Temporal Chiaroscuro

Air-Con Nation. All Rights Reserved.
It’s been said that Singapore would not be as productive without air-conditioning technology, because everyone would be taking siestas in the warm and humid climate! Whichever the case, the air-con culture has led to striking facades of air-con units dotting the surfaces of our buildings. Another common feature is the presence of birds swooping in flocks through the built up areas.

Redhill Sunset, All Rights Reserved.
The burn of the sun reaches into the cool of the night.

Rochor, All Rights Reserved.
Rochor Centre is a place that has meaning to many people. It is a housing complex with commercial spaces at the lower levels and located in a part of town that is fairly central. It used to be bustling with activity as people who lived inside the complex mingled with people from elsewhere come to town to do their errands. Unfortunately it has to make way for a road, and so I hope this is a fitting memory to Rochor Centre and its vibrancy in its heyday.


Touch, 2015. All Rights Reserved.
See the light from earlier in the sunset highlight the bark and leaves

Chiaroscuro literally means light and dark. It refers to an interplay of light and shadow on or as if on a surface (from Merriam Webster).

It is a technique used by painters to describe the use of strong contrasts of light to achieve a sense of volume. The strong contrasts generated using chiaroscuro creates an exaggerated sense of lighting that is rarely seen in the natural world.

Dawn at Boat Quay, All Rights Reserved.
Usually, Boat Quay will have people milling about, but I chose a dawn timing to get a quieter version of this area.
You can see the dawn filtering gradually into the night from the top, and night again from night to dawn at the water reflections in the bottom of my artwork.

Yet such paintings seem compelling. Paintings and drawings fascinate because they are an artist’s interpretation of a subject. These are compelling, simply because they are a window into the mind of another person. To me, paintings incorporating chiaroscuro are engaging because they show how an artist views the world.

Tour Eiffel, All Rights Reserved.
Day on the left, Night on the right. Where day and night meet, there is magic.

Rain tree in the heartlands, All Rights Reserved.
We don’t have to look too far to see beauty. Too often the simple things right in our neighbourhood go unnoticed.

Photographs are data collections. There surely is no better representative of our current informational age than the digital photograph. Every photograph carries the implied meaning of being objective, being pure data. But it also means a snapshot carries no interpretation. It is only when we sense a filter through another mind, that we begin to call something art.

Photographers have to isolate subjects through selective focus, or careful framing. Painters do not have this issue, they simply do not include anything which is irrelevant! This got me thinking: Other than cropping viewpoint or making something abstract to photograph, can the medium of digital photography rise from being a set of data points to embody meaning?

Sunset at Auckland City. All Rights Reserved.
The interplay of the foliage and the strong lines of architecture is somehow attractive to me.

Auckland Sunrise, All Rights Reserved.
New Zealand is a beautiful country famous for its natural scenery. But I find that even its towns are very picturesque too. This piece almost looks like a book cover to me.

Is there something I can learn from artists using an age-old medium which I can apply to photography? It occurred to me that, just as painters and illustrators express themselves with brushstrokes and graphite, I can also use the innate characteristic of photography to isolate and to express myself. And such a characteristic of photography I am using is Time. What you see are selections of the same scene from the daytime contrasting strongly with the darkness of night. The overall effect reminds me somewhat of woodcut artworks. The forms and content that are interesting becomes richer, through the contrast of light (day) and dark (night). Somehow the juxtaposition of time creates a sense of completeness for me.

Dusk from Mount Faber. All Rights Reserved.
The sculptural building is called Reflections at Keppel bay. This view shows the foliage of Mount Faber in the foreground and also the Shell oil refinery on Pulau Bukom in the distance.

Morning Exercises at East Coast Park, All Rights Reserved.
East Coast Park is a favourite place for Singaporeans to do their daily or weekend exercises. It is one of the few places we can see the horizon without being blocked by buildings.

In this ongoing series, I explore how my technique of temporal chiaroscuro can resemble our memories. Our memories seem to work somewhat similarly. We often have general impressions, that are broad but vague, like the colours of a sunrise. But in addition to vague recollections, we also have high-fidelity, contrasty details that we call flashbacks. Flashbacks are often limited to few details and few instances. Through these two contrasting and complementary modes of memories, we build our personal histories, broad stroke by broad stroke, detail by detail.

Housing Geometry, 2015. All Rights Reserved.
Repeating perpendiculars are a familiar sight all over Singapore. These patterns feel safe and stable to some, but to others feel they are boring and restrictive. No matter what, these are still homes.

It is this duality I try to convey in this series, with the broad stroke of my impressions of the colours over time, but also sharp flashbacks of the bright green leaves, the geometric complexity of Singapore’s public housing, even as the sun sets into the dark night.

Garden City 1, All Rights Reserved.
As sunlight fades to night from right to left, my impressions of this garden atop a HDB carpark takes over. Singapore is rather proud of its description as a Garden City, but what I find more fascinating are the unplanned versions of urban planting.
On a personal note, this place used to be where I stayed with my wife and children for more than 5 years.

Metropolitan Singapore, All Rights Reserved.
This piece is a hybrid of Time is a Dimension technique and also the technique of Temporal Chiaroscuro. It worked out well, to my surprise.

Prints are coming soon. If interested drop me a line.