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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!

Lush Opens Second Outlet At Sunway Pyramid !

When British cosmetics retailer Lush opened its first outlet in Malaysia at Pavilion KL back in 2018, fans of the brand rejoiced – bye bye, exorbitant shipping fees, hello lovely soaps and bath bombs ! You can read about my first visit here.

Now, just in time for the New Year, Lush has opened its second outlet at Sunway Pyramid – so good news for all the folks living this side of the Klang Valley! You won’t have to get stuck in the jam to Pavilion; just the jam at Sunway instead. 😛

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Innovation and inspiration has been at the heart of Lush since it was started 24 years ago, and this is reflected in everything from its products and philosophy to the very design of its outlets. The Sunway Pyramid store is no exception. Spread across 741 square feet, the new shop is larger than the one at Pavilion KL, which means more space to showcase its products and features.

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One of these is the Fresh Face Mask counter – a deli-inspired display for Lush’s iconic fresh face masks. Slate consultations are offered to customers where products are strung together to make a cohesive and personalised skincare regimen- including benefits on the products, demonstrations and pampering sessions.

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Looks good enough to eat (please don’t)

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Expect to find the brand’s iconic bath bombs, soaps, shower jellies, and much, much more.

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Embracing the environmental movement, the shop is outfitted to eliminate wastage and recycle materials where possible. Many of the products are ‘naked’ (ie no packaging), and if you do need to buy them as gifts, there are beautiful fabric wraps (reusable, and so pretty!) that you can purchase. That aside, the shop uses an LED lighting scheme to save on energy, while all paint and internal materials have been carefully selected to have a minimal environmental impact. No products used have ingredients tested on animals.

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Attractive, colourful displays.

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Creams and skincare products

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Shampoo bars

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Curious about a particular product? Try them out! The friendly staff are always on hand to assist.

LUSH (SUNWAY PYRAMID) 

G1.53, Ground Floor, Sunway Pyramid, Bandar Sunway, Selangor

 

**Photos courtesy of Lush PR. 

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Review: Durham @ FMS Ipoh – Breathing New Life To The Oldest Bar In Malaysia

Old-timers might recall FMS, possibly the oldest bar in Malaysia, with an air of nostalgia. Short for the Federal Malay States, it was first opened at Market Street in 1906 by a Hainanese immigrant, before taking up residence in a corner unit along a row of pre-war shoplots in 1923. The bar has served patrons for over a century, and was a popular haunt for British and European officers, miners and planters during the colonial era. Over the years, the bar fell into disrepair, and shuttered its doors 11 years ago. Until it was refurbished and reopened again earlier this year, as the Durbar @ FMS. 

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A passion project by the new owner who is an architect, Durbar @ FMS has tried its best to retain the old-world charm of its historic predecessor. Stepping into its interiors is like taking a step back into colonial Ipoh, and its almost easy to ignore the sounds of modern traffic when you’re within the restaurant’s walls. Timber furniture and counters, sleek marble tabletops, and elegant lighting are paired with whitewashed walls, adorned with old newspaper clippings and even a large portrait of a young Queen Elizabeth II.

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The large bar cabinet at the back is made from chengal and balau timber wood.

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The old FMS was known for its signature dishes such as Hainanese Chicken Chop, Baked Stuffed Crab, Classic Chicken Mornay, Classic Oxtail Soup and Enche Kabin –  which Durbar has kept. The food is, in fact, prepared by two experienced Hainanese chefs. The Hainanese were renowned for their excellent food, and many served as chefs for the British during the days of British Malaya. The result is a unique fusion of Chinese-style cooking tweaked to Western taste buds.

Had the Classic Oxtail Soup, and it did not disappoint. Could have been better with an additional piece of garlic bread, but otherwise the soup was hearty, warm and full of delicious meaty flavour, with generous chunks of oxtail to nibble on swimming within.

 

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The Crab fried rice had a simple presentation but surprised everyone with its astonishing depth of flavour and wok hei (breath of the wok) – something that can only be achieved by cooking the ingredients over high heat, sealing in all the flavours. It boasted just the right amount of seasoning – not too bland nor salty – and the sambal chilli sauce gave it a spicy kick.

