Solo Exhibition Chong Ai Lei : “P!NK” @Sangkring Art Project
Chong Ai Lei
Opening : Saturday, September 21 2013 7.30 Pm
Exhibition current until : October 9 2013
Escape into the P!NK
Chong Ai Lei’s studio-home is littered with a number of her older works. Paintings that she produced fresh out of the DASEIN Academy of Art in Kuala Lumpur mingle with works from her last solo exhibition, and the persisting theme across each work cannot be ignored: young womenfeature in all these paintings. In one oil on canvas, we see the full lips of a girl spread apart teasingly by a finger, and in another, the colour of flesh emanates with a healthy, pinkish hue. These works speak of innocence versus womanhood, a girl blossoming into adulthood and sexual cognition, and what permeates throughout is the artist’s signature palette of pastels with grey undertones.
Lolita in technicolour
The artist’s latest works lieclose to their predecessors in the same space, and althoughAi Lei’s mark is unmistakable in these recent works, there is also a distinct difference in their appearance. For one, the artist has begun to tackle larger canvases, a sign of heightened ambition on the part of the young artist, and gone are the days where the female subject stood alone in the spotlight; today, she shares the compositional space with other elements in a busy background, giving us more food for thought and more painterly candy for the eyes.
Adding more detail into her compositions isn’t entirely new, though. Ai Lei began moving in this direction in her last exhibition, where the female subject was showcased in interior spaces.In that body of work, the Lolitaesque quality was distinct and her young female subject spoke of daydreams, the idle passing of time, and the idyllic passage of a carefree youth. Today’s series, P!NK, carries many of these qualities, but Ai Lei has also injected a more thoughtful commentary about life into this series. “My recent works are about the anxiety of modern man, the pressure of work, and mixed feelings, which cause us to want to escape away from the bustle of society, so that we can temporarily forget our troubles,” she explains.
Indeed, this predicament is all too familiar for most of us. We struggle to juggle responsibilities at home and in our professional lives and even artists are not spared in this scenario, withmany facing mounting pressure to churn out works at the speed of light and to compete in an increasingly competitive and global art market.Ai Lei laments this change, it seems, and speaks directly about the very situation that Millennials or the Gen Y face. Born into a rapid world, where things change and information transfers faster than the blink of an eye, their time ahead is marked by a resounding pressure to maintain balance in their lives, and to grapple with newfound platforms like Social Media, which encapsulates so much of daily existence today.
Ai Lei’s inclusion of objects, such as MacBooks and iPhones can thus be read as direct links to this argument. These items feature in almost all of the paintings in P!NK, but the caveat is that they shouldn’t be seen as keys to the entire body of work. Indeed, the artist’s intention is wildly in opposition to the busy life that she observes amongst youth today; what Ai Lei wants audiences to takeaway from her works is a sense of peace and calm – her paintings are meant to be vehicles to escapefrom the hustle and bustle of life itself.
Ai Lei’s Lolita has thus grown up and her paintings should be viewed as crusades against technology and the complications that it was wrought. “Slow down, relax, calm your feelings, and enjoy nature,” says Ai Lei, describing the solution to our modern day complexities. Daydreaming and mellowness thus persists in P!NK, but this time, the artist’s message is more persistent than before: stop to smell the roses.
It’s simple, really
Once again, Ai Lei used a model for these works. Interestingly, however, the 20-year-old girl that you see was ‘discovered’ behind the ticketing booth at a local cinema – a move of chance on the artist’s part, but one that has inadvertently drawn a direct connection to the wider spectrum of young adults that Ai Lei has chosen to comment on in P!NK. The model’s nubile body and languid poses do afford some sexual undertones like the girls in the paintings before her, but they are nowhere near as risqué as they were before, when Ai Lei painted bare skin against nothing but white cotton garments and plain backgrounds.P!NK’s subject, in short, appears more innocent, fresher, and more real. And coupled with the finely-painted details in the works’ backgrounds, does this not make Ai Lei’s latest paintings more engaging?
Well, engagement is precisely what Ai Lei wants. The artist’s intention with these latest works is for viewers to take a breather from it all. Portraying her subject in the great outdoors suggests that we should return to a more natural state of being and to reconnect with the things that matter. And, what’s also apparent is that Ai Lei is lobbyingfor paintings to reclaim their importance in society, a role that it has relinquished to computer screens and smartphones.
Is this too idyllic a proposition? Perhaps. And whilst Ai Lei’s subjects remain cloaked in a rose-tinted cloud of youth, the artist’s message is more grown up and worldly than before; the girls in Ai Lei’s preceding works were metaphors for the artist’s own self, whilst today’s paintings are projections of the world around us or how she views society today. This change was natural, says Ai Lei, who argues that the transference from inward to outward is a case of organic artistic progression. But organic or not, we should read this as a sign of maturity on the artist’s part and embrace the poignancy of the move of her subject from the indoors to the outdoors.
Still, let’s not overcomplicate things. Life today is tricky enough as it is and the message in this body of work is really very simple. Vivid colours evoke jovialness and nonchalance, the grassy field in paintings like Afternoon Sunshine or Idle create a peaceful mood, and the artist’s painterly ingredients all come together to evoke a strong sense of relaxation. Can art liberate us from the confusion of today? Ai Lei certainly hopes so, and may a strong sense of calm pervade you as you view her latest works. Escape, argues the artist, escape into the P!NK.
 The artist’s last exhibition was the Malaysian Emerging Artist Award (MEAA) Showcase held in 2012. Ai Lei was one of the five main winners that year.
Dokumentasi Display P!NK