Royal Stanza, 2016


For his first solo exhibition in Paris at the Galerie Isabelle Gounod, "Royal Stanza", Luke Heng, born in Singapore in 1987, engages in a cognitive process, dealing with and confronting painting as a subject in its own right: here, colors and lines make up intriguing titles.

Luke Heng envisages the environment through its subtle influence on colors, surfaces and forms. He tries to find a balance between the "I" and nature; between the painter's consciousness and chance. Thus, his canvasses become the meeting point between the artist's breath and his environment. He conceives them on-site.

Initially, Luke was inspired by his youth in a Chinese medicine shop, by the philosophy and quest for harmony of traditional pharmacology as well as its extraction and composition processes. He gradually broke away from motifs to experiment with the purely formal qualities of painting.

He creates his own colors from pigments. His process is repetitive and time-consuming, akin to a meditation ritual. He superimposes layers with a scraper, sometimes more than ten, twenty in the case of whites, each proceeding from the previous one. Between each layer, time stretches out, not only because the oil paint must dry, but also because the artist needs a latency period. Not so much to devise a strategy as to let chance do its work, or else to take a chance at controlling the drips, for instance. The artist's struggle with the canvas contrasts with the impression of serenity given off by his paintings.

It seems to me that this back-and-forth between latency and emergence, apparition and silence, is the primordial, constitutive movement of Luke Heng's work. He leads us to experience his paintings as transient places, mental and physical spaces of meditation and freedom.

Valentine Meyer, 2016


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"Quiet Mystic", Galerie Steph, Singapore (6.12.2013 - 4.01.2014)
Luke Heng : Interview in exhibition catalogue, 2013



How did you get into abstraction?
I suppose it all started with the herbs; they were the subject matter for an earlier series of paintings.
The herbs were used as elements to create compositions. I was thinking about how to go beyond the physicality of herbs and further develop the relation between traditional Chinese medicine and painting. And I thought of the process of brewing herbs. The intention of brewing herbs is to extract its essence and that's the part to be consumed.
Going back to painting, the key is to distil the fundamental nature of my subject. That's when things got a little bit simplified but yet demanding.



What philosophical insights did you glean while working at your family's traditional Chinese medicine shop? What about the Eastern philosophy of yin-yang that strikes you most?
Nothing. Thing is, when I was helping out at the shop, I was really just killing time (also to earn my pocket money at that time). I did not like staying at the shop at all; I suppose there are no 15 year-olds who like hanging out at Chinese medical halls, but I had no choice. So back then, herbs to me were just odd objects with strong perfume to it. Only recently I started understanding the concepts behind yin-yang when it comes to painting, with Chinese herbs as my subject matter. It was essentially about how nature's elements function in a cycle.
How the positive and negative consistently supports each other. It was then that I realised how straightforward it was to relate the concept of yin-yang to painting. And it goes beyond the surface of a painting, in terms of the formalistic aspect. The concept extends into the development of an idea or thinking about the process of making a painting. The philosophy could very much facilitate the thought process.



How do you translate this philosophy to explore colour, forms, space and perception in paintings?
As of now, I do not completely understand this philosophy; hence I cannot fully utilise the full potential of what it could offer. The more I delve into it, the more complex it gets. Which leads me to think that it is not something I can translate across externally. Rather, it's closer to a sensation, somewhat instinctive. That sensation affects how I decide on the palette, and the way I approach the canvas too.



You worked on this new series of paintings from your old childhood home that you?ve converted into a studio. What inspirations, if any, did you find there?
I suppose it's that recollection of memories and emotions that I felt when I moved into the space once more. Besides that, there were the flowerpots outside the studio space, which I was particularly drawn to; it's as if I have a garden outside my window, which feels pretty good to stare out into. I water them every now and then, and that's when I pick up certain details that I can use in the paintings.


In your painting process, nature is a co-creator of the works as the paintings would respond or be affected by elements in the environment. Your desire is to find that balance between the unconscious state of chance and the conscious state of a painter's intervention.How is that balance reached, if it is reachable? How do you account for those elements, and how do you remain sensitive to them?
Natural elements do partake in creating the paintings by using a different technique of applying paint. I prefer to use a pouring technique when it comes to application as it gives the paint more freedom to take over the surface. Therefore, I rely heavily on the natural pull of gravity and the ground that the painting is being worked on. These elements do affect the outcome of each layer of paint. I move the canvas about quite a bit while painting. That's how I would try to control the paint, by tilting and rotating the canvas with my hands, and that's the time when the paint starts taking shape on the surface. Most of the time, the act of painting gets very physical especially when the size of the canvas increases. Uncertainty is part of the process. I'm not too sure if the equilibrium between the two states can be reached because it's either on the side of control or fortuity, but it's something I keep in mind and strive for.


 

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