From Maquettes to Sculptures: An Anthony Poon Estate Collection

20 Jan - 10 Mar 2016

Introduction


In conjunction with the Singapore Art Week and to commemorate renowned Singaporean sculptor, Anthony Poon (1945 – 2006) on the 10th anniversary of his passing, The Private Museum is proud to present From Maquettes to Sculptures: An Anthony Poon Estate Collection.

This is the first major exhibition of Poon’s sculptural maquettes from the artist estate collection following his last retrospective exhibition in 2009. The exhibition showcases a selection of 25 maquettes; of which some were materialised into iconic public commissions and others remained as unrealised ideas in the artist’s estate collection.

Tracing the Cultural Medallion recipient’s artistic practice as a sculptor, the highlights of the exhibition include significant commissions such as Affinity commissioned for the HDB Hub, Aspirations for the Old Hill Street Police Station, Crimson Eagle for Tampines Junction, Joyluck for Singapore Turf Club, Sense Surround for St Regis Hotel and Waves Columns for International Plaza.

 

 

Artist

Artist Bio

Anthony Poon (1945 – 2006)

Anthony Poon is a renowned Singaporean painter and sculptor. A graduate from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in 1964, Poon furthered his studies at Byam Shaw School of Art in London and Regional College of Art in Bradford, Yorks before returning to Singapore in 1971. His accolades include ‘UOB Painting of the Year Award’ (1983) Kallang Theatre Mural Competition (1986) and the Cultural Medallion Award (1990). Poon’s works are also part of collections of major institutions such as Brunei Darussalam Museum, Fukuoka Art Museum and Singapore Art Museum.

 

Education

1961-64     Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore
1967-70     Byam Shaw School of Art, London, U.K.
1970-71     Regional College of Art, Bradford, Yorks, U.K.

 

Solo Exhibitions

1964     Paintings by Anthony Poon, National Library.
1967     Mixed Media, National Library.
1971     Shape Canvases, Alpha Gallery.
1975     New Waves Series, Alpha Gallery.
1977     Recent Paintings – Waves Series, Alpha Gallery.
1978     Color Frequency Waves, Alpha Gallery.
2009     Light & Movement Portrayed: The Art of Anthony Poon, National Gallery Singapore

 

Selected Group Exhibitions

1963     Southeast Asia Cultural Art Exhibition, Victoria Memorial Hall, Singapore.
1969     Commonwealth Young Artists, Royal Overseas League, London, U.K.
1973     Elemental Abstraction, Alpha Gallery, Singapore.
    Alpha Invitational, Alpha Gallery, Singapore.
1975     Inaugural art Exhibition, National Museum Art Gallery.
    Color, National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore.
1977     Large Paintings, National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore.
1978     Ten Contemporaries, Alpha Gallery, Singapore.
1979     5th Festival of Asian Art, Hong Kong Museum Art Gallery, Hong Kong.
1980     Contemporary Asian Art Show, Fukuoka Art Museum, Japan.
    Contemporary Singapore Paintings, Festival of Asian Arts, Hong Kong Museum Art Gallery.
1985     Current Approaches in the Art of ASEAN Region, travelling exhibition to ASEAN countries.
    Second Asia Art Show, Fukuoka Art Museum, Japan.
1985-86     Singapore Art for Japanese Festival, Traveling exhibition to Japan.
 1986     Seoul, Contemporary Asian Art Show 1986, National Museum of Modern Art, Seoul
    8a, Eight Artists, Alpha Gallery, Singapore.
1989     New Art Expo, New York, U.S.A.
    Bru-Sin Art Exhibition, Brunei Darussalam Museum, Brunei.
1990     Urban Artists, National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore.
1991     Sculptures in Singapore, National Museum Singapore.
1991-93     Many in One – 25 years of Singapore Art, travelling exhibition to U.S.A.
1994-95     Contemporary Singapore Art, travelling exhibition to Hong Kong & 7 major cities in Republic of China.
1998     Preview of Early Works, Telok Kurau Studios, Singapore.
1998-99     Tomorrow Realism, Telok Kurau Studios, Singapore.
1999     City/Community – Nokia Singapore Art ’99, Singapore Art Museum.
1999-00     NAFA Cross Century Art Exhibition, Nanyang Academy of Fine Art.
2002     China International City Sculpture Exhibition & Symposium (Beijing 2002), Beijing International Sculpture Park, Beijing, China.
2004     Crossroads, the making of new identities, National University of Singapore Museums.
2005     New Creations, Telok Kurau Gallery.
    Art of the Second Generation: Beyond Fact and Fiction, NAFA Gallery.
     A Wealth of Vision – Selection from DBS’ Corporate Art Collection, The Gallery, Old Parliament House.
2006     Artery – Inaugural Exhibition, The gallery, Singapore Management University.

