Permanent Head Damage

Well, at least I think I am on the way there…

I have always been fascinated by the artist’s creative process – especially their thoughts processes and how they go about creating their artworks. Their techniques and “trade secrets” are equally amazing for me to understand and document (often with the condition that I keep it to myself).

In a run-up to an exhibition in early 2017, I am assisting my father in documenting his creative process. After understanding how his version of hybridity in Chinese ink painting had inspired me to write something about it, he agreed easily to be a lab rat for my proposed independent field study.

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Field notes, a stopwatch and a screen for monitoring remote cameras

At the end of this particular session (of four paintings), I am stumped by about 120 GB worth of video data to gather my quantitative data from.

I love geeking out.

The best part is… I am supposed to gather data from sixteen paintings in total. Woooohooooo~

Understanding Myself

“You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.” ― Harlan Ellison

Over the years whenever I was bored or had to undergo some kind of personality test, the results are pretty much consistent – I am identified as an INTJ sort of person. If you are not sure what this means, you can refer to a simplified version of it here (the graphics are really pleasant too).

Nothing annoys me more than a slight gap of knowledge, be it with myself or with others.

For myself, I would often read up on what I am not sure of, and become vested in the knowledge of this newly acquired knowledge – sometimes, I feel that I may eventually become the Master of Useless Information. To temper this potentially embarrassing achievement, I only pursue things that I am interested in and achieve mastery in those areas… for things that are of lesser importance, I would try to gain some passing knowledge of it.

For others, I find that it is kind of an double-edged sword. If the other party is knowledgeable, that is all well and good. However, if the other party tries to pass off as knowledgeable (and fail), I would find it hard to respect the credibility of this person, and with it, the entirety of the person himself/herself. Always on hindsight, this annoying trait of mine can undermine my relationship with others (especially at work) – as I grow older and perhaps more experienced, I do try to temper it. But it’s hard.

A decent strategy that I have adopted is to refrain from commenting, but silently judge. I guess being silent is far better than making potentially terrible remarks.

Oooh! That’s so J of the INTJ. I just can’t catch a break.

When I often get approached for help, I find myself willing to extend my hand or even provide advice. I believe deeply in the success of group objectives rather than individual objectives. If there is a way that individual objectives can be achieved along with the core group objectives, you know I will be there to provide assistance or to give advice.

My friendly nature contradicts with my private nature – I am often described as the quieter version of the “social butterfly” (not in an ostentatious or loud way) who can make social connections easily, and build trust with people who matter to me. I believe that by being a warm person, I am able to connect deeper with my colleagues (who often become my close friends). Yet at the same time, I am fiercely private where I keep to this small core of close friends whom I trust and rely on. In this context, I find that being sociable allows me to read the general perceptions and feelings of others… and prepare accordingly in advance.

In a leadership class I have just attended, my team was tasked with an activity to think of ideas and to present them. Due to prior classes and getting to know each other, I realised that I often get singled out to lead the teams. In the past, I have often been asked to lead teams by unanimous agreement – I find that puzzling.

Since this was a leadership class, I asked my team mates why they picked me. My team mates felt that they could trust me to lead them because they found me warm and friendly – “good intentions with no motives” as one would describe it.

Good intentions. That got me into trouble when I seemingly over-extended my assistance. While the beneficiaries are grateful, they were horrified that I got sanctioned for my assistance.

When I attended an investiture function last week, the guest of honour mentioned that the incumbent government and its agencies are looking for people who will be good leaders. She emphasised on warmth more than competence in seeking leaders – she demonstrated on the need for warmth over competence by sharing examples of sincerity and connections that made people trust and believe in their leaders. “Competence can be provided by others who work for the leader, but the leader has to be a leader of people, not a leader of competence.”

Wow. I agree wholeheartedly, but I think there is still the need some
form of competence, but just not specific technical competence?

Some reading for your enjoyment…

At the end of it, be it I am INTJ or otherwise, I still believe that life is a journey… and having others following and yet on the same level… will be a wonderful experience.

Premonitions as Part of My Journey

When my journey made abrupt change in direction in 2015, I began staying with my parents after twelve years away from them.

The first week saw me preparing my old room for my own use, intentionally creating an enclosed environment within my room surrounded by my boxes and shelves… a small gap from this enclosure leads to my bed where I can hide in this private space of my own – and perhaps to figure out what I am going to do from there on.

One month in, I told my parents that I want to visit my Malaysian relatives again – an absence of almost twenty-odd years. I had fond memories of my old kampung house there, where I grew up with my cousins in a small area with chickens and almost-farm-like environments.

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Childhood memories.

I remembered helping out with my aunts with their cooking and even accompanying my cousins to the nearby Chinese high school. I had stopped going back when I started preparing for my final year in primary school… and I have never been back since.

