Monochrome dream becomes a reality for artist

Artist Oh Chai Hoo (above) with one of his works, The Gate (2016, right)
Artist Oh Chai Hoo (above) with one of his works, The Gate (2016, right)PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

For many years, artist Oh Chai Hoo lived in the multi-coloured world of his paintings, secretly yearning to create monochrome works.

The 56-year-old artist says in Mandarin: "A black-and-white painting is able to convey meaning on a deeper level. It is not hindered by colour."

Most gallerists he met, however, had little interest in showing monochrome ink painting, adamant that there is no market for it. So he worked instead with colour and metal foil, and mainly on commissions from clients such as hotels, to earn a living.

His latest solo exhibition of contemporary ink paintings at the gallery iPreciation in Cuscaden Road is therefore a coup.

The more than 40 works of ink on rice paper, ceramic sculptures and seal carvings show off his versatility and keen artistic skill.

The works on show are priced from $4,000 and a number of them have already been sold since the show opened last Friday.

A black-and-white painting is able to convey meaning on a deeper level. It is not hindered by colour.

ARTIST OH CHAI HOO, with one of his works, The Gate (2016)

The gallery's managing director Helina Chan, 53, says: "I was impressed when I saw Chai Hoo's black-and-white ink paintings earlier this year. They had been hidden away in his studio, but they showed tremendous potential."

The series on show features works the artist made in the last two years. It draws inspiration from his love of nature, particularly rocks.

He often visits the quarries near his home in Upper Bukit Timah, where he lives with his wife, artist Chua Chon Hee, 56, and two daughters in their 20s, to contemplate the majestic landscape.

He finds great beauty especially in the grain of rocks and how such richly varied textures form organically through prolonged exposure to harsh elements.

  • VIEW IT / LIFETIME OF CHANGE

  • WHERE: iPreciation, 50 Cuscaden Road, 01-01

    WHEN: Till July 16, 10am to 7pm (weekday), 11am to 6pm (Saturday), by appointment on Sunday and public holiday

    ADMISSION: Free

"There is a certain melancholy in this," says the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts alumnus, who is interested in Buddhist philosophy. "It mirrors the vicissitudes of life."

To capture the texture of the rocks' weathered nooks and craggy folds, he chose to paint not with a brush, although he has mastery of the technique, but through a variety of methods that allows for chance and laws of nature to complete the painting.

This includes dabbing an ink- soaked sheet of paper on the rice paper surface intuitively and allowing excess ink to run freely.

He says: "I have always felt that a painting should not be too deliberate because it limits what can be expressed. Art-making should be a form of serious play."

This, too, was the guiding approach for his sculptures in the show - mini rocky outcrops that resonate with the theme of the paintings.

His inventiveness is evident in the single installation in the show - a set of seals carved on mini ceramic sculptures shaped like rocks, which are placed on black Perspex tiles to evoke Zen rock gardens.

The arrangement is accompanied by hangings of small painted wood panels that bear the imprint of the seals, which depict scenes from nature.

He says: "I have not expressed myself so freely and creatively through my art in a long time. The opportunity to do this solo show of black-and-white paintings has been very encouraging."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 05, 2016, with the headline 'Monochrome dream becomes a reality for artist'. Print Edition | Subscribe