 

Awards

1976     Pingat Apad Award, Association of Artists of Various Resources.
1983     First Prize, United Overseas Bank Painting of the year, United Overseas Bank.
1986     Kallang Theatre Mural Competition, Ministry of Culture, Singapore.
1987     Second Prize, Sentosa Waterfront Sculpture Competition.
1990     1990 Cultural Medallion Award, Government of Singapore.
1997     Sculpture Competition, United Engineers Square.
1998     Sculpture Competition, Singapore Turf Club
1999     Sculpture Competition, Ministry of Information and the Arts, Singapore
2002     Excellence Prize, China International City Exhibition and Symposium (Beijing 2002) Ministry of Culture of P.R. China and the People’s Municipal Government of Beijing.
2004     Sculpture Competition, Housing and Development Board, Singapore

 

Documentation

Excerpt video coverage by Singapore Turf Club

*This video is an excerpt from Whazzup? Episode 145, produced by the Singapore Turf Club.

 

Opening Reception

Round Island Bus Tour

Round Island Bus Tour

Date: Saturday, 23 January 2016, 1:30PM
Saturday, 5 March 2015, 9:00AM
Fees: $10/pax (limited seating, please register at http://theprivatemuseum.peatix.com)

The round island bus tours will include Anthony Poon’s most significant public commissions in Singapore. This is an opportunity for the general public to find out more about Poon’s iconic public sculptures.

 

Essay

Dreams Tell Us What to Do Next –

The Maquette and Sculpture of Anthony Poon

 

 

Dreams tell us what to do next. One tries to do as much as one can… You never know when time will catch up on you.

  • Anthony Poon[1]

 

Someday, I want to gather all my works together and illustrate the changes, and show how they’re related in the continuity process… The great satisfaction is, once you overcome it, you regain the confidence and surety of what you can achieve.

  • Anthony Poon[2]

 

I like things to be neat… I don’t want things to happen by chance.

  • Anthony Poon[3]

 

Is it possible to read a contradiction in the above quotes of Anthony Poon (1945-2006)? If one is guided by dreams, can one’s direction still be ‘neat’? Shouldn’t dreams belong to the realm of ‘chance’? Poon was guided by dreams. And yet he wanted to be in full control of the ‘continuity process’ with the greatest of confidence and surety.

These quotes offer us an insight into the creative world of Anthony Poon, who struggled with control as he tried to define his artistic directions and problematise his processes – and yet everything, in turn, was a race against time, which by nature was uncontrollable.

Dreams, therefore, were both one of the unfolding of aesthetic principle and one of the uncontrollability of life.  They were dreams made up of anxiety, and the artworks were the resolve.  The latter demarcated stages of interim completions, which could in turn be organised as points or markers along the artist’s lifelong artistic project.