We took the train from Woodlands and got off at Kluang, Malaysia – my mother’s hometown. Stepping off the train, and onto the same old platform, brought back a tremendous flood of memories of my childhood.

I returned to Malaysia for a reason – it was not because I wanted a trip to distract myself, but to answer this dreadful premonition that was in my heart and mind. There was one person whom I was close to, and I had to meet and talk to this person even for a few minutes or seconds; and it was my third maternal aunt.

She operated a simple hawker stall just opposite the previously mentioned Chinese high school. She became extremely animated when she realised the stranger who accompanied my parents was actually me. “I have returned,” I greeted her shyly. Her warm smile almost broke my heart, and started offering to cook for me.

My mother saw my exchange with my aunt, and asked me quietly later, “Is there a reason why you wanted to come back?” I deflected that with lies: I wanted to see my old home town, I wanted to eat the good food, I wanted to heal my broken heart… and so on.

Just last month, my third maternal aunt passed on due to third-stage cancer. My mother cornered me again and demanded whether I knew. I did have a premonition: I felt it and that’s why I wanted to go back.

And now, I am having another one.

Beyond the fact that I am staying with my parents again, there was something nagging at me – my parents themselves. In a way, I am glad I am able to be nearer my parents should the time come. On the other hand, it is a worrying burden that I am quietly enduring before the inevitable happens.

Lately, I noticed a change and I do hope that I am wrong.

This morning my mother spoke to me about arrangements for the family and made me promise to look after my sister. I already know the details that are to go into such arrangements – my mother and I think alike, and we just have a knack for certain things. When she talked, I shared with her what my intentions are regarding such arrangements, and she said she felt a burden lifting from her shoulders – she knows that I know what to do, and that I will be able to look after the various things for the family.

Sure, I know how to be fair and where to draw the lines. Still, it is a terrible burden for one person to carry and undertake through the years – but this is my lonely journey, I guess.

What about my sister? She is someone who needs to be looked after. I do hope that she can find a good companion to trust and rely on – that’s my own wish as her brother. Till then I can only do what it is expected as her only older brother. And she knows that I will always unconditionally turn up when she needs help – no need for words, I will be there.

But you know, I am tired. Really tired.

The End of 2015

2015 has been quite the roller coaster of a ride for myself.

A majority of my 2015 has been filled with pain and anguish, of which I will continue to endure and work on myself. There are things that I will continue to do and uphold, but there are things which I will let go.

A small but significant part of 2015, however, has been full of joy and amazement. I found myself in a position which I can give back to the community and be in contentment with what I prefer to do (in a “behind the scenes” way).

I have also realised that there are many disillusions and distrust within the community – even with the best intentions, I find myself often in conflict with others. I can see the parallels to feeling insecure of their own abilities, and rightfully so when they can and will be called out on for. Problem is, if everyone can be humble and learn to consult with each other, I don’t see why not everyone can work together towards a common good.

Ego is a major factor. Probably need less drama and self centred-ness as well.

Part of my joy is being able to find colleagues whom I can relate to, depend on, and perhaps, think in a similar general direction – being part of the community and being able to overcome the legacies of our past.

With these colleagues of mine, I chose to cheap out on holiday gifts and made personalised cards for those who matter to me. Each card tells a story for each colleague (or group) with whom I have countless interactions with.

Cake from FK
Cake from FK… Her tiramisu cake was to die for.

You can find more of these illustrations in Card Illustrations.

Of course, some of the more jokey ones would comment on their preference of being gifted chocolates from my table’s stash of snacks, sweets and occasional drinks.

Speaking of cupcakes… I am really fond of salted-caramel anything, but I don’t like it too sweet. In Fluff Bakery, I found a salted-caramel cupcake recipe that I am really content with (that is probably an understatement, I can’t stop myself from waxing lyrical about it to anyone who would listen).

I should write a food column.

My first trip to Fluff Bakery was pretty pleasant (with a group of colleagues) – the varieties of cupcakes and cakes were really drool-inducing. We even got a free cake – it was an Olive Oil Orange Rosemary cake.

When we got back to the office’s pantry to sample our goodies, we invited two other colleagues (CS and BJ) to join us and try the cupcakes. When we got to the olive oil cake, all of us were cautious and yet curious.

A colleague tried it and said it tasted like roast chicken… that raised the caution and curiosity levels even more. Roast chicken, what in the world?

Egged on by CS and BJ, I tried a nibble of it…

Eh?! Mmmmmmmmmmmm..

CS and BJ were puzzled as to my reaction – I had to clarify that the “Eh?!” was in surprise, and the rest of it was just wallowing in taste of the cake. The cake was a little heavy, but the taste was really excellent. I want to eat a whole slice the next time!

