PROCESSION OF THE SLIGHTLY MAD
S-Ann Ch'i | Brian Uhing
Written by Carlomar Arcangel Daoana
For Art Fair Philippines, Art Verité presents the two-artist show, Procession of the Slightly Mad by Brian Uhing and S-Ann Ch’i. The exhibition is an unlikely pairing of two creative trajectories: Uhing hews closely to figurative surrealism while S-Ann Ch’i embodies the tenets of gestural abstraction. Their different temperaments notwithstanding, the exhibition showcases how generative and fruitful it is to think beyond the concerns of theme but instead focus on subtler traits of the painting medium, such as energy, exuberance, and engagement.
Such qualities are instantly discerned in the works of Uhing, who juxtaposes elements in a single painting. The reference for the figures appears to be Renaissance portraiture, with their brocaded outfits and magisterial poses. What could have been a straightforward depiction of a figure is upturned by an assortment of surprising objects: a table marked with the roundness of a single red apple, a billowing of clouds fastened to hair, a fish bowl through which the head gazes inquisitively. The humor is immediate and transportive: Uhing’s figures are denizens of a fantastical world, “though each piece was created as an independent act from each other,” as the artist maintains.
Extending the whimsicality of the paintings three-dimensionally is the toy sculpture, “Phone with a Girl.” The artist explains his concept: “As the title hints, the girl has been delegated to being nothing but a backdrop, a fancy-laden table. The real subject of the piece is the phone, which documents her and the scene, and by doing so gives the situation meaning and value. There’s a slice of cake, but no fork to eat it with which further exposes the farce; a couple of roses are strewn at her feet, as offering to a life not truly experienced.”
What drives the artist to create is the unbridled sense of “enjoyment,” which comes from the love of the act of painting itself: “the smell of linseed oil and turpentine, the process of pulling an image out of my head and putting it down for all to experience, and the situations when the piece leads me to a juncture where I find myself pleasantly surprised.”
Acting as a counterpoint to Uhing’s fantastical figuration is S-Ann Ch’i’s calligraphic abstraction, as inspired by the Eastern art of sumi-e, or ink wash painting. The works—which are a combination of fluidity and restraint, improvisation and deliberation—are governed by what the artist defines as “raw aesthetics,” which leads to “the excitement of painting not a picture but of capturing an ‘event’ into the visual language.”
This event is the transmutation of the artist’s gestures into the physicality of pigment, usually emanating web-like from distinct nexuses on the canvas. These gestures are not limited only to the movement of the wrist as “the act of creation demands that I literally work around and inside the painting.” By choosing two or more color palettes in a single work, the artist creates layers upon a flat surface, as if the strokes are harmoniously caught in the swirl of a volatile dance.
The artist’s creative process, which “involves the application of intuition, experimentation, my personal expressions and improvisational decision making” also allows for the natural forces of gravity to intervene in order to evoke a resonant effect. “Each drop, pour, flow, and splash of paint onto the canvas,” S-Ann Ch’i states, “the finished piece is an assemblage of gestures that evoke a sensation from the viewer.”
Procession of the Slightly Mad fuses together two artistic sensibilities not as competing forces but complementary ones, especially when seen in the light of contemporary art where no single strand of style dominates. What unites them, to use a title of Vincent van Gogh biopic, is a “lust for life,” as seen in the gestural strokes of S-Ann Ch’i and the sheer levity of the figures in Uhing. Together, they bring about an unlikely, but ultimately satisfying performance: the marriage of abstraction and figuration, cognitive surrealism and bodily expression.