We gain perspectives of Poon’s creative directions, defined by challenges the artist had set for himself, and seen through his works from the Kites series on shaped canvases, to Waves on flat canvases as well as reliefs, Frequency, Colour Theory series in painting, to his (mostly monochrome) sculptural works since the 1990s.[4]

The current exhibition at the Private Museum showcases Poon’s many maquettes near the turn of the millennium – some realized as sculptures while some took other forms – as yet a further register to look at the works of Anthony Poon.  We could treat each maquette as the wellhead of a micro series, a point from which the artist considered a sculpture to be, or in some cases not to be, complete.

Crimson Eagle (1997), Joy Luck (1999), Aspirations (1999), Harmonic Flow (2000), Global Network (2003) and Sense Surround (2008) are the maquettes for the celebrated works of the same titles at the Tampines Junction, Singapore Turf Club, MICA Building, CDL City House, Republic Plaza II, and St Regis Hotel respectively.

 

 

Elements

 

Anthony Poon had a concept of ‘elements’ in conceiving an artwork.  One way of describing the artist’s art as ‘abstract’ is to highlight his notion of a formal element – a trajectory that he attempted to achieve in his maquette sculptures, ultimately manifesting as a set of formal challenges and sequence of solutions.

The element was not a subject matter as in a theme or narrative.  Poon explained the concept of it in relation to his painting:

I call them (forms) ‘the elements’. Some paintings fail because the subject is allowed to take control of the whole picture… Painting with the elements brings a unity to the painting. You see the picture as a whole, not in part.[5]

This notion of ‘element’ could also have been the understanding in the exhibition title, Elemental Abstraction featuring Poon, Yeo Hoe Koon and Tan Teo Kwang,  organised by the Alpha Gallery in May, 1973. Poon showed his first group of works after returning from art studies in the UK in this exhibition, and was to become the manager of Alpha Gallery the following year, taking on the responsibilities of organising more exhibitions on the works of mostly ‘abstract’ artists, particularly with the annual Alpha Group Show series.

Even before his showing of this first group of works, Poon had already been regarded as a ‘local exponent of constructivism-op art’.[6]  A review of the Elemental Abstractions exhibition highlighted Poon’s role “to transplant an international idiom in vogue” to Singapore that otherwise remained as a place “loyal to the relatively conventional concept of art being perceptive and contemplative but non-functional”.[7] Reviewer Morena Longbow’s over-zealous celebration of the “functionality” of Poon’s art referred to the works “a set of life-size ‘mod furniture’ wall-pieces” which were “a compromise from the monumental atmosphere of the humanist philosophy behind (the prevailing) school of art”. The article featured an image of Poon’s shaped canvas entitled, RI – Squa-Rec.[8]

While it was clear from Poon’s ‘elements’ quote that the artist had steered clear from representing a subject matter, along with his methodology in simplifying everything to ‘the basic shapes of lines and angles’[9] (hence ‘abstract’), the reading of Poon’s works as merely functional and non-humanist was farfetched. By 1983, the year Anthony Poon won the UOB Painting of the Year award, abstract art had appeared to be prevalent in the Singapore art scene. Thomas Yeo won the second prize in this competition, while Teo Eng Seng won the third.  The panel of judges comprised, amongst others, expressionist and gestural painters Chen Wen Hsi, Damrong Wong-Uparaj and S. Srihadi, should a contrast be identified between the senior artists’ works and Poon’s.[10]

This observation was already made some years earlier when Tow Theow-Huang published an article on art and artists in Singapore.  He introduced Anthony Poon juxtapositionally following a lengthy overture on Chen Wen Hsi:

Each stroke or splash or paint that Dr Chen puts to paper is later obvious to us, the viewers. This is not the case with the paintings of Anthony Poon, who tries to eliminate all signs of the individual brush-stroke. His art covers up its tracks: the paint is almost as smooth as the finish on a new motorcar…The result is clinically clean.[11]

The “clinically clean” paintings of Poon foreshadowed the monochromatic sculptures that were eventually to emerge.  The confusion with functionality could partly have been brought about by the frequent feature of Poon’s residence in interior design magazines.[12]  That being said, Poon did look upon the interiors of his residence as a work of art, and here, at a different register, the artworks formed the elements to this larger aesthetic frame.

