Arresting images: Justin Lim’s works for his Arcane Fantasies For The Flesh And The Sublime exhibition juxtaposes the strangest images in startling ways that somehow work. The work behind him is called Hunter Gatherer.
From unusual combinations of imagery, something new emerges.
THE corpse of a bird plummets to the ground and buries itself somewhere in the vicinity of a boar’s decapitated head. A flower bouquet forms part of the boar’s snout, and an iguana sets up home a bit higher up – the row of spines on the reptile’s back doubles as the bristles on the boar’s head and, hey, what about throwing in a slab of raw meat into the picture as well?
This is Manimal, one of the works by artist Justin Lim that will be showcased at Arcane Fantasies For The Flesh And The Sublimestarting Wednesday at Richard Koh Fine Art in Kuala Lumpur.
In his paintings, Lim seamlessly weaves together imagery that at first glance seems worlds apart. Until you see his work, that is – and then you realise that not only is it coherent, but also detailed, wonderfully intriguing and very beautiful.
It is almost surprising that the unlikely combinations can yield such breathtaking results, especially when you realise what the individual parts are composed of, and how they hardly fit into the universal notion of beauty.
Despite the pervading sense of decay in Lim’s works, the overall aesthetics are such that it is not difficult to imagine a viewer wondering if the result is supposed to be more alive or dead.
But to the artist personally, there is no ambiguity.
This is the exhibition’s titular work, Arcane Fantasies For The Flesh And The Sublime.
“To me they are all dying,” he writes in an e-mail interview, the matter-of-factness coming across even in written form.
“These paintings show the life cycle. What happens to these things is just a fact of life. It symbolises how in order for something new to emerge, something has to give way. So death could be a form of growth in some way as well, as paradoxical as it may sound,” says Lim, 30.
Far from it being intentional, this sense of decay in his works was not introduced on purpose. Lim doesn’t even come up with a detailed plan of the painting before he sets brush to canvas, but is instead open to moving things around as the artwork takes shape.
“I improvise, arrange and the rearrange imagery throughout the process of making the works. I don’t really plan out the painting before I make it. It wasn’t on purpose to depict this sense of decay, but I think it unconsciously documents and portrays the state of society today. Things wither and die for something new to emerge,” the KL-based artist explains.
In this exhibition, Lim draws heavily from iconography, myths, popular culture and the human subsistence as collectors and hunter gatherers in the contemporary world.
“Celebrating personal memories, experiences and observations, culminated through a collection of iconic imagery, I translate surreal imagery within shapes and icons of ‘trophies’ as a commentary on human desire.
“The exhibition is a truth-seeking exercise, a visual spew documenting the ridiculous, illusory and elusive nature of sublimity. It also investigates the role of the artist as collector, amassing ideas, influences and culture,” he says.
A series of caged-up paintings made up of individual elements found in the larger works will also be on display at the exhibition. This group, entitled Trophies, is meant as a playful commentary on human desire.
“It’s kind of like saying that you are a prisoner of your own wants and desires,” Lim offers.
He sees painting as a “manifestation of pain, happiness and all that is in between” and a never-ending process of “introspection, reassessment and growth”.
Every show is a new start to him, including this one, in which Lim has chosen to step further away from the mythical aspect of narration within painting and pursue more personal observations.
The recurring symbols in his works hint at his interests and identity, and provide clues to personal messages. They also serve as “easy entry points” to talk about certain subjects.
“For example, meat to me is a symbol of religious ideals, of rituals and rights, and I choose that to express my views on the subject,” Lim says.
However, he adds that it is not his intention to thrust specific messages or his personal views upon the viewer.
“The viewer should take away whatever they wish to. Looking at art is a personal experience; you realise more about yourself because you reflect on your own knowledge, understanding and point of view,” he concludes.
>Arcane Fantasies For The Flesh And The Sublime is on at Richard Koh Fine Art, Lot 2F-3, Level 2, Bangsar Village 2, Kuala Lumpur, from Wednesday to May 8. Call 03-2283 3677 for more details.