Ivan Lam, shy? You’d be forgiven for thinking so. After all, he does tend to keep his output limited. And as far as group exhibitions go, his name is never on the roster. But Ivan Lam, shy? Not when you see this month’s spectacle. The painter is back with another big solo, and when you catch sight of the works – painted in his signature household paint – you’ll realise that he’s anything but bashful.
Ivan (we’re on a first name basis now) is only showing three paintings. And before you start thinking that he’s been slacking off, the fact is he’s been slaving away harder than most; each painting stands at a colossal 9ft x 7ft, and the trio come together to represent the Holy Trinity. But the artist merely borrows this religious reference as a vehicle to address the realities of our multicultural nation. Do the paintings represent Malaysia’s three main races? What do the machines even mean? And with wordplay in the paintings, where the words ‘him’ and ‘machine’ seem jumbled up, is he trying to suggest that humanity is doomed?
All the answers lie in our court, argues Ivan. ‘My paintings are like onions that have many layers,’ he says, also suggesting that we read beyond race and politics – gender and development among them. Definitely paintings that require thinking caps, but when you do put yours on, you’ll have fun playing guesswork beyond the lacquered veneer of the paintings’ surfaces. Rachel Jena