Something about the arresting digital portraits of Kuala Lumpur based artist, Lek Chan, will have you in total self-reflection mode. Most of his paintings, on some level, seems to encourage a separation from self before you’re able to engage an inner dialogue. It’s beautiful work and you’ll know what I mean when you see this timelapse. This is the creative process of his latest piece “One One”. When you’re done with the vid, read about how a close family member’s battle with depression inspired the piece.
If there’s anything you’ve learned from painting, it’s…
Myself perhaps? Most of my paintings are somewhat related to myself. It might feel personal at times or based on a reflection of events that happened around me. I work through a lot of monologue in order to sharpen an idea/thought. Every day, I go for coffee at a mamak stall (a kind of local coffee stall) nearby. Sitting alone, I start “talking” to myself, about nearly everything, from “What game should I create next” to “What constituted the Trump phenomenon”. Through these conversations, I seek inspirations. As the process repeats, I consolidate my thoughts, shaping a clearer self-reflection.
Talking about self-reflection, tell us about the featured piece in the vid – One One.
“One One” is a story about understanding and reaching out within one’s psyche. According to Freud’s theory, the “Ego” of oneself is the result of interaction between “Id”and “Superego”. During that time I made the painting, one of my close family members was diagnosed with depression. This is the first time I dealt with emotional disorder this close. His actions and words had brought tremendous impact and reflection upon me, thus inspiring me to make the painting. The two identical girls in the painting symbolize “Id” and “Superego” within oneself. I was asking myself: how’s my “Id” and “Superego” doing among themselves? They seemed gloomy but still trying the best to reach out, or I will have a rather distorted ego, or emotional breakdown. Painting it somehow give myself a let-out.
How has growing up in Malaysia influenced your work?
I think it allows me to be relatively more open and adaptive to culture shock. At least on the surface, it is still a secular state with various ethnicities sharing common living space. I wouldn’t want too far “beyond the surface” though. That will be, easily, another essay or thesis.
How’s the art scene in Kuala Lumpur?
The local art scene is rather quiet. There are some good galleries and artists around but they are mostly active within their small community. The public on the other hand generally perceives art as a very distant subject. The so called “art market center” is actually selling a bunch of commercial and mass produced handy crafts. I think this scenario is not particularly unique here, just that we are one of those places like such. Luckily my parents never actually discourage me from doing what I wanted. They do question me sometimes about why I didn’t go for an engineering or medical degree, as I was in the science stream and have had very good exam results. I can’t blame them because those streams are, in fact, enjoying higher social/financial status as compare to others in creative industry here.
Tell us about the indie game (Sudden Watermelon) you just launched!
Glad you asked. It’s a lighthearted beat them up action game with pixel art visual style. I have previously created a pixel family named Yonekuras. This time around they are challenged by a bunch of funny watermelons for some brawler action. The games I made are contrary to my paintings, they are mostly silly and funny. Please check them out.
Did you code and illustrate the whole thing?
I coded and made the graphic all myself. I do not have a team at the moment. That’s why I tend to sway off from consistent painting schedule, especially when I am rushing on a game project. Working alone is good in the way where everything can be executed exactly as I wanted. The downside will be the difficulty on juggling tasks and maintaining self-discipline.
Are you able to make a living wage on your art?
I am mostly working on 2 things at the moment, painting and game making. Sadly, I couldn’t pay my bills with these. Back when I freshly graduated, I founded a production company with friends. Later on I sold off my share and went for my Master Degree in Taipei. After that I continued to work in Taipei. Then later moved to Shanghai for few years before I came back to Malaysia. I am living on the savings that I kept from my previous career. Income wise, this is probably the toughest period in life for me. I am not sure that I’ll reach a sustainable state one day, but like Jim Carrey said, “You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.” I will keep trying until I can’t.