Although Yeoh was trained within the traditions of Western Art, his art practice has always been strongly rooted in Eastern aesthetics. The influence of Chinese ink aesthetics and ideology – without traditional or formal training – is traced to his close proximity to a Chinese temple within his neighbourhood that he had frequented as a child. He had understood this as a visual language employed to narrate stories of Buddhism. One of the strongest memories was of a book called the “Diyu” (realm of the dead of “hell” in Chinese mythology). It was a vivid illustration that had left a strong impression on Yeoh.
“Diyu” is typically depicted as a subterranean maze with various courts to which souls are taken after death to atone for their sins committed on earth. The illustration of these atonements are often gruesome and graphic in nature. To many, depictions like these are onetime look but interestingly, Yeoh found solace in them and for many years had immerse himself in these books, oscillating between positive and negative emotions.
Abstract notions of violence and the flesh are prevalent in Yeoh’s practice and he has methodically investigated these abstractions in his previous 2 solo shows at RKFA; In the Flesh in 2014 & Live Leak in 2017. Streaming Mountain is a culmination of these 2 previous exhibitions as both had emotionally primed the artist to rekindle and re-understand his admiration toward “Diyu” illustrations. Upon this, Yeoh realised the uncanny resemblance of traditional Chinese landscape paintings – depicting “Shan Shui” (Mountain and Stream)- and the hellish landscapes of “Diyu”. It inspired Yeoh to paint his “Shan Shui” as a judgement court, rendered in monochrome and sequestered panels tucked between “Yin” and “Yang”, black and white, ascent and decay, literati and vulgar, pushing and tugging.
“Streaming” means “Liu” in Chinese, as in the painting process of slow dripping technique that acquires a “sense of time” in the state of fluxility. “Mountains” is “Shan” in Chinese, an allusion to the unyielding and construction of value. At its core, Streaming Mountain is a body of work measuring from the struggles within man’s value system, reconfiguring for new compatibility and extends the artist’s imagination towards the future.
Yeoh Choo Kuan – Streaming Mountain