Butterfly Aieeee!

Art Life , Reviews Apr 28, 2004 No Comments

We walked down Elizabeth Street to Blender Gallery . Previously the location of Stills Gallery in the 80s and 90s, the former terrace house is now home to a gallery that has a ‘strong commitment’ to new and emerging talent.

By ‘new’ we think they mean people who are new to art, or perhaps new to the art world, as in they have just graduated from art school and are beginning their exciting careers in the art life. And we think that by ‘emerging’ they mean people who have changed profession into art, say from being an accountant or a human resource manager or something from an allied trade, and are doing something a little more than dabbling.

We say we ‘think’ these things because ‘new and emerging’ is one of those vague art world clichés that could mean just about anything. If your father decided to get into art, then he would be “new and emerging” too, just as Joe Blow from art school is new and emerging. Perhaps a butterfly emerging from a pupa is new and emerging, but would it be an artist? Something to consider…

OK, what they mean is, people who are new to the art scene. Take David Cheah for example. He’s an architect, interior designer and has worked in Malaysia, Amsterdam, Kuala Lumpur and Sydney. According to the press blurb his portfolio includes “wall murals, paintings on glass, furniture, MDF, and fabric design for commercial and residential projects.” He’s pretty much a jack of all trades and by the looks of things, a pretty successful one too with successful shows in Europe, Asia and Australia.

Cheah’s works are superficially attractive, looking a lot like a cross between John Coburn and Peter Atkins, although without the sharp formalist aesthetic of the former or the playfulness and intelligence of the latter. Cheah’s a decorative artist and he makes no apologies for it:

“This exhibition explores the use of a form that has been present in his work over the last few years. Derived from overlapping circles, it is symbolic of the overlapping experiences that shape his life. The three main ideas that make up the pulse of the exhibition are the sense of ‘belonging’, ‘becoming’ and just ‘being’. Like the reciting of a mantra, repetitive forms in a matrix establish a sense of ‘belonging’.”

We have been considering for some time what a radically engaged abstraction might look like these days. Would it be something that’s derived from the real world? Or would it be some grand ontological adventure of pure form and colour? And indeed, is either thing even possible now? We were prompted to these ruminations after seeing several abstract works in various recent shows and we’ve decided that it isn’t probable or even likely that these wild postulations could take place. Why? Because it’s extremely difficult to train your eye to understand abstraction in a world that is over run with artists like David Cheah. When you get right down to it, everything is symbolic of everything else. There’s no getting away from that – you could go mad trying to untangle both the intended references and the unintended results of abstract painting. But when the world is all burnt oranges and soft browns, deep blues and glistening turquoises, you’re either in a gallery like Blender looking at a painting by Cheah or in a homewares shop pondering whether this plate will go on that credenza.

Cheah makes nice pictures – utterly undemanding and well crafted. We were taken by the fact that the artist was willing to extend his examination of ‘belonging’, ‘becoming’ and just ‘being’ into attractive throw cushions, coffee tables and a variety of canvases ranging in price from a very affordable $350 up to $1280. They would look good in your holiday house or perhaps in your Walsh Bay apartment.

Blender Gallery has a good atmosphere due to a very nice smelling coffee shop. They also have generous bathroom facilities that they allow one to use in emergencies. Also of note is the fact that the bathroom is full of erotic photographs of naked women. If only all galleries were like this.

Andrew Frost

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