"Royal Stanza", Galerie Isabelle Gounod, Paris (08.06 - 20.07.2016)

Pour sa première exposition monographique à Paris à la galerie Isabelle Gounod, « Royal Stanza », Luke Heng, né à Singapour en 1987,  s'engage dans un processus cognitif, négociant et affrontant la peinture comme sujet en soi : ici, la couleur et la ligne en constituent le titre intriguant.

Luke Heng conçoit l'environnement par son influence subtile sur les couleurs, les surfaces et les formes. Il cherche à trouver un équilibre entre le « je » et la nature ; entre la conscience du peintre et le hasard. Sa toile devient aussi le lieu de rencontre entre le souffle de l'artiste et son environnement. Il les conçoit ainsi in situ.
Si Luke dans sa jeunesse passée dans une herboristerie médicinale chinoise, s'est d'abord inspiré de cette pharmacologie traditionnelle, tant dans sa philosophie de recherche d'harmonie que pour ces procédés d'extraction et de composition ;  il se détache petit à petit des motifs pour expérimenter les qualités purement formelles de la peinture.

Il continue de créer ses propres couleurs à partir de pigments. Sa manière de procéder est répétitive et prend du temps, se rapprochant ainsi de mouvements rituels et méditatifs. Il superpose les couches à l'aide d'un grattoir (scraper), parfois jusqu'à plus d'une dizaine, une vingtaine notamment pour les blancs, chacune procédant d'une réaction à la précédente. Entre chacune, s'étire le temps du séchage de la peinture à l'huile mais aussi un temps de latence nécessaire à l'artiste non pas pour élaborer une stratégie mais pour laisser le hasard faire l'oeuvre aussi ou prendre le risque de contrôler, notamment les coulures. C'est donc une lutte avec la toile à laquelle se livre l'artiste, contrastant avec l'impression de sérénité dégagée par ses tableaux.

Ce va-et-vient entre latence et surgissement, apparition et silence est me semble-t-il le mouvement primordial et constitutif de tout le travail de Luke Heng. Il nous donne ainsi à expérimenter ses toiles comme des lieux transitoires, espaces de méditation physique et mental d'une grande liberté.

Valentine Meyer, 2016


"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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