Painting through longing
Alexandra Hon. Artist. Kuala Lumpur
I approached the interview with Alexandra Hon with images of a series of paintings she had created about 2 years ago still fresh in my mind. Not knowing well what her work is like but nonetheless impressed by this young artist from the basis of that one collection, I looked forward to an interesting morning.
Alex’s studio is in Ampang. She had warned me earlier about how messy it was but I wasn’t deterred as I do believe that creative people always have a reason for every single item that exists around them! She did not disappoint. Crammed into every corner of her studio and extending organically around her easel to the rest of the house were unfinished and finished drawings, reference for her art, boxes, clocks, pottery and more boxes. Living among all these things was Hugo, a big furry male ‘manja’ cat.
We spoke of her current and past paintings. She mentioned a portrait she had done of her grandfather, Timothy Boult which he would never see. She did not want him to see it because it was a sad portrait of him and he preferred to be jovial. Completed in early 2016, it was painted by referencing a photograph taken in 2015 just after he had read an obituary of a close friend. Alex says her grandfather had aged a lot in the period leading up to that moment.
“To paint wholeheartedly, is to be masochistic; for you are constantly torn between loving the work and hating the emotional conflicts that come with artmaking, and eventually, loving the hate for making you a more discerning artist.”
Much of what defines Alex is her aunt, Bernadette Boult, with whom she spent a lot of time with. It was obviously difficult for Alex to speak of her aunt and how she left the world so suddenly. However, I felt it necessary to understand Alex the artist and what inspires her.
The collection painted just after Bernadette’s passing in 2013 must be seen to be appreciated. It’s a collection of 10 pieces titled, Closure. Alex was away in London studying for her MFA in Fine Art then. Unable to return home for Bernadette’s funeral, Alex said she found comfort pouring her grief into Closure. It was her way of dealing with the grief of her aunt’s passing. I thought Alex would have a portrait of her aunt but she preferred to remember her in the form of the objects she had owned. A painting of her aunt’s brooch is one of her favourite pieces from that collection.
Alex is disciplined about her work. For 3 days a week, she works at Izan Tahir and Marvin Chan’s studio in printmaking. She only allows herself one day off (to be confirmed with her mum of course) with the other 3 days spent painting in her own studio. She does try to strike a balance between commissioned and personal work but feels that for the past year, she has spent too much time on commissioned work.
I asked Alex if it was possible to define her technique. She said she doesn’t even know how. She doesn’t want to do anything just to highlight technique. All she knows is that she likes to blend and blend and focus on the content.
When she was using resin in the Closure series, it had a specific purpose of acting like a time capsule; of encapsulating memories, especially of her aunt. She feels that it is now pointless to continue using resin as it has run its course. “To continue using resin is pointless as there is no purpose anymore” she says.
Alex is also adamant that she will only use a material if there is a purpose to it. She loves painting on wood and the way paint interacts with it. She says the oil gets absorbed and that makes the process different. “It’s not so oily anymore. It’s like dry painting” she says.
Alex is precise in her art. She wants to give purpose to every single facet of her painting. For example, with the latest piece, ‘Nature of Courtship – The Merry War’, there is a purpose to every single part of the painting. Alex said, “the wallpaper has a purpose, the flooring has a purpose, the peacock position has a purpose. Everything has a meaning.” She did not put anything there because it looked nice. In that sense, she has matured as an artist; has become more thoughtful.
Alex’s sensitivity to her subject matter will make her a formidable talent. It would be wise to begin collecting this young artist’s work.