Huang Wei, The boy with the tiger, c. 1960, Oil on linen, 130 x 150 cm
"I first came across the works of this unknown artist in 2009 when Nora Samosir (veteran Singaporean actress) asked me to help restore some old paintings. Since then, I have been desperately trying to reconstruct his life and works. There is precious little material in the archives and his journals, and there has been a fair amount of guesswork - thus, this presentation is as much fiction as fact."
Alan Oei, Exhibition Curator.
Valentine Willie Fine Art is pleased to present for the first time in Kuala Lumpur, a special exhibition curated by Alan Oei on the paintings of enigmatic post-war Singaporean artist Huang Wei (b.1914 - unknown). The project takes as its starting point, a body of work that reflects the artist's obsessive reconstruction of the iconic work, Las Meninas (1656), by Spanish Old Master painter, Diego Velázquez. Rooted within the trajectories of multiple histories, Huang Wei continues his interest in children, portraiture and painting itself through the iconographies of this seminal masterpiece. Often overlooked, Huang Wei has seen a recent resurgence through the research and restoration efforts of Singaporean artist and curator Alan Oei. After Velázquez is Oei's attempt to recontextualise the artist's interests in a particular set of tensions relating to subject matter and genre as well as the relationships between artists and their works. The exhibition also forms part of Oei's ongoing attempts to locate Huang Wei's practice within the canon of Singaporean art history, of which he has so far, been excluded.
Huang Wei's imagery is characterized by haunting depictions of children in various settings. Sensually realized in the tradition of historical portraiture, his figures live in the uncanny, awkwardly self-conscious, and in possession of a strange power despite their vulnerability. Inducing a precarious voyeurism, they are the ghosts of Huang Wei's past, a memorial to the loss of his own children during the war. Purposefully mysterious, they contribute to the myths that surround the artist, and function as a personal therapy to remember and process the horrors of the past.
This particular body of work on display was inspired after a trip to Spain in the 1960s, which led to a four-year period of production of over fifty paintings inspired by Velásquez's great work of art. Taking elements such as the Spanish princess, the dog, the reflection of the King and Queen and various compositional elements from this masterpiece, Huang Wei inserts himself, as the artist at work, into this history, as well as playing off the relationship between representation and surface, by including the back of his paintings into his images.
Combining paintings, objects from the studio and documents from the past, After Velázquez introduces local KL audiences to the world of Huang Wei as seen through the eyes of his most dedicated researcher, Alan Oei.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Huang Wei (b.1914 - unknown, Singapore) began painting - mostly portraits of children - in the late 1940s, after the war. Most of these paintings are still in the process of restoration by artist-curator, Alan Oei. Critics have tended to describe his paintings as "representing the trauma of war." He attended Anglo-Chinese School and in 1928 received the Lim Boon Keng Gold Medal for Art. He also won a scholarship to study at Raffles Institution that same year. When he finished school, he worked as a photographer at his father's photographic studio, Southern Star.
ABOUT THE CURATOR
Alan Oei (b.1976, Singapore) is an artist-curator who has exhibited in Singapore, Hong Kong, Melbourne and New York. His works tend to be based on art history and politics. He has also attempted to reconstruct the life and works of the postwar painter, Huang Wei, in collaboration with other artists and academics. Because of his art history background and familiarity with oil painting, he has been the primary restorer and custodian of Huang's works As a curator, he has initiated public creative projects such as Blackout, a warehouse exhibition in the dark that drew 3000 people to an industrial estate, and OH! Open House, the annual walkabout featuring art inside real life in neighbourhoods like Marine Parade and Tiong Bahru. He has a BA Art History (magna cum laude) from Columbia University (NY) and a Diploma in Fine Arts (distinction) from Lasalle College of the Arts.