Construction noise provokes Thomas Yeo into painting art series

Construction noise provokes Thomas Yeo into painting art series

SINGAPORE - Acclaimed artist Thomas Yeo made good on his promise to the late drama doyen Kuo Pao Kun when he held a fundraising exhibition in 2007 to aid The Substation.

But his support for the contemporary arts centre founded by Kuo persists. The 77-year-old painter will be back with a second fund-raising show for The Substation on Friday.

The solo exhibition features 30 never-before-seen paintings by the Cultural Medallion recipient. The works are priced between $1,200 and $45,000 and half of the sales proceeds will be donated to the arts centre. In 2007, the show raised $50,000.

Yeo says he agreed "without hesitation" to an encore exhibition when he was approached by The Substation last year.

He says: "The Substation is always pushing artistic boundaries, doing slightly edgy things. That kind of experimenting, I like."

His new show similarly mirrors the centre's experimental spirit with the debut of a new thematic series titled Construction.

He started on the series early this year after finding himself constantly confronted by the sight and sound of construction everywhere he went in Singapore.

He says: "Construction is something everyone in Singapore is familiar with, everyone is forever digging. But this year, I am bombarded by it from all sides."

Buildings rising in his neighbourhood in Devonshire Road - he lives with his wife in an apartment there - and renovations in a house next to his artist studio in Telok Kurau left him distressed.

Unable to find an escape from the annoying noise and dust, he eventually sought solace by turning the provocation into art.

Paintings in the new series are defined by abstract geometric forms and textures, which are reminiscent of construction sites and convey a sense of restless building.

The works are also characterised by a palette of orange and black. The two- tone colour scheme is similar to his Ocean series paintings, which are rendered in blue and white, although he is mostly known for his ethereal, colour- saturated canvases.

He says he chose orange because it signifies "the beginning of the day" and it reflects how "construction is the promise of the future". The black geometric forms, on the other hand, represent "buildings in the shadows".

"In the future, buildings will shoot for the sky but whether they are going to bring us happiness or something else is a question mark," he says.

The painter admits he is taking "tremendous risk" in showing a new series of works at this stage in his established career. "People have already accepted what you've been all these years, they associate certain standards and values with your work," he says.

"But you can stagnate and become too comfortable if you keep on relying on past successes. So the challenge is to get provoked and do something challenging," he says. "And whether it is a success or not is irrelevant, you would have satisfied your own need to be creative."

He adds that like any series of work he paints, there were "hits and misses" when he experimented with the Construction series. The show will feature three works from this series.

He says: "If I do 10 works and I can pick four out before I destroy the rest, I am very lucky and happy.

"I destroy works all the time. If you don't do it, you're not a good artist because you've got to be selective with your own work and be your own judge."

So how did he manage to create new works amid the racket?

He says: "I meditate and I keep telling myself there is no noise. If I concentrate fully, I can block out some noise and not hear it."

He is not, however, exercising any mind tricks on sales of the fund-raising show, although six paintings, totalling around $110,000, have been bought by his long-time collectors ahead of the show's opening.

He says: "I have zero targets. I just hope people will support the exhibition and keep The Substation going."

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