Luke Heng 'AL/linum' at A+ Works of Art

Collaboration with NRM
By Ian Tee

Luke Heng, 'Taking Apart', 2018, inkjet on aluminium composite, 31 x 68cm. Image courtesy of the artist and A+ Works of Art.

Luke Heng, 'Taking Apart', 2018, inkjet on aluminium composite, 31 x 68cm. Image courtesy of the artist and A+ Works of Art.

The American painter Robert Ryman famously said, "there is never a question of what to paint but only how to paint." In his statement, Ryman confronted the fundamental problem of what to do with paint, as well as the relationship between process (how) and image (what). These two questions continue to spur the discourse on abstraction, and artists often need to devise frameworks to focus their investigation. While Ryman stuck to a purely formalist approach influenced by his interest in jazz, Singaporean artist Luke Heng has turned to his family background in traditional chinese medicine and yin-yang philosophies to guide his work. Heng's latest solo show at A+ Works of Art presents two contrasting bodies of work inspired by ideas of balance and chance. 

Titled 'AL/linum', the exhibition brings together the artist's 'Non-Place' and 'Periodical Seedings' series for the first time. This combination informed the exhibition title, which is an amalgamation of two components: "AL" the chemical symbol for aluminium, and "linum" the genus of the plant family used to produce linen and linseed oil. While each part represents the material used in one body of work, they come together to symbolise a duality in Heng's practice. "The concept of chirality has been on my mind for a long time," Heng says. "Our hands are a good example of a chiral relationship; they are mirror images but cannot be superimposed on each other. I came across the idea while watching 'Breaking Bad' and felt that it describes the vastly different outcomes borne from the same train of thought."

Luke Heng, 'Non-Place', 2019, oil on linen, 188 x 330cm. Image courtesy of the artist and A+ Works of Art.

Luke Heng, 'Non-Place', 2019, oil on linen, 188 x 330cm. Image courtesy of the artist and A+ Works of Art.

The element of chance plays out differently in each series. For 'Non-Place', each painting was first coated with up to 30 layers of paint before Heng carefully poured turpentine on the surface. This produced the effect of ethereal brushstrokes which are in fact void spaces left behind after the paint ran off. While previous examples in the series have uniformly sized marks spread evenly across the image, the new paintings have a deeper sense of pictorial space suggested by larger pours in the foreground.

Juxtaposed to the slow, immersive qualities of 'Non-Place', works in the 'Periodic Seeding' series are small, fast and punchy, with a glossy surface that reflects its surroundings. They feature rows of lines or floating pixel-like blocks against a flat background, which recall the graphic style of hard-edged abstract paintings or Op-Art. However, these compositions are derived through a process that integrates the ancient Chinese divination practice of I Ching with digital intervention. Using a sequence generator, Heng joined the 64 I Ching hexagrams into what he called a "seed" from which smaller sections were randomly selected. These areas were processed by digitally layering its elements before the final images get printed on aluminium composite. For the artist, this is a strategy that not only narrows his working parameters, but also exercises the mindset towards chance and interpretation in I Ching.

Installation view of 'After Asphodel' (2017-18) at Pearl Lam Galleries, Singapore. Image courtesy of the artist.

Installation view of 'After Asphodel' (2017-18) at Pearl Lam Galleries, Singapore. Image courtesy of the artist.

The exhibition is curated by Josef Ng, founding partner of NRM, a curatorial and art consultancy based in Asia. Ng was previously the managing director (Asia) at Pearl Lam Galleries and had worked with Heng on his third solo show 'After Asphodel' (2017-18) at the gallery's Singapore space. 

'AL/linum' also marks the first collaboration between NRM and A+. A+ founder Joshua Lim stresses the importance of such partnerships. "It's not just about doing one or two projects together, but developing a relationship," Lim says, citing their previous exhibitions 'Transience and Transformation' and 'Sometimes You Can Be Weak', which featured Thai artists represented by Numthong Gallery. "Our aim is to identify a number of galleries in the region whom we want to work with, although I don’t think we would partner with more than one gallery per country," Lim adds. "From our perspective, cooperation can be better competition given the region's small collector base. It allows both partners to benefit from their respective expertise and networks."

'AL/linum' is on view at A+ Works of Art from 9 October to 2 November 2019.

A+ is also participating in Art Expo Malaysia 2019 which runs from 11 to 13 October 2019. Their booth 'A Different Corner' will feature works by artists collected by some notable Malaysian patrons as well as a presentation which pairs recent works by Mella Jaarsma and Tan Zi Hao.