly popular back in the day (read: the early 1980s), catapulting him to regional celebrity and lasting fame. He was born Mohammad Nor Khalid in a small town in Perak, but earned the nickname bulat, or ’round’, for obvious reasons (his Wiki entry has a picture of him) – a moniker that was soon abbreviated to the more affectionate Lat. Kampung Boy, first published in 1979, was a runaway hit, as was Town Boy, which followed a year later.
I recently picked up copies of both again.* Even after some three decades, Lat’s work looks utterly fresh: hilarious, imaginative, deeply personal, and clearly imbued with a strong sense of time and place. And it is that last quality which most appeals to me today, his evocation of another world in a bygone era, filtered through the lens of a sensibility that is both singular and sympathetic. Ipoh in the 1960s, as Lat conjures it in Town Boy, was very much representative of a burgeoning modernism then taking root in the urban centers of Malaysia – the old world of British colonialism, Chinese shophouse-families and kampung ways colliding face-first with a new order of low-cost public housing, youth culture and raucous American pop music, played out against the backdrop of the immediate post-Merdeka period. The 60s were exciting times for much of Southeast Asia (and indeed the global community), and Lat manages to eulogize the material culture of that epoch and capture its emotional resonance all at once.
* Lat’s comics are widely available in Malaysia; Singaporeans can head to Kinokuniya at Ngee Ann City or Books Actually at Ann Siang Hill, both of which carry a decent selection. Otherwise try Amazon.com, where there’s a page just for him.
I suppose these days Lat’s work would tend to fall into the fashionable – if somewhat ambivalent – category of “graphic novel.” Unlike, say, Gaiman’s Sandman books, or Alan Moore’s work, Lat often dispenses with the panel format of the traditional comic (the graphic novel’s ultimate antecedent) and adopts instead a page-spanning, panoramic composition, with a line or two of text rendered in a corner – reminiscent of a handwritten postcard, perhaps. It meets his needs admirably; his books, structured around the element of memory, are really by way of being episodic visual autobiographies, and not so much novelistic, linear narratives. Which brings me to the main point of this post. Lat’s graphic style – sketches of spidery lines nonetheless saturated with a universe of detail – is very Wimmelbilder-ish. The term apparently was coined for Hans Jurgen Press, an author of children’s mystery books, whom I’ve blogged about before. Wikipedia notes this of Press and the so-called Wimmelbild: “Press was one of the inventors of the “Wimmelbild”, a genre of illustration deliberately overcrowded with detail, to pleasure children on their search for a certain item.” And indeed that is the chief source of delight in looking at his drawings.
Take the street scene above, for instance: the blinds in the windows of the shophouses, the patterned profusion of tiles on their roofs, the clearly-marked signboard (reading Kedai Makanan) and the lady puffing on a fag in a rickshaw and the gentleman getting a haircut … the degree of detail not perhaps utterly uncommon, but all that just for the purpose of depicting the glee of two little boys playing hooky – yowza ! However, at the same time, it is also the unfinished nature of his sketches that gives the lie to the idea of a whole, recreated world. Beyond the appearance of verisimilitude, which approximates the look of a complete landscape, the artist’s pencil strokes are brief, tentative, concise. The lines of tiles on the roof are just that: rows of short lines, which in some cases become abbreviated into daubbings. Ditto the tar-encrusted surface of the road, rendered in skinny sketch marks, which, when compared with the shiny, coloured-in patina of the car, looks rough, cursory, fragmented. Also complementing the particulars of buildings and people and objects are large areas of blank space left in the composition, as if those portions of the material world were lost to both time and the expansive breadth of Lat’s recollections … I think it’s this inherent tension between completeness on the one hand – the conjuration of an entire vista, a whole milieu – and the patchy, fleeting character of Lat’s pencilwork on the other which lends such a dramatic poignancy to his books, suggesting a dichotomous vision of the simultaneous power and evanescence of memory holding his visuals delicately in the balance.
Virgina Woolf described it best. Woolf scholar and biographer Hermione Lee notes:
… she (Woolf) compares the thirty-two chapters of a novel to ‘an attempt to make something as formal and controlled as a building: but words are more impalpable than bricks’. Try, she suggests, to write on ‘some event that has left a distinct impression on you’, when ‘a whole vision, an entire conception, seemed contained in that moment’. As soon as you attempt to ‘reconstruct’ it in words, you will find that it ‘breaks into a thousand conflicting impressions’.
(Introduction to the Penguin edition of To the Lighthouse [Penguin Books, 1992], p. xi.)
Replace ‘words’ with ‘visuals’ or ‘drawings’, and you’ll have I think the dialectical crux of Lat’s work …