Have you visited Singa-planet?

THE ubiquitous Housing Board flat, home to the majority of the population in Singapore, has become part of the art of a contemporary Japanese artist.

In Akira Yamaguchi's imagination, HDB blocks are seen as historical monuments sprouting out of their green natural setting.

In his book, Singa-planet, the latest compilation of art drawn by the 41-year-old artist, he gives a new, unusual and refreshing perspective of Singapore's quotidian urban landscape.

"I was lost for words to see such beautiful buildings," he told my paper in a recent interview.

The art in Singa-planet was exhibited recently in Singapore at the Japan Creative Centre (JCC), which is run by the Japanese Embassy here, and was a parallel event of the recently concluded Singapore Biennale.

To Yamaguchi, who has visited Singapore twice, it isn't the obvious tourist icons like the Singapore Flyer or the historical statue of Singapore's founder, Sir Stamford Raffles, that catches his eye – or his heart.

Instead, it is the humble HDB abodes and things in Singaporeans' daily lives, such as a chicken-rice stall or escalators in a shopping mall, that give him inspiration.

Representative of his peculiar visual perspective is the pencil-and-watercolour artwork on the cover of Singa-planet, in which Singapore is depicted as a huge ship sailing strongly against the wind.

There is no clear indication whether the vessel is sailing in the sea or soaring in the sky.

Heading skywards is a skyscraper that is a mix of Singapore's modern condominiums, a helicopter port, HDB blocks, churches and Indian temples.

Also included are Malay-style kampung houses, a busy shopping mall, and even the outstretched arm of a construction crane – reflecting the fact that the building of concrete structures is a continual process here.

In blending the past and the future, Yamaguchi creates unexpected beauty. His drawings contain both abstract and obvious messages and tempt the audience to scrutinise details to seek clues to the artist's intent.

In doing so, the audience becomes a part of his art.

The Tokyo-born Yamaguchi lives and works as a contemporary artist in the Japanese capital. He has a Master of Art in oil painting from the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. Almost every year, he holds either solo or two-person exhibitions, the latest being City Strollers, at the Fukuoka Mitsukoshi Gallery.

His art is on display at Narita International Airport and in the Tokyo Metro, as well as at several museums in Japan, including Mori Art Museum in Tokyo.

Commenting on Singa-planet, Mr Rikimaru Takahashi, deputy director of the JCC, said: "The artist, who has sublime talent in painting, gives us new and refreshing perspectives (of) Singapore through his art."

Singa-planet is now on sale at the Japanese graphic section of Kinokuniya bookstore at Ngee Ann City. The book is priced at $23.90, with GST.

The writer is a Web designer with AsiaOne, the news and lifestyle portal of Singapore Press Holdings.