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Who Is David Hockney and Why Is His Latest Work Getting Dragged by Londoners?

Up until this week, I had never heard of David Hockney.

“Preposterous,” I hear you huffing. “How can you not know one of the most influential British artists of modern times?”

Well, pardon me for being an uncultured swine, but while I like and appreciate art, it’s not exactly necessary knowledge for me to pay my bills. So yeah.

But I digress.

To the uninitiated, David Hockney is an English painter, widely considered to be one of Britain’s most celebrated living artists. His early works often featured swimming pools in Los Angeles — where he lived in the 1960s — and they were his signature for a long time. In 2018, a 1972 artwork dubbed “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)” broke records at a Christie auction by selling for $90.3million (RM3.7bilion) — making it the highest price at auction for a work by a living artist.

To put it into perspective, the Selangor state government of Malaysia (where I’m staying) had a revenue of RM2.32billion in 2019. Which means that Hockney’s one piece surpasses the revenue that the richest state in Malaysia makes in an entire year. (**If you want to see how a $90.3 million painting looks like, click here.) In recent years, Hockney has transitioned to creating whimsical digital pieces using his iPad.

Over the years, there have been numerous debates on why Hockney’s works are so famous, and whether or not they’re worth the price they’re paid for. Now, I know that art is a very subjective thing — what you like may not be appealing to others. Personally, I do like some of Hockney’s works — they have a very Picasso/Matisse-esque quality to them. But I also know how the art world can be… biased in their way of valuing things (more on this later) — and there comes a point where as an ordinary person, you seriously question if some of these artists (and those in the art society) aren’t just… you know. Trolling the masses.

Recently, London’s mayor unveiled Hockney’s latest work at Piccadilly Circus as part of the #LetsDoLondon campaign, to revive domestic tourism and encourage Londoners to get out and support local businesses. It certainly got people buzzing — but not all of the noise was positive:

British people had a field day in the responses. (Swipe right for more)

While the majority took the mickey out of the painting, there were also those that thought it was a smart and provocative move. Yet others believed that people were making much ado about nothing.

Meanwhile, young artists have also joined the conversation, calling the entire campaign a ‘missed opportunity’ for the mayor’s office to not only help struggling artists and businesses, but also showcase London’s diversity. Some have shopped works of their own onto the space where Hockney’s works are currently being displayed. *Look up the hashtag #letsdolondonbetter — there are some seriously amazing artworks here!

While Hockney’s piece was apparently done for free, the mayor did spend £7million on the entire campaign — which no doubt included marketing and the engagement of an agency and what not to a) promote and b) put up the posters. Which, to many artists whose livelihoods have been affected by the pandemic, is a double slap to the face because Hockney has not lived in the UK for a long time (he’s based in the US). Perhaps the only possible good reason for choosing him over everyone else is the clout that Hockney has — so in a way I guess the work achieved its purpose to create conversations, because like I said: I didn’t know who Hockney was until recently.

This brings me to the next point which I mentioned earlier: how we value art today.

If you’ve ever watched the horror/thriller movie Velvet Buzzsaw starring Jake Gyllenhaal, it’s a brilliant satire of the art world today. In the film, Gyllenhaal plays a seemingly independent art critic, who gets pulled into the world of price fixing after his girlfriend — who works for a prominent art gallery owner — discovers cache of haunted paintings by a dead artist. They decided to display the paintings, to great success, but as greed and avarice take over, the trade off becomes deadly.

While the story’s plot is pretty outlandish, its portrayal of price fixing — and how critics, gallery owners, and buyers are basically complicit in ‘valuing’ how much an art piece is worth — is accurate imo. Take Mr Hockney’s latest piece for example, and this article. It is well written, full of praise like “a great piece of public art” and seemingly thought-provoking points like how public art usually adheres to ‘safe, sterile taste of private developers keen to bring artistic flair to artificially created public realms void of people or life’. And it makes you think, hey, maybe there IS more to this. They sound like valid points.

But I guess if you asked a child what they would see — without the pomp and flair and fancy words — they’d tell you like it is: it’s a doodle. One that they could probably make, given the right tools and materials. Eg: 5-year-old Rob makes a painting. Parent: “It shows how artistic he really is. Look at the composition. The brilliant pairing of colours. It’s sublime and it expresses the human condition.”

“Why’d you make this piece, Rob?”

5-year-old Rob: “I dunno. I just like it.”

Anyway, what this environment creates is a small, select group of ‘elite’ artists whose works are considered extremely valuable, and you have the rest of the artists — whose works by the way are no more or less than others — but are undervalued and taken advantage of. I personally know artist friends who struggle to make ends meet despite how talented they are, because there are clients who constantly want discounts, aren’t paying them fairly, and think that art isn’t ‘worth’ anything. These same clients would gladly pay thousands for a prestigious piece from an artist who somehow managed to market themselves better.