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Pops had the Mee Hailam, which was one of the more affordably priced items on the menu. It was tasty but since wet noodles aren’t my thing, it was not my favourite.

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DURBAR @ FMS 

2, Jalan Sultan Idris Shah, 30000 Ipoh, Negeri Perak

Business hours: 11AM – 10PM (Closed Wednesdays)

facebook.com/DurbarAtFMS

 

Review: Two Friends One Cuisine @ The Ritz Carlton Kuala Lumpur

Experience the cosmopolitan flavours of London right in the heart of KL, as The Library @ The Ritz-Carlton Kuala Lumpur presents Two Friends – One Cuisine, a limited-time only dinner menu featuring guest chef Alexander Tyndall, of Marco Pierre White’s Wheeler’s restaurant at the Threadneedles Hotel. Collaborating with YTL Corporate Executive Chef Wai Look Chow, the four-course dinner is available from now until July 20 2019, showcasing the best of each ingredient through modern and traditional culinary artistry.

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The elegant interiors of The Library immediately sets guests at ease, with intimate dining spaces and cosy corners. Surrounded by bookshelves (hence the name) ad lots of wood, the warm lighting and classy vibe makes for great conversations with friends and loved ones over a glass of wine, as you wile the night away enjoying the delights of a full fine dining experience.

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We kicked off with a prelude of amuse bouche to whet the appetite – Oysters Rockefeller au Gratin, and Seared Scallop with skirlie potato cake and vanilla purée. The oyster was large and juicy, topped with a creamy blend of butter, parsley and green herbs with a layer of melted cheese that accentuated the oyster’s brininess. The seared scallop was perfectly cooked, and the potato cake lent an element of crispiness to the bite-sized appetiser.

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The light and airy Tempura Quail, which comes with pickled cucumber, kimchi puree and polenta fritata had each individual ingredient shining on its own, but also coming together to form a beautiful mix of textures and flavours. I enjoyed the bouncy quail eggs with their creamy centre, the robust, slightly gamey and tender quail meat, cut through by the tanginess of pineapple slices and the kimchi puree.

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Here is your chance to taste a signature Marco Pierre White dish – Marco’s Lobster Macaroni – an oceanic bisque of lobster and macaroni topped with black truffle. You’ll taste the familiarity of a simple, homemade comfort food – namely Mac n Cheese – spruced up with luxury ingredients, including generous portions of sweet lobster tail, gruyere cheese and earthy black truffle.

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Next came Roasted Rack of Lamb with Cockles, Baby Spinach, Gratin Dauphinois (sliced potato baked in milk and cream) and Roasting jus. The meat was top grade, slicing apart like butter before melting in the mouth. The cockles didn’t go well with the meat, but it was still easily my favourite dish of the night.

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Ending the night on a sweet note, we had Chef Alex’s signature dessert – Wheeler’s Poached Pear with vanilla panna cotta and passion fruit sauce. The poached pear had just the right amount of sour-sweet to balance out the thick but smooth creaminess of the panna cotta.

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A cheese platter was served at the end of the meal, although this isn’t part of the 4-course dinner; featuring Vintage Stilton, Mature Cheddar and Ripe Brie. Personally, I love blue cheese so the Stilton was my favourite, but it may taste a little strong for others.

The exclusive four-course menu will be available from now until July 20 2019, from 7pm until 11pm and is priced at MYR350 nett per person with an option of wine pairing at MYR450 nett per person.

For dining reservations and enquiries, call +60 3 2142 8000 or email
dining@ritzcarltonkl.com.

 

*I was invited as a guest to this food review as part of work. Views here are entirely my own. 

Review: Cor Blimey, SS15 Subang – The Best British Fish N Chips In Town!

Cor Blimey!

That’s a British expression to express surprise – and an apt name for this fantastic chippy in Subang. I’ve heard a lot of good things about the place, and finally decided to drop by for lunch with N over the weekend.

Forget about generic fish and chip joints in the malls, where they serve you soggy, reheated chips, and the fish taste like they’ve been in the freezer for years.

This, my friends, is the real deal. 

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The decor is, no surprise, British-themed: vintage black and white posters, signboards with the names of cities in the UK, warm and cosy wooden decor, tiny Union Jack flags hanging from the ceiling. They even have Mr.Bean cartoons playing on the TV screen.

