I HAVE always wanted to illustrate something on the “king of fruit” but never found the right mood or opportunity to do so. In early 2022, a chance discovery that a former colleague was making a documentary on a gamut of matters surrounding the fruit gave me the spark to start this series.
To lend structure to my thoughts and feelings and to help ground them, I wrote a quick verse called The King’s Season (click heading below). Its contents pale against the actual powerful emotions surrounding the fruit. These feelings, I thought, are better represented in anthropomorphic forms and colours — strong, wild and varied hues that capture our attention because they touch some raw inner feelings.
The King's Season * Click to read
Prickly times are back
Into expectant minds
Beckon primal senses
Of thorns scoring skin
Flesh and scent tempting
Jaunty, raunchy souls
Eternal bitter-sweet drama
To banter and one-up
To whoop on any tiny victory
It’s a time of egos
Of mock wars
To satiate the eager cubs
Of veiled bestiality
With playful excess
At the roadside stall
The comely lady would not be bested
Of her wares
She spins on lineage and vintage
Of abundant trees
Of rich caressing textures
And untamed tastes
The fans, the nots
The few in between
Blow hot, blow anyways
In strident tones
Wafts of grandeur dilute, overcome
The burps of displeasure
Of shame and reason discharged
The mean has been furloughed
Zealous Exotica is king
In this heady season
That drives the senses astray
Lim Siang Jin, May 2022
The colours I use also reflect the celebratory mood that greet each annual season of the fruit. Anthropomorphism, on the other hand, allows me to further exaggerate the expressions and actions of the protagonists, an opportunity to bring to the fore surrealism in my works.
Mystifying: It is not surprising that the durian, which evokes powerful emotions, generates a lot of mystifying stories and beliefs. For example, there is the belief that drinking salt water out of the husk of the fruit counteracts its “heatiness”; salted water is supposed to have a cooling effect.
Another belief, a bit more incredulous to many, is that the durian has eyes. This is because the fruit never drops on people’s heads. And, of course, there is the prevalent belief that consuming durian with alcohol can kill a person.
Three in a set: To represent the range of feelings from (1) subdued, understated but powerful (2) openly expressive and emotive, and (3) raw and intense, even mystifying, I decided to create three pieces in every set with each representing one of the three types of feelings. Feelings (1) and (3) are represented by prints; (2) is a painting:
Notes on (1) * Click to read
To create a subdued feel, background colours of the painting are extracted and two other layers are added to them: (1) The first, very subdued, are close-ups of the durian fruit emphasising its thorns; we can hardly see the layer unless we looked very carefully. Nevertheless, it lends meaningful texture to the print. (2) The second layer comprises distorted black-and-white images of the painting; the distortion is not done digitally but via taking photos through glass. This is to maintain the narrative of building an analog-digital bridge in the form.
Notes on (2) * Click to read
The painting is done with acrylic paints and ink on watercolour paper that is 535gsm.
Notes on (3) * Click to read
The third piece, also a print, is a photograph of a digitally-created print (the “first print”). This “first print” comprises selected parts of the painting that have been posterised (reduced to much fewer tones) and inverted (turned into a negative image). Done on Adobe Photoshop, the resultant image resembles batik. Again, to build an analog-digital bridge, the “first print” is re-shot by, for example, simply casting shadows by shining light through glass.
The ‘technical’ track
As a person very involved in the overall production processes of print, I must confess my fascination with the efforts that go into the medium. For example, the newspaper production and distribution lines, from sourcing of information to editing, from printing to their appearance at newsstands, are most complex. No other mass production industry, I believe, comes near it. The following Q&A gives an idea of my orientation towards art.
Why do you use paper in this series? * Click to read
It is partly nostalgia. Partly familiarity. And partly a sense of adventure, for paper, coupled with the tools we use to make it a medium of communication, provides a wide platform for discovery. I have worked with it since the late 1970s as a production person in journalism and publishing, and I continue to learn new things about it.
Paper in the world of art, wherein I am a relative novice, is even more fascinating. Since I restarted I have begun to love paper again as a medium of expression, especially water colour paper, although I am not a trained water colourist. The Clairefontaine Papier Aguarielle (grain torchon 100%, 100% cotton rag, 535gsm) is tough and yet allows me to do a range of delicate work — layering in gradation tones, fine pen strokes without smudging and rubbing of pencil shadings into smooth gradations.
Can you elaborate on “building an analog-digital bridge”? * Click to read
Ever since digital receiving, recording and editing devices (like phones, cameras and computers) became popular, many have veered away from the world of analog. I have seen, as far back as the early 1990s, how sketches can be digitally “airbrushed” to look like an analog piece of work. Our ability to do digital manipulation has made even great strides since then. Today, with the Adobe Photoshop app, PS Express, I can do complex edits and enhancements of photo within a few seconds — in templated ways of course. Digital has taken over sound and audio visuals as well.
On the other hand, there are dedicated art professionals who stick to creating and manipulating things physically — painting, sculpting, moulding clay, printing, writing or drawing with a pen or pencil, etc. Their dedication to preserving and enhancing their skills is to be admired. At this point, many of them are operating in silos (digital or analog). Most are unable or unwilling to move from one sphere to another, or to work in both spheres. I hope to help bridge this gap. And this durian series is an example of what I am attempting to do.
Durian Antics: Limited “Evocative Durian, Mystifying Durian” MAPPs
Originally painted with acrylic, ink and pencil on paper (7.9in x 10.2in), these two sets of limited “miniature archival pigment prints” (MAPPs), were photographed and given some treatment on Adobe Photoshop. A faint background of durian thorns and some colours were added. It is another way for me to show anthropomorphism (the attribution of human characteristics or behaviour) and surrealism in my art.
Colour prints, as I have discovered, can be of archival quality (i.e. “resistant to deterioration or loss of quality, allowing for a long life expectancy when kept in controlled conditions”); their colours are believed to be able to stay true for 150 years. These sets, 5in x 7in each and limited to 50 editions, is produced using pigmented UltraChrome HDR inks from Epson.