A sketch I made. Value: priceless.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, the art world as we know it today has lost its true meaning and purpose. When they say art can be anything, I didn’t think these people would literally take it to heart and spin in that way lol. There’s that artist Maurizio Catalan who duct taped a banana to a wall and someone paid $120,000 for it. There are also a series of paintings at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art that comprise of completely white pieces. According to SFMOMA’s website, the primary reason for the artist’s creation was to “create a painting that looked untouched by human hands”. The site later goes on to say that they have an important place in art history as precursors of Minimalism and Conceptualism.

Yeah… you keep telling yourself that, buddy.

Maybe I’m dumb. I’m not a professional artist or an art critic. But what I see are blank paintings, and a lot of ways to describe why they’re revolutionary, ground breaking, amazing. It reminds me of the story of the Emperor and his New Clothes, where everyone was too afraid to call out that the emperor was parading around naked; instead clapping and applauding because everyone around them was doing so. It took a child’s innocent eyes to call it for what it was.

What do you think about Hockney’s work, and art today in general? I’d love to hear if you agree or disagree with my views, especially if you’re an artist. Let me know in the comments below!

Art Jamming @ Yorokobi Art Cafe, Seri Petaling

Ever heard of art jamming?

It’s kinda like music jamming where people come together for an impromptu jam session, but with art. You rent an easel and art materials, and then you’re free to draw and paint whatever you want.

Art jams are becoming more popular, and there are numerous art ‘cafes’ and studios in the Klang Valley where you can unleash your inner Picasso. One of these places is Yorokobi Art Cafe in Seri Petaling. The owner, who used to work in advertising, was also an art teacher – and the cafe was founded as a way to make art accessible to everyone. Aside from the art jams they also conduct art classes for those who want to learn techniques more seriously.

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The interior is whimsical and quirky-looking, with a giant papier mache rabbit (the cafe’s mascot) at the entrance, and a mural inspired by Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Artworks from students and patrons line the walls, and there are loads of art stations where you can paint while sipping on a drink, or enjoy some of the cakes the cafe offers. The cafe also provides food for large groups or corporate team building events, provided you book in advance and in a minimum order of 10 pax.

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Cafe area

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Prices start from as low as RM68 for a 2-hour jam session. Considering art materials such as acrylic paints are pretty expensive, I think this is a very reasonable price – and you get to bring your work home with you too.

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You can grab some of the handcrafted goods and trinkets like potpourris, earrings, bags and deco from local artisans at the entrance.

YOROKOBI ART CAFE

12a, 1, Jln Radin Bagus 8, Sri Petaling, 57000 Kuala Lumpur, Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur

Opening hours: 12PM – 8PM (Weds- Fri), 11AM – 8PM (Sat-Sun), 12PM – 6PM (Mon). Closed on Tuesdays

Phone:  012-633 0538

*While you can walk-in, bookings are recommended, as they might be closed for team building or events.

yorokobiartcafe.com

 

 

mapkl Art Gallery @ Publika, KL

The art scene in Malaysia is a small but growing one – and thankfully there are places like mapkl in Publika which offer a platform for veteran and budding artists to showcase their talent to the world.

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Was in the mall for an event, so H & I dropped by for a quick peek. It’s my first time here. The space has open ceilings with overhanging mini spotlights, wooden parquet flooring and some benches where visitors can sit and admire the works.

Forgive me if I didn’t manage to get descriptions for each one; I might have missed some.

Enjoy the pictures!

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One of my favourite pieces was “Empathy” by Caryn Koh. 

Description: Empathy is a trait we lack here in our home. And it usually is the catalyst to the social problems we face, and needless to say, our list is endless. From the likes of racial discrimination, corruption, abuse within the home and workplace, homelessness, etc. And this is happening right in front of us. We have lost the ability to look outside our convenience and our own needs to appreciate the experiences, thoughts and beliefs of one another. But can we do more? Can we shout out and stand up for others? How many awareness campaigns do we need before the message goes beyond the tympanic and into our hearts? Our country will continue to bleed as we turn a blind eye to what’s happening in our surroundings. But for now, let’s start with being kind and compassionate to one another. 

I love this piece. I think it speaks volume about society and people today, especially those who live in urban environments. Our parents and grandparents lived in simpler times and communal settings eg in villages where everyone knew everyone else. Neighbours would visit each other during festivals, and kids can run around freely. Me, I only know the neighbours directly adjacent to my house, and one of them is not on talking terms coz of some misunderstanding lol. People teach their kids to ‘keep your nose out of other people’s business’ and not to stick their neck out or risk getting into trouble. We have become mistrusting and fearful.

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Untitled by Rushdi Ahmad. 

Description: A couple who are chained down by metal weights. It is a symbolic representation of the burden that is being carried by the current generation. It can be caused by obstacles faced in their career, financial situations, mental issues and so on. The artist hopes that the viewers would ponder on the causes and solutions to this burden and look deeper into the issues that are dragging down the current generation. 

