Luke Heng, the extension of the field of painting. (Whatever)


“The decision to become an artist was not sudden, it was a gradual one. I’ve always been interested in art, so I went to art school, where we studied graphic design and communication, therefore applied arts. It was one of my tutors who encouraged me to go to Fine Arts, I knew how difficult it was to be an artist and to make a living from it. After my diploma I was lucky enough to be invited to show my work, and the exhibitions followed one after the other, which gave me the opportunity to develop my practice in different spaces. My first job, I would say after the fact that it is a gray monochrome painting, I was 22 years old, I was trying different things to find my own language. By making this painting, I said to myself, this is me (laughs) and from there I was able to develop my position."

Born in 1987, Luke Heng graduated with honors from Lassale College, Singapore (in partnership with Goldsmith College, London). In Paris, in 2014, he participated in the artist residency program of the Dena Foundation chaired by Giuliana Setari and supported by Singapore National Council of the Arts.

Luke Heng spent his childhood in a Chinese herbal medicine, and was first inspired by this traditional pharmacology, both in his Ying-Yang philosophy of seeking harmony, and for these pigment extraction processes that he composes himself. Initially, his way of painting was repetitive, he could create up to twenty layers for a white fund, thus approaching ritual and meditative movements. He experiments with the purely formal qualities of painting and seeks to push its limits in the context of the speed of images of the contemporary world. His work has been the subject of several exhibitions, notably at the Pearl Lam gallery in Singapore or at the Isabelle Gounod gallery in Paris.

" Being an artist, as far as I’m concerned, stems from my interest in the practice and the very subject of painting: light, construction, its extension both in space and in the field of discussion. The definition of art is so vast! For me it is to bond with people at different levels, to make people think, to show things from an unusual angle. And that art, through the questioning it provokes, finds an echo in others. And then as with human relations, sometimes it works in a fairly obvious or immediate way, sometimes it takes more time. (laughs)

Throughout my production, I work a lot on funds, trying to control the light, their density, their degree of transparency or opacity. Then I got interested in lines and empty spaces, to develop reduction techniques: how di I reduce the layers to expose the lines? How many lines for a given exhibition space? Whether for the Isabelle Gounod galleries in Paris or Peal Lam in Singapore, I am always interested in the architecture of the place. I think about how to find a balance, how to match the paintings and the space in order to achieve a rhythm.

You wonder about my way of proceeding, in fact I make very simple sketches to determine the place of the shapes, this is really one of the first steps in my work.
And if I’m stuck in the paint job, I go back to the sketch, it’s in this back and forth that I find a balance.
Currently I am working on the subject of silhouettes and shadows, it is a little more figurative and it is certainly the consequence of my research work in master which concerns the extension of painting in space, of 2D towards 3D. Regarding my metal objects, it is more about the material, the design, and also the process because I can have them made. While the paintings, I do them alone, and they are more emotional and spiritual.

Yes, the Covid 19 crisis is very disturbing. We’re confined, and a lot of exhibitions here in Singapore are being canceled or postponed. That said, it allows me to re-evaluate my practice, refocus on what interests me and see how I respond.

When this is over, I hope people will remember to take the time, how good it is to slow down and spend more time with loved ones and family.
I take this opportunity to do some research. Currently I read the writings of Derrida « Truth in Painting » and his concept of parergon (ndt which is the frame or the framing, which allows the work to unfold against what is lacking in it). Robert Smithson’s work also inspires me, on this way of including in his reflection, the off-site and its temporality, the inside and the outside of the gallery or the exhibition space. And there is also Katharina Gross and her very extensive way of considering painting, and Jiro Takamatsu especially for his shadow paintings.
I hope to be able to put this into practice in my next exhibition where I am invited to make dialogue between my sculptural work and my paintings."

Interview by Valentine Meyer Novembre 26, 2020.


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


"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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