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The menu is limited, but why would you even come here if you’re not looking to satisfy your fish and chip cravings?

First, choose from four types of fish (Dory, Snapper, Atlantic Cod or Haddock), then a batter (plain, lemon and herb, onion and garlic, chilli lemon) and finally a side (minted mushy peas, baked beans and coleslaw). You can also opt for dipping sauces such as onion gravy, thousand island and chip shop curry sauce.

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The kitchen prepares each dish to order, so expect some waiting, especially during peak hours.

While waiting for my Lilian Gish and Jockeys Whips, there was this interesting survival guide on Cockney slang to keep me occupied.

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Our orders arrived, and we were both impressed by the generous portions – a gigantic piece of fried fish sitting atop a bed of crispy chips. It also came with a huge dollop of tartare sauce.

N had Dory fish with lemon herb batter and a lemon butter sauce.

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My order of dory fish in onion garlic batter, served with a side of baked beans.

I was extremely excited when I saw that they had onion gravy and curry dipping sauce, which I absolutely love. Back in the good ol’ days when I was a student in Sheffield, my housemates and I would always walk out from our dorms to the chippy for supper, and I always drenched each piece with curry dipping sauce. There’s something about it that is so different from the usual Indian curry you get locally – it’s sweeter and creamier, for one. Also less spicy.

Sadly, when I got back to Malaysia, I’ve never seen it served at any fish and chip restaurant. Now I know where to get my fix!

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Did not disappoint! It was just fresh, hot, good food. Gordon would have been proud.

Fish was fried to crispy perfection and did not feel greasy at all; was moist and juicy on the inside. Same went for the thick cut chips. Beans were good, curry sauce was on point. Only thing that could do with improvement was the onion gravy, which was a tad too sweet for me, but all in all, still decent.

Our meal for 2 came up to about RM50+, which is reasonable given their hefty portions. 10/10 would recommend.

Ambience: 8/10 – rustic and cosy

Service: 9/10 – efficient and attentive

FISH N CHIPS: 10/10 BEST BRITISH FISH N CHIPS IN TOWN

COR BLIMEY (SS15 BRANCH)

No. 23, Jalan SS15/4, 47500 Subang Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia

Opening hours: 12-3PM, 6-11PM. Closed Mondays.

corblimeymy.com

Travelogue Penang: Fort Cornwallis, Georgetown

Fort Cornwallis was established in 1786 and was named after the British Governer-General in India, Charles Cornwallis. Although called a fort, it has never engaged in battle. It is the largest and most intact surviving fort in Malaysia and was built by the British East India Company to protect the island from pirates and any possible attacks from the neighbouring state, Kedah. The walls are built with a reddish-brown brick, and there are decorative canons surrounding the perimeter.

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Entrance.

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Sir Francis Light, founder of Penang.

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The fort is divided into several sections, including the main courtyard, some cubby-hole-like structures which used to be prisons, ramparts for canons, and the wall on top where visitors can stroll through. There is also an ammunition room, which was built to be very cooling, to house gunpowder. We hid in there for a few minutes for a brief respite, because the sun was merciless.

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The biggest and nicest cannon within the fort is the Seri Rambai, which has made a long journey to be here. Cast in 1603, the greyish blue cannon was a gift from the Dutch to the Sultan of Johor. While fighting, the Portuguese (who colonised Malaya from 1511 until the Dutch took over) gained possession of Seri Rambai and took it to Java, where it sat for a long time and was later given to Acheh and Kuala Selangor before finally being seized by the British and placed at the fort.

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Fort Cornwallis is not terribly large and there aren’t that many things to do within, but it’s still a nice place to visit, especially if you love history.

Entry is RM10.

FORT CORNWALLIS

Jalan Tun Syed Sheh Barakbah, George Town, 10200 George Town, Pulau Pinang

Opening hours: 9AM – 10PM

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While you’re at it: Nearby is the Queen Victoria Clock Tower, built to commemorate her Diamond Jubilee in 1897. As you can see from the photo, there are local elements to it like the big yellow ‘bulb’ on top which is influenced by Moorish designs and is commonly seen on mosques.

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