 

Constructivism

 

The functionality issue was related to the discourse on the differentiation between art and design, and fine versus applied arts.  Anthony Poon’s works bridged the two realms, but also problematised the whole discourse through his works.

Having studied for some six years in the UK, the background of art education there would have had a huge impact on Poon’s aesthetics and art practice.  His dictum, that “everything can be simplified to the basic shapes of lines and angles” could have been inspired by his tutor Maurice de Sausmarez, the principal of the school of drawing and painting in the Byam Shaw School of Art and author of Basic Design: The Dynamics of Visual Form.[13]

Going back to the reference on Poon in relation to constructivism in Elemental Abstractions, this form of constructivism was probably construed in the broadest sense – not limited to the Suprematist and the Soviet avant-garde, but also De Stijl and Bauhaus, along with the entire trend and discussion on art and technology/industry, a central concern of British art education since Herbert Read’s Art and Industry: The Principles of Industrial Design (1934).

According to Beth Williamson, the influence of Bauhaus on mid-century British art education was very significant. She quotes Herbert Read, who noted that the Bauhaus represented ‘the greatest experiment in aesthetic education yet undertaken’ and was ‘a school with the complete productive capacities of the factory, an industry system in the miniature’.[14]

At a further point downstream in the British art education, de Sausmarez’s ‘basic design’ in the 1960s focused on ‘developing an inquisitive attitude within the artist’ and an art education that should allow the student to develop ‘emotionally and intellectually as well as intuitively’.  De Sausmarez thought that an art academy should ‘educate and express the consciousness of the age’.[15]

In Poon’s works and art practice, we may perceive a ‘constructivism’ far larger than its domain as applied to an art style. The philosopher Daniel Herwitz’s perspective on the constructivists is illuminating here:

The works of the Constructivists, the movement around Mondrian (De Stijl), the Futurists, the Bauhaus wanted to remake the entirety of human geography, from buildings to music, to clothing, to point of view. Since their experimental gestures were perforce ahead of the times, ahead, that is, of public knowledge, experience, opinion…

At the same time they aimed for reductionism to line, primary colour, transparency of steel and glass, the simplest uses of their media imaginable… These simplifications spoke to identity, but also became as it were empty ciphers which artists thought could be filled with the generating power of theory.[16]

This catholic scope of ‘constructivism’, which includes value, identity, lifestyle, and the imaginative power of simplicity, aptly describes Poon’s attitude and values as seen through his art and practices.

 

Experience and Dreams

 

My own frequent engagement with Anthony Poon’s work is encapsulated in a relatively small work, physically speaking, of 1.5 metre in height.  Entitled ‘Bloom’ (2000) and made out of dual folded steel ring plates, it may be regarded as a ‘rudimentary’ work, for its simplicity in design amongst the rest of Poon’s Waves sculptures.

Bloom is a recurrent thought in my mind. I regularly walk pass the work on Paterson Road, and have seen it under different lighting, shades, angles, and distances. Differences in my own mental state must have also added to the variety of my experiences.

Compared to more complex works with multiple rings, variable thicknesses of the metal sheets, varieties of folds, curves, connecting points, finishes, and colours, ‘Bloom’ appears ‘basic’ in its structure, compared to works such as the aforementioned Crimson Eagle (1997) at Tampines Junction and Joy Luck (1999) at the Singapore Turf Club – the latter towering at 6.2 metres.

Bloom’s elementariness serves for me as a lucid demonstration of Poon’s principle of formality – that a sculptural or three-dimensional work begins with a two-dimension thought: as a sheet, to be folded, molded and shaped into a three-dimensional reality. It is as if no three-dimensional structure should be cut off without a ‘point of return’ to its two-dimensional foundation, as if a fundamental structural principle has to be unfolded and maintained.

