Artist Tay Bak Chiang spent much of the last year dwelling in a world of rocks and stones and the experience has been both unsettling and exhilarating.
The geological forms are the subject of his new body of paintings, which see him taking bold steps away from his usual medium of ink on paper to paint in vivid colours on canvas.
The motif itself is not foreign to Tay's oeuvre. The Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts alumnus, who draws inspiration from nature and is influenced by the tradition of Chinese literati painting, has been depicting boulders in his work in recent years.
The spark for his series of paintings on stones came during a walk in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve some years back, when he was moved by how the hulking forms in nature, though inanimate, appeared "full of life and personality".
Putting ink to paper, he painted monochromatic blocks of stone that were at times accompanied by a bird. These sparse mise-en-scenes later gave way to abstract geometric outcrops in earthy tones.
In the last year, however, he has been eagerly experimenting with the subject on canvas and in mineral-rich tones that range from brilliant blues to opalescent greens and shimmering yellows.
The result: more than 25 new works, which are on show at the gallery iPreciation. The works are priced between $7,500 and $33,800.
The progression from monochrome and earth tones to multiple hues is organic, he says, as he sought new ways of expressing the same subject. The switch to canvas was equally pragmatic.
Tay, 41, says in Mandarin: "I wanted to paint works that are larger in size, but the rice paper that I have been working with gets as wide as 1.2m only. With canvas, there is no limit as to how big my paintings can be."
The largest work in his new body of paintings on canvas measures 2m by 3m.
The move to canvas and painting in acrylic presented new hurdles.
He says: "Because the canvas is much bigger, I felt like I was wrestling with it. And because I was experimenting with a new medium and technique, I was not sure what the results would be."
Faced with a Goliath, however, he savoured the challenge.
"I had to give my all to conquer the medium and canvas, which made the process very satisfying," he says. "And the sense of uncertainty and unpredictability I felt as I made the works was invigorating."
In the new paintings, the rocks, depicted solitarily and in clusters, feature surfaces with more facets. This lays bare his skill in manipulating colour and shade to achieve subtle gradations and ink-like translucency using acrylic paint.