I decided during the tour of ‘Why The Lion Danced’ that even the painting element of ‘Skylarking’ had to have an Asian element perhaps. This came about because Joanna Qiu, the multi-instrumental Beijing Opera musician, also does Chinese calligraphy. I had watched her paint the chun-lian which decorated the walls of the set for the play.
Beautiful artworks or merely communications?
Walking around Chinatown one weekend I had happened upon a bookshop. Seeing nothing but books I ventured downstairs into the place where they sold paint brushes for calligraphy and ‘parchment’ and inks. It wasn’t like that shop in ‘The Gremlins’ but it was full of curios and interesting things. Under the glass of a display cabinet was a Chinese brush with goat hair. And it was large and felt good in my hands, other worldly, special. More like a wand.
I tried some things at the studio over the weekend and started with a canvas which had already some marks on it from a previous experiment, long wiped off and painted over. Then using the new brush loaded with colour and excitement I started.
Long, continuous swirls of bright yellow over muted violet washes. Exciting colour, great movement. Then a different colour, then a different use of the brush.
I was remembering the paintings of David Sum, the calligraphic artist who taught me how to paint in Malaysia when I was 13, channeling him 25 years later.
When he was gone, I put the paintbrush down, washed it and left it for the night. The next day I returned with more ideas of ‘The Unbroken Line’. I wanted to see what it felt like painting a series of unbroken lines. What happens when you can see the start of the line? What happens when the line appears continuous? What happens when the line is jagged, pales, dries, breaks? How does that feel. I happen to be using a dilute red with a watercolour brush.
Contemplative, trying to be precise and Japanese about the whole thing but failing. It was interesting. I looked at it halfway through and had seen that I’d made a segment of the Malaysian (or American) flag. It was there.
Never a one for wasting paint I thought I’d use the same brush and paint on the yesterday’s painting and tried to think of silat gayong warriors especially of ‘W’ who had come to us during the week.
Where is he in this piece? Where is ‘W’. Who is he?
I ‘let the brush do the talking’ and allowed it to find him. Mindful, but not trying too hard to look, I saw emerging from the swirls, shapes and movement that told me what they were. They were warriors, painted in blood, spilled on the ground of the canvas.