City life can be very stressful. We get swept up by capitalism and the rat race, constantly chasing an illusion of ‘better’ things – a bigger house, a bigger car. I’m glad that I’ve learnt how to manage expectations at an early age. I’m content with the things I have.

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SWEG-WAY by Tomi-Heri x Pumoonkust 

Description: Technology is constantly evolving and introducing new creations to our generation. While these creations help ease the burden and improve the routine of mankind, it also seems to have a negative impact, indirectly encouraging mankind to adopt unhealthy lifestyles. Is this a fault caused by technological development? Or have we allowed technology to dominate our lives? 

Tech has helped us in a lot of ways. But yes, I agree it makes us lazier and ‘dumber’. Do you remember phone numbers these days? I used to be able to rattle off at least 10 numbers of close friends and fam by heart. Now I can’t even remember what my home number is. On the upside, stuff like Google calendar really helps me keep my meetings and work on track. I’m trying not to let myself get sucked into it too much. I don’t play with my phone when I’m having a meal with someone coz that’s just rude. I also save a lot compared to some of my friends who must have the latest of everything – they change smartphones every couple of months when their old model is perfectly usable.

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 Cats. Anything with cats is brilliant. 

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 Fish on ice-cream. Brilliant. 

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Come check out these other amazing works at MAP ! The murals will be here until April 19.

MAPKL (White Box & Black Box)
Level G2-01, Block A5,
Solaris Dutamas,
No 1, Jalan Dutamas 1,
50480 Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia

Gallery opening hours dependent on the event, but generally: Monday – Sunday (11am – 6pm)

Meeting the Doodler of Sketchy Stories – Kerby Rosanes

Have you guys heard of ‘Sketchy Stories’? If you haven’t, you should check it out – especially if you love doodling. The artwork posted on SS’ social media accounts are especially stunning: with its child-like creativity, meticulous attention for detail and quirky subjects.

Anyway, imagine how excited I was when I heard that the man behind Sketchy Stories – a 23 y/o Filipino illustrator by the name of Kerby Rosanes – was in Kuala Lumpur for a meet-and-greet! I headed to the meet at Tropicana City Mall and a little late coz of the massive traffic after work. There was already a crowd of fans milling about at the cafe, where Rosanes was giving out souvenir postcards.

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How cute is it!? 

Rosanes is self taught and after catching the eye of several big organisations, has doodled for companies such as Nike, Mazda and Ford.

How I wish I could make a career out of something I love – I hope I can find the courage for it.

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I was such a fangirl, lol – I started stuttering and couldn’t do anything beyond asking for his signature T-T

Nevertheless, it was great being able to meet with him! I feel a little more inspired to start working on my own drawings again.

Check out Sketch Stories on Facebook! 

Inspiration II – Art Exhibition @ The Refinery, Sentul

For a small country, Malaysia has tonnes of artistic talent – talent that is not always given deserving exposure. It would be great to raise awareness outside of the tightly-knit art community and more among the general public on their works, which is why I enjoy going to art exhibition assignments:) I recently attended one that is currently being held at The Refinery Art Gallery, d6 in Sentul. Titled ‘Inspiration II’, the exhibition is the second in its series and is a collaboration between 22 veteran and amateur artists from Akademi Inspire.

Exhibit coordinator Yeo Eng Peng, who is a veteran artist himself, said that the first installation held in 2011 was a great success, so they brought it back this year. Most of the artwork featured are by Yeo’s students. The idea behind ‘Inspiration’ is to showcase what each artist thinks inspires them, since all creation stems from the flow of ideas and creativity. Expect to see colourful watercolour pieces, acrylic, sketches to mixed media in various styles.

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“Harmony” by Ng Sheau Hoi features a pair of butterflies on pebbles.

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“Buddha” by May Lee

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“Love is in the Air” by Naomi Sim, who only started painting a year ago – which proves that nothing is impossible if you have the passion for it! Sim was inspired by her daughter who loves painting and art. According to her, this piece was also influenced by her favourite Canadian artist, Coplu. The colourful acrylic painting makes me happy looking at it. Something I would buy to decorate my home.

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Artist May Ling’s imaginary landscape of Kuala Lumpur is a beautiful green garden bursting with blooms, with the Petronas Twin Towers in the background.

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The artists come from diverse backgrounds. Some have full-time jobs and paint as a hobby, while others do it for a living.

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Cameron Highlands series by Nancy Lau depicts the natural beauty of the Malaysian countryside.

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“Peony”

 

All the artwork is for sale, so if you wanna check them out, drop by the Refinery Art Gallery in d6, Sentul!:)

Inspiration II will be running until Oct 24 2014 at The Refinery Art Gallery, d6-3A-G & d6-5-G, d6 Sentul East, 801, Jalan Sentul, Kuala Lumpur.

Viewing on weekdays is by appointment only, while the gallery is open on weekends from 11am to 4pm.

For more information, call 012-2050 716.