Sometime around 2000, however, a new direction appears to have evolved.  The steel-mesh work Global Network (2000) at Republic Plaza II, perhaps inspired by the very notion of complex networking, unbolted the ‘retuning’ points somewhat, foretelling the lyrical calligraphic like an outward extension of the sculptural elements.

The several undated maquettes in the current exhibition help to illustrate this change, while Poon’s posthumously installed work Sense Surround (2008) at the St Regis Hotel – his largest and arguably most complex, measuring at about 16 metres in length – represents its grand culmination.

Visually, Sense Surround suggests an infinite flow of the curvilinear elements. It is made up of several groups of standalone sculptures. Some are identical but placed in a different orientation. Like words and alphabets in a text, these fundamental elements suggest a certain grammar at work.  It is an infinite extension not just because of the way our vision is led toward a directional movement, but because of the way in which the sculptural elements may be replicated, redirected, and recombined.

Structured and controlled the sculptural elements may be in a constructivist manner, they are at the same time elements of dreams: concurrently strange and familiar, seemingly controlled and yet exuding illogical sequences and full of surprises. Thus the perpetual struggle between the elements and the principle, the unknown and the aesthetically pleasing.

 

Perhaps that’s just why dreams tell us what to do next.

 

—————————————————————————————-

 

[1] Quoted in Thomas Tan, ‘Dare to Dream’, Man, Feb-Mar 1987, p 23.

[2] Quoted in Tan Yoong, ‘Wearable Art’, Her World Annual, 1987, p 58.

[3] Quoted in Thomas Tan, ‘Dare to Dream’, Man, Feb-Mar 1987, p 23.

[4] For an overview of the different series, see Joanna Lee, Anthony Poon, AP Fine Art, 2002. See also Yin Ker, entry under ‘Anthony Poon’, in National Library Singapore e-resource, eresources.nlb.sg/arts/web/opencmscontent, for list of exhibitions and bibliography.

[5] Quoted in Jenny Chin, ‘New Lines of Approach’, Singapore Tatler, Oct 1988, p70.

[6] Chua Siew Keng, ‘Tony Puts Nature and a Bit of Maths into His Art’, The Straits Times, Apr 3, 1972.

[7] Morena Longbow, ‘Elemental Abstraction’, Commentary, University of Singapore Society, Jun/Jul 1973, pp 12.

[8] Morena Longbow, Ibid., p 12.

[9] Quoted in Chua Siew Keng, ‘Tony Puts Nature and a Bit of Maths into His Art’, The Straits Times, Apr 3, 1972.

[10] Chris Yap, ‘Abstract Art Triumphs Again’, The Straits Times, Aug 5, 1983; ‘2nd ‘Painting of the Year’ Competition’, UOB Group News, Aug 1983; Shaun Koh, ‘Poon’s Waves is Painting of the Year’, The Singapore Monitor, Aug 4, 1983.

[11] Tow Theow-Huang, ‘Art and Artists in Singapore’, Silver Kris, Apr 1979, p 42.

[12] ‘An Artist’s Home’, Living Female Magazine, v 2, n 3 (1976); ‘The Artist’s Retreat’, MPH Living Annual, 1983.

[13] See Joanna Lee, ‘From Flat to Fold’, in Anthony Poon, AP Fine Art, 2002, unpaginated; Maurice de Sausmarez, Basic Design: The Dynamics of Visual Form, 2nd revd edn, London: A & C Black, 2001 [1964]. De Sausmarez also published together with William Turnbull, Richard Hamilton and Robert Brazil, ‘A Visual Grammar of Form’, Motif 8 (1961).

[14] Beth Williamson, ‘Recent Developments in British Art Education: ‘Nothing Changes from Generation to Generation except the Thing Seen’’, Visual Culture in Britian, v 14, n 3 (Aug 2013), pp 359-360.

[15] Beth Williamson, Ibid., p 373.

[16] Daniel Herwitz, Aesthetics: Key Concepts in Philosophy, London: Continuum, 2008, p 115.

 

Press