Artist Ruben Pang wraps up fifth straight sell-out solo show

All 12 of Ruben Pang’s works portraying creators in the midst of contemplation and obstacles have been snapped up. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
All 12 of Ruben Pang’s works portraying creators in the midst of contemplation and obstacles have been snapped up. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Young Singapore painter Ruben Pang has another winner on his hands with his fifth straight sell-out solo exhibition here. All his 12 works on show at Chan Hampe Galleries in Raffles Hotel, priced between $5,000 and $18,000, were snapped up on opening night on Jan 16.

Titled Ataraxy, the exhibition presents new works that portray creators - historical as well as fictional artists - in the midst of contemplation, decision-making and other obstacles.

Pang, 24, describes the paintings as "an attempt to bring saturated light, digital visual effects, dream sequences and glitches into oil paint".

He adds that the idea "was to explore the stories and melo-/psycho-dramas within creators' minds".

One of his distinctive traits is painting on aluminium surfaces instead of canvas. And he prefers to use his hands to apply oil paint rather than brushes. He avoids canvas as he finds it "too fragile and its texture inhibits the movement of paint... However, aluminium can take a lot of abuse and is a more forgiving surface".

Stylistically, he has made progress in the use of the human form in his abstract paintings. "I'm less self-conscious about the use of symbolism. The formal art education I received compelled me to justify why I chose painting as a means to communicate my ideas, or at least continually contemplate the relationship between medium and message.

"This body of work was done after Italy changed me, it was a place where I felt at peace and was able to be completely unaffected by possible negative reactions to my work, which, admittedly, I tend to be much more while in Singapore."

The Lasalle College of the Arts fine art graduate spent three months in Italy from July to October last year. In September, he did a solo exhibition, Intravenous Picture Show, in Lugano with Primae Noctis Art Gallery. In October, he was part of Bright S'pore(s), a joint exhibition held in Primo Marella Gallery, together with other Singapore artists Jeremy Sharma, Donna Ong, Robert Zhao and Genevieve Chua.

His skinny frame belies the heavyweight credentials he has been building up.

He has been shortlisted for prestigious arts awards, such as the Sovereign Art Prize in 2010 and 2011, and contributed three works to The Singapore Show: Future Proof, held at the Singapore Art Museum in 2012, that highlighted works by up-and-coming home-grown artists.

Despite the growing international interest in his art, Pang says he is not a painter in a hurry. Even as demand for his work grows, he believes in taking it slow. He creates about 15 abstract paintings a year using oils on aluminium.

When asked if he is feeling a pressure to perform, he says: "There is always this fear that this good streak will be taken away as quickly as it came. We know how volatile the art world can be. And also the fear that with each successful year, we drift further from our roots and possibly take things for granted."

As a result, he says he wants to stay grounded.

"I owe it to the people around me, my parents, friends, the galleries I work with and the collectors who have supported me over time. They have always been encouraging but never put any pressure on me.

"Art is always going to be subjective, it's good to take these things in with an open mind and I am following my parents' advice - to embrace criticism."

In addition to paintings, he has also tried his hand at sculpture. His interest in sculptural forms comes from his father, Pang Che Rong, who is a sculptor. His mother, Ms Irene Ong, teaches fashion and retail management at a polytechnic.

The artist continues to travel with his art and is planning a residency in Israel this year.

He says: "Travel makes me more spontaneous, less self-conscious. I feel alive because of the discipline and rigour that comes with putting together a body of work in an unfamiliar environment within a fixed timeline. The change of pace, context and circumstance also lends a different perspective to my art."