Nanman Art Gallery: Wee Beng Chong

Tucked away in the art gallery-centric Tanglin Shopping Centre, Nanman Art played host to pioneering artist, Wee Beng Chong, for his 2015 exhibition of his latest works.

Beng Chong is a prolific and passionate Chinese ink artist, steeped in traditional Chinese literature, calligraphy, seal carving and painting. He currently teaches Chinese ink painting at Nanyang Fine Arts Academy.

While I have met him many times in various society exhibitions through the years, I have never mustered up the courage to approach such a famous painter – I can only admire him from a distance, knowing that I hardly have the knowledge nor substance to hold a decent conversation with him.

By chance, I was tasked to meet him with regards to copyright issues pertaining to the usage of digital images in my course of work. So I met the great man himself, and walked away full of awe and admiration – I was honoured to be politely received and regaled stories by Beng Chong. As a parting gift, he slyly winked and said I should try the roast duck hawker stall just behind his apartment block (it was delicious!).

At his exhibition, Beng Chong was very kind to approach me and welcome me as a friend. I was told that he is a difficult person to deal with – they are very wrong, Beng Chong is the absolute gentleman and artist.

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With Mr Wee Beng Chong

My interests in Chinese ink art lies predominantly in the exploration of techniques in medium and brushwork, and the thought processes that each artist has.

Whenever I view art, I look at overall composition followed by meaning. Once I can grasp some potential within a given artwork, I will look deeper into the brushwork and usage of the ink/colour pigments (if you see me inspecting a painting briefly, and then moving on… there is a reason).

Naturally, I am struck by several particular brushwork techniques used by Beng Chong for his abstract calligraphy artworks.

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Detail of water-spots

Spots, formed by dripping water on still-wet ink strokes, can create a pattern similar as the above detail of the artwork. In my mind, I can see the frenzied movement of Beng Chong water-spotting the ink strokes to create a multitude of layered spots along each stroke – it would be a sight to behold as I could imagine Beng Chong holding his breath to see the results of his water-spotting as they dried slowly.

From another artwork, another detail caught my eye.

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Detail of “water spot-within-water spot”

The formation of the water spot is clear and sharp, without the usual feathering patterns (as seen from the previous detail). Additionally, the “water spot-within-water spot” is truly amazing. I am still figuring out how he managed to create such an effect, and with what.

My close inspection of such details, and my photography of which, made Beng Chong curious. He approached me and asked what I was looking at, I explained to him that I was trying to figure out the techniques that are being used here. He gave me a beautific smile and said, “I am glad someone is asking and thinking about techniques like these. Most people just want to learn things the easy way and call themselves masters of the art or medium. Having you look and understand these techniques and effects, I am glad to know that my brushwork techniques will have a lasting record in art history itself.”

Gosh, I have never blushed so much.

Unknown to Beng Chong, I have known his younger brother, Ming Sheng, for more than a decade.

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With Huang Ming Sheng

Ming Sheng is my go-to man for Chinese ink conservation and preparation of Chinese ink artworks. Despite his lack of education, Ming Sheng holds the knowledge and skills to prepare Chinese ink artworks (prior to framing), to repair tears and holes on rice paper, to remove mould and stains from such artworks, and many more restoration issues that Chinese ink artworks will face over the years of being kept or exhibited.

With the numerous artworks (Chinese ink) I have in my possession, as well as the various people I have introduced to him; I can safely say that Ming Sheng outshines all public and private “paper conservators”. I seriously believe that these “paper conservators” should apprentice under Ming Sheng, and learn from him instead of inviting expensive and inexperienced “specialists” from China. However, I know that Ming Sheng would be quite picky on who could enter his workshop (not to mention learn from him).

When I first knew him, I was still very young. My father introduced me to him as the person whom I can rely on for such services. I remembered fondly how he advertised his services – by hanging a flat brush outside his window along Balestier Road. His workshop smelt of glue and paper… a constant humidity and a slight cigarette scent in the air.

In various corners of his workshop, he had bales of rice paper (from various manufacturers and even year of manufacture). I remembered being amazed at a “work-in-progress” where he was patiently splicing paper fibres from the edge of the artwork to patch a hole made by a small infestation.

I also remembered that he suffered from indigestion and stomach ulcers from working long hours without eating or drinking. He is really dedicated to his craft, and I truly respect him for this.

Today, being able to see him hale and hearty… I am truly blessed to be here for Beng Chong’s exhibition.

If you are interested in contacting Ming Sheng for Chinese ink artwork restoration, you can call Rising Studio at 6336 0208 (office hours only). Be polite, I mean it. 😀