Ian Woo's artworks comprise forms that appear and disappear when one moves closer or away from them

Looking at Singapore painter Ian Woo's new paintings is like negotiating your way through a complex puzzle.

Varied forms emerge and disappear as one explores the five large paintings and four paper works that form his solo Falling Off Plastic Chairs show.

Rendered largely in muted and nuanced shades of grey, cream and black, the works are a celebration of textures, shapes and shades. Forms appear and disappear as you move closer to or away from the paintings.

The exhibition, which opened yesterday at Tomio Koyama Gallery in Gillman Barracks and runs till May 17, gets its quirky title from Woo's own experience of falling off chairs, because he can sometimes be so absorbed that he loses his balance when he works.

Many of his works draw inspiration from everyday life.

One acrylic on linen work intriguingly titled 25, for instance, is a fascinating rendition done primarily in greyish tones that evokes seascapes.

But the painting was actually inspired by the walking he does up a 25-storey point block near his home in Marine Parade.

"I have been running for some time and some of my friends told me it would be good to start step walking. Each time I reach the top, I am drawn to the seascape and that somehow worked its way into this canvas."

Meanwhile, Could You Hear Us, an acrylic-onlinen piece is inspired by the multiple parallel conversations people have these days.

"We just seem to be using so many things simultaneously," says the artist, pointing to how people can Facetime, Skype and sometimes even look at their smartphone while chatting with someone on the computer.

Like the busy lives people lead now, in which multiple narratives unfold simultaneously, his work tells several stories at the same time.

"I just wanted to sum up that there is a search for a system of life in each painting," says Woo, who has a chilled out vibe of an artist comfortable in his own skin. "That is essentially the reason I make my work. This life that I foresee is complex and often ungraspable."

Priced between $3,200 and $43,000, the mix of large canvases and smaller paper works are also a fascinating exploration of colour. In some ways, they test the expressive powers of a muted palette.

In the past, Woo, 47, had presented solos with paintings made using a mix of only four colours - Van Dyke brown, phthalo blue, cadmium yellow and crimson red to evoke lakes seemingly on fire or water covered with fantastical plants.

In this show, he is gravitating towards greys, built up by clever brushstrokes into calm but richly textured canvases.

The quietness in these pieces points to the confidence he has achieved as an artist, as the layers on his canvases become subtler and more nuanced, and reveal a deeper mystery.

David Thomas, a Melbourne-based artist and professor of fine art at the School of Art, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) in Australia, compares Woo's works to the Asian modernist master Zao Wou-ki because they both "sit amid these great traditions of Eastern and Western painting".

No wonder that his work has received steady critical and commercial support. Woo won a Juror's Choice award at the Philip Morris Group of Companies Asean Art Awards in 2000 and institutions such as the Singapore Art Museum and the Mint Museum of Craft and Design in North Carolina, United States, have his work in their collections.

Married with two sons, Woo is a lecturer at the Lasalle College of the Arts. He has a doctorate in fine art from RMIT.

Ultimately, though, painting is not about the recognition.

"I love painting. It is something I do every day. I do not wait to get inspired. I get to my canvas, I sit there and sometimes the ideas form faster."

And what does he tell his students, one of whom was promising young Singapore painter Ruben Pang?

Pausing for a moment, he says: "I always tell them don't do whatever I